Both of these tunes emerged from American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002), an album largely of cover versions in Cash’ American Recording series, recorded in a very sparse, stripped down style by Rick Rubin, also known for producing among others Run DMC, The Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers. All of Cash’s American Recording albums are soon to be rereleased on vinyl in a splendid box set. Don’t expect multicoloured sleeves.
So why, for the princely Record Store Day-friendly price of £10.99 did I feel the need to buy this diminutive 7″ chunk of white vinyl…?
I’d heard both songs many, many times before. Each of them I find very affecting in different ways. Personal Jesus, one of my favourite Depeche Mode songs, is a completely different beast under Johnny Cash, the almost upbeat arrangement and funky, boogie-woogie piano contrasting with Cash’s fractured,wavering vocals. Just listen to the line “I will deliver… you know I’m a forgiver”. I’m really not sure he will. Or is.
I first heard The Man Comes Around as the title music to the remake of Dawn of The Dead in 2004. Now, I like a good zombie film. Or rather I don’t but I find them oddly compulsive viewing. Less so for the endlessly inventive ways zombies are despatched and more the way film makers handle the impending, inescapable apocalypse that a zombie outbreak creates. George Romero does it best of course but from what I’ve seen the Walking Dead tv series gives him a good run for his money.
Anyway, following a breathless opening 10 minutes pre-credit sequence when our heroine’s world collapses around her we see a montage of real and fake news reports and flash cuts of zombie shrieks providing context for what we have just witnessed, all spliced together to The Man Comes Around. I’d never heard it before and found it utterly compelling. A song / lecture about the Day of Reckoning, no less.
There’s a man goin’ ’round takin’ names.
An’ he decides who to free and who to blame.
Everybody won’t be treated all the same.
There’ll be a golden ladder reaching down.
When the man comes around….
It’s a brilliant opening sequence, something the rest of the film could not hope to stand up to. It tries, it’s a actually a quite a good film. But not that good.
I still feel a chill every time I hear the song. I watched the sequence on YouTube just now after having not seen the film for several years and it has not lost its power. A bit of digging also revealed that The Man Comes Around* has been a popular choice for use in films and tv ever since. Possibly all about the apocalypse. Or something nasty at least.
So that’s why I bought it. Two very powerful songs, that move me every time I hear them. That I now own on a diminutive chunk of 7″ vinyl.
*Further digging also revealed that a dream about Queen Elizabeth II influenced Cash to write the song. I’m not sure if that’s true so I’ve written it all the way down here just in case. Don’t want to appear silly, do I!