Johnny Cash’s ‘Man Comes Around’ Gets New Life in Mark Wahlberg Movie ‘Father Stu’

by Suzanne Halliburton
Photo by Hülzer/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Check out the new movie trailer for Father Stu. You’ll see Mark Wahlberg, but you’re hearing Johnny Cash telling one of his last stories. Specifically, you’re listening to “The Man Comes Around,” one of the final songs Johnny Cash wrote before he died in September, 2003. It’s not vintage Cash, like “Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Walk the Line” or a “Boy Named Sue.” Rather, it’s a song that feels more like the end of a church revival. Cash is the evangelist calling us to repent.

The song was the title track of the 2002 album “American IV, The Man Comes Around.” It won the CMT Album of the Year in 2003. It was certified gold in March, 2003 and then platinum that November. The album also was Cash’s first non-compilation project to hit that significant benchmark in three decades.

So since it’s Sunday, let Johnny Cash take us to church. On the other side, we’ll tell you who really inspired the words and why this Johnny Cash song fits in with a Mark Wahlberg movie.

The song repeats the same guitar riff throughout as Cash speaks and sings the words. It’s like the clip, clip of a horse’s hooves. And then the deeper bass chords come in to give the song a bombastic quality. After all, it’s Judgment Day. You can feel the man, riding his white horse, as he trots past, inspecting so many souls.

“The hairs on your arm will stand up, at the terror in each sip and in each sup. Will you partake of that last offered cup? Or disappear into the potter’s ground, when the man comes around.

“Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers. One hundred million angels singing. Multitudes are marching to the big kettledrum. Voices calling, voices crying. Some are born and some are dying. It’s alpha and omega’s kingdom come.

“And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree, the virgins are all trimming their wicks. The whirlwind is in the thorn tree. It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”

Here’s the coolest detail about the song. The genesis of it wasn’t a book of the Bible. Rather, it started as a phrase Cash remembered in one of his dreams. In this vision, Queen Elizabeth compared Cash to “a thorn tree in a whirlwind.” Cash liked the wording and did some research. He read a similar phrase in the Book of Job and then wrote a song about Revelations. Of course, Cash gave it some country flavor.

“Till armageddon, no shalam, no shalom. Then the father hen will call his chickens home.
The wise man will bow down before the throne, and at his feet they’ll cast their golden crowns when the man comes around.

“Whoever is unjust, let him be unjust still. Whoever is righteous, let him be righteous still; (and) whoever is filthy let him be filthy still. Listen to the words long written down, when the man comes around.”

Father Stu isn’t the only movie or TV show to lean into the song for its theme music. So far, it’s appeared in 13 shows or movies.

Father Stu is based on the real-life story of Stuart Long, who was a boxer turned priest. The movie opens April 13, just in time for the long Easter weekend.

Check out the extended version of movie. Johnny Cash hits about halfway through.