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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Lyrics Analysis of Neil Young's Songs

Please drop us a line on the lyrics and meaning of Neil Young's songs. We love to hear what folks think!

***To comment on the lyrics of "Powderfinger" only, go here. Comment on other non-Powderfinger songs below.

Scroll to bottom for comment link.

Also, see Neil Young Song Lyrics Analysis.

Keep on Rockin'!


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61 Comments:

At 9/15/2006 04:13:00 PM, Anonymous Robin Stuckert said...

Like many of Neil's songs and stories, the bitter obscurity of the lyrics are what make his songs mean so much personally to those who appreaciate the genius, the humanity, and the vulnerable spirit with which we all connect - those who appreciate Neil know of what I speak.

My band, Muscadine Wine perform 'Powderfinger' as well as at least 40 other songs of his including 'Country Girl' from the CSNY days. Now there is a lyric for contemplation. The beauty of this artist is not only that these songs seem to reach out to each of us and speak to us in images that we can all relate to, but that we can all come together in cyberspace and discuss them to create a harmony that compliments the music that we hear.

God bless Neil and all of those who listen to his music and are touched by his lyrics and react to his views. When the government lies to us and the corporations and greedy profiteers bleed us - bless those like Neil Young who speak out and care about what is going on in our world. It's greed, my friend, that will bring us down.

It's music that can bring us together and heal us. Rock on Neil.

I have only met Neil in my dreams but he is always as nice and thoughtful as I believed he is. We shared a fat one in the last one and it was so cool.

Rock on NY fans. Rock on Neil and thanks for all the best you could give.
Robin Stuckert

 
At 9/15/2006 04:16:00 PM, Anonymous Jim Hale said...

On a stanza from "Needle and the Damage Done":

I sing this song because I love the man,
I know that some of you won't understand:
Milk blood to keep from running out.

A friend of mine once suggested that the last line of this stanza pertains to a practice of junkies, where they milk a little blood out into the needle after shooting up, since it will have some heroin traces in it, to shoot up later when they need another hit. I don't dismiss that reading of the line, but in the context of the other lines of the stanza, Neil seems to commenting on the song itself, and what he's getting at, I think, is that he's writing about this tragedy (milking the blood, as it were) in the hope that it will save some (to keep from "running out" of blood).

Neil has often seemed sensitive to the charge that he might have been capitalizing off the loss of Berry and Whitten, and this is his answer to such criticisms.
Jim Hale

 
At 9/15/2006 04:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The imagery of “After the Gold Rush” comes from the 1951 Sci Fi film, "When Two Worlds Collide”. In this film, the Earth is doomed; A livable planet is discovered elsewhere and plan is conceived to “fly a silver seed” of a rocket ship containing “chosen ones” to their new home in the sun. Surely Neil saw this film, like the rest of us who grew up in that era.

 
At 9/15/2006 04:19:00 PM, Anonymous James Langford said...

For the "After The Goldrush" review debate on how there can be a full moon and the sun in the sky at the same time I say this: He was lying in a basement looking up at the night sky. "(He) was hoping for replacement as the sun burst through the sky," I take this to mean that as he was hoping for replacement, it became morning. Time-lapse narration, something to think about.

I would also argue that the "goldrush" is a metaphor for the hippies migrating to Sanfrancisco, just like the miners during the actual goldrush. Young uses this metaphor because the song is looking at what will come in the future AFTER the "goldrush"
James Langford

 
At 9/15/2006 05:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thinking about Thrasher, the line I headed off to where the pavement turns to sand, that's about Neil making on the beach after the 4 way street album, I guess.

 
At 10/02/2006 05:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, for what it's worth, I've always thought that in Helpless, the lyrics:

Big birds flying across the sky,
Throwing shadows on our eyes.
Leave us

Helpless, helpless, helpless

referred to the Strategic Air Command Base in Alaska and it's B52 bombers.

But that's just an Australian perspective.

Cheers
Charles

 
At 11/17/2006 05:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the lyrics "Milk blood to keep from running out..." from Needle & The Damage Done

2 interpreatations are in general agreement. One is that a junkie will donate their blood/plasma for $'s.

The other has to do with a heroin injection of using the syringe to extract blood from user and inject another.

 
At 1/20/2007 03:20:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

'what is the color, when black is burned?' is not a lyrical riddle as you posted on your first page.
it's simply just the type of supremely innocent question a child would ask seeing that it's from "I Am A Child"

 
At 1/22/2007 09:33:00 PM, Anonymous Matt in Colorado said...

How in the WORLD did you go from "Let's Roll" to "Impeach Bush" ??

 
At 1/25/2007 03:35:00 AM, Anonymous Acebrock said...

Soldier (what a difficult song to interpret) seems to describe the Vietnam Soldiers as being full of life and potential (the bright eyes), but being forced to fight and die, and describes Jesus, which could be reasonanle people. as being unable to do anything about great atrocities (you can't deliver right away) and also shows wonder for why all of this is.

 
At 5/09/2007 11:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always thought that this was an imaginary or possibly real event from the American Revoultion, that it was a British gunboat (Red means run, son) and that our main character had a musket blow up in his face.

 
At 6/02/2007 08:43:00 PM, Anonymous Rick said...

Captain Kennedy is the killer of the boy in Powderfinger. Another first person account of the war. Civil war.

 
At 6/07/2007 12:34:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What comes to my mind is a Ruby Ridge type of scenario. When he sees black I always thought the gun malfunctioned and blew up in his face, killing him accidentally, not ny the gun from the white boat and not suicide.

 
At 6/17/2007 05:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

lalalaaaaa.
who cares? hes lyke dead. ;]
lolz

 
At 7/05/2007 09:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's fascinating to see how simply many people want to make the lyrics of "I am a Child". Of course, the complicating question is "What is the color, when black is burned?". I, too, want this song to be an innocent interaction between a child and a man. However, Neil has never avoided the tougher social issues, as manifested in "Ohio" and "Southern Man". Taking the latter, is it not possible/probable that Young was making a social commentary on the racial relationships in North America? The historical reality of blacks being perceived as "boys/children" and "happy" and "smiling" are well documented stereotypes. "God gave to you, now, you give to me, I'd like to know what you have learned" hits this point between the eyes. "You are a man, you understand. You pick me up and you lay me down again. You make the rules, you say what's fair, It's lots of fun to have you there" - other than the last line (now clearly sarcastic) the theme continues. Now for the "mystery" of the lyrics - "what is the color, when black is burned?" What color is the ash of burned flesh (black, white or yellow)? Gray! It's all the same. Why can't the white man conceive of "the pleasure in my smile" - because he has no concept of the black man's awareness of shared humanity and his understanding of the tradegy of racial prejudice. For me - not saying I'm right (only Neil knows for sure) - "I am a Child" is much deeper than the average listener hears. There's a tragic, painful reality in each line; building toward the challenge that "dust to dust" is the same for all races. I'd be curious if anyone else can share the concept. The genious of Neil Young is that he appears very simple, but is actually deceptively complex.

 
At 7/25/2007 12:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The person who left his analysis on the home page is so wrong it isn't even funny regarding his thoughts on what the color black is at the end of the song.
When the lyric says, "and then I saw black and my face splashed in the sky". It is not nighttime and he did not fall into the river.
He got shot in the face. The boat is a gov't or police boat. The first shot hit the dock was a warning shot. Then the 22 year old kid rasies his rifle. At this time the highly trained gov't agent shot the kid in the face. His face splashed in the sky lends truth to what your head does when hit by a high velocity projectile. Your head explodes like a rotten watermelon. YOu never hear the bullet that kills you. This is why the lyric says he "saw black" He never knew what hit him.

 
At 7/27/2007 01:08:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who ever gave us the breakdown line by line as a shrink would is over thinking the lyrics and trying to impress us with some ridiculous analysis of this song meaning suicide by a mental patient.
Also, " red means run son numbers add up to nothing" basically means.
Red- Equals the color of a siren ( not the red coats, for God's sakes)
The character in the song is into something, most likely moonshine.
Numbers add up to nothing- The law and their laws mean nothing to criminals and people trying to earn a living ilegally
This is not a song about suicide. Just a song about some kid getting his head blown off by a cop.

 
At 7/31/2007 09:19:00 PM, Blogger Geoff said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 9/10/2007 04:07:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

in "the needle and the damage done" ive been listening to the part over and over again that many people always dwell on, "i sing this song becuase i love the man" i can't tell if hes refering to the man that the needle took or "the man" in relation to the drug, supposing the man supplied it maybe or "the man" knows how to stay away from it, and i geuse thats why he says "some of you wont understand." i picture the man as the enemy, cooperate pig. why would he love that man?

 
At 11/04/2007 11:38:00 AM, Anonymous Dan Sheldon said...

Doesn't the phrase "Powers That Be" refer to a higher power? So I think the suicide theory of the song is the correct one if there is a correct one."don't look like their here to deliver the mail" I think means that they are there to harm or take away.I don't believe there were any white boats in the revolutionary war or the civil war. But white boats did deliver mail to hard to reach locations in the swamps near mountain based villages. My thought on "Powderfinger" when I first heard the song at about 12 years old I was sure it mean't something about cocaine use and its affects but I think now it means suicide. Thats the nice thing about a great song, it could mean something maybe you can relate to at any stage of your life and really has no specific meaning at all.

 
At 11/11/2007 10:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Intro:
Dm7add2
E|---------0--0--0--|----------0--0--0--|
B|------6--6--6--6--|---6---6--6--6--6--|
G|----0h5--5--5--5--|-0h5-0h5--5--5--5--|
D|--0---------------|-------------------|
A|------------------|-------------------|
E|------------------|-------------------|

Dm7add2
E|---------0--0--0--|----------0--0--0--|
B|------6--6--6--6--|---6---6--6--6--6--|
G|----0h5--5--5--5--|-0h5-0h5--5--5--5--|
D|--0---------------|-------------------|
A|------------------|-------------------|
E|------------------|-------------------|

D
E|-----0h2--------|--2--3p2-----0h2-----|
B|----------3--3--|----------3-------3--|
G|----------2--2--|----------2-------2--|
D|--0-------------|---------------------|
A|----------------|---------------------|
E|----------------|---------------------|

(Repeat above)

Dm7/add2
Old man look at my life, I'm a lot like

D
you were.

Dm7/add2
Old man look at my life I'm a lot like

D F C G
you were.

D F C F

Verse:
D F C G
Old man look at my life, twenty four and there's so much more.

D F C F
Live alone in a paradise that makes me think of two.

D F C G
Love lost, such a cost, give me things that won't get lost.

D C F G
Like a coin that won't get tossed rolling home to you

(base run from G into D of Chorus, notes: G A B C D)

Chorus:
D D Dsus4 D Am7 Em7

D Am7 Em7
Old man take a look at my life I'm a lot like you.

D Am7 Em7
I need someone to love me the whole day through.

D Am7 Em7
Ah, one look in my eyes and you can tell that's true.

D F C G
D F C F

2nd Verse:
Lullabys, look in your eyes, run around the same old town.
Doesn't mean that much to me to mean that much to you.
I've been first and last, look at how the time goes past.
But I'm all alone alone at last, rolling home to you.

(repeat chorus and go immediately into intro again
but on the last "you were" finish as below...)

D F C G D
you were.



A very detailed intro tab:

Legend:
h : hammer on
( ): 'play it or not, as you feel it'
p : pull off
/ : slide up

Dm9: xx0560

(some notes are more or less muted -- listen to the tape.)

Dm9
e:---------|---0--------|---------0--|------0--0--|------------|
B:---6-----|6--------6--|6--------6--|---6--6--6--|6--6-----6--|
G:5--0-h5--|5-----5-----|0-h5--5-(5)-|------------|0-h5--5--5--|
D:0--------|------0-----|------0-----|0-----------|------0-----|
A:---------|------------|------------|------------|------------|
E:---------|------------|------------|------------|------------|

D Dm9
e:---0--------|---0-h2--|---------|3-p2--------|---0--------|----0--|
B:6--6--6--6--|---------|---------|------------|---3--------|/6--6--|
G:5--5--5--0--|2--------|2--2--2--|------2--2--|2-----2--0--|-------|
D:------------|0--------|------0--|------0-----|0-----------|-------|
A:------------|---------|---------|------------|------------|-------|
E:------------|---------|---------|------------|------------|-------|


e:---0--0--0--|------------|---0--0--0--|------------|---0-----0--|
B:---6--6--6--|6--6-----6--|---6--6--6--|6--6-----6--|6--6--6-----|
G:5-----------|0-h5--5--5--|5-----------|0-h5-----5--|5-----5-----|
D:0-----------|------------|------------|------0-----|------------|
A:------------|------------|------------|------------|------------|
E:------------|------------|------------|------------|------------|

D Dm9
e:---0-h2--|---------|3-p2-----2--|---0---------|-0--0--0--0---|
B:---------|---------|3--------3--|3--3--3--/6--|(6)-----------|
G:2--------|2--2--2--|------2-----|2-----2------|(5)-----------|
D:0--------|------0--|------------|-------------|(0)-----------|
A:---------|---------|------------|-------------|--------------|
E:---------|---------|------------|-------------|--------------|
old

e:--(0)-0--0--|-------0--0--|------0--0--|------0--0--|------0--0--|
B:6-(6)(6)----|----6-(6)(6)-|-----(6)(6)-|---6-(6)(6)-|-----(6)(6)-|
G:0-h5--5-----|-------------|0-h5--------|------------|0-h5--------|
D:------------|0------------|------------|0-----------|------------|
A:------------|-------------|------------|------------|------------|
E:------------|-------------|------------|------------|------------|
man look at my life I' m lot like

D Dm9
e:---0-h2--|---------|3-p2--------|---0---------|-0--0--0--0---|
B:---------|3--3-----|3--------3--|---3-----/6--|(6)-----------|
G:---------|---------|------2-----|2-----2------|(5)-----------|
D:0--------|------0--|------------|-------------|(0)-----------|
A:---------|---------|------------|-------------|--------------|
E:---------|---------|------------|-------------|--------------|
you were old...

e:-------0--0--|------0--0--|------0--0--|------0--0--|------0--0---|
B:------(6)(6)-|-----(6)(6)-|-----(6)(6)-|-----(6)(6)-|-----(6)(6)--|
G:-0-h5--------|---5--------|0-h5--------|---5--------|0-h5---------|
D:(0)----------|0-----------|------------|0-----------|-------------|
A:-------------|------------|------------|------------|-------------|
E:-------------|------------|------------|------------|-------------|


D F C ...etc
e:----------------|
B:----------------|
G:----------------|
D:----------------|
A:----------------|
E:----------------|
you were

 
At 11/27/2007 06:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read many years ago that the "Big Birds" in the song "Helpless" were "B52s." I see someone else posted that idea. Can anyone confirm that from the wYoung's own words?

 
At 12/21/2007 10:25:00 PM, Anonymous joe_joe said...

Don't you all have anything better to do than to pick a song apart? It is what it is man! An artist creates something from an experience, an observation, whatever...That's our point of view. If we express it, it's left up for interpretation, for you all. We write stories that are half true to us, and who knows what otherwise. Quit trying to be interpretive people and just take it for what it does for you. Enjoy the story, gather what you can that relates to you, inspire from it if you can, dig the beat...There is no good reason to tear a song apart like that. I'm a huge Neil Young fan, but come on people...Lyrics Analysis? Get a life...

 
At 12/21/2007 10:33:00 PM, Anonymous joe_joe said...

How many of you have actually seen "Rust"? Just curious for discussion sake...

 
At 12/22/2007 12:08:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow Joejoe, don't you have anything better to do than be a hater? Everyone here loves the song and all music by NY. It just happens to be fun for us, much like you having fun finding ways to critisize people.

Long may you run.

 
At 12/29/2007 02:48:00 PM, Anonymous tia said...

Powder finger. A 'Beacon' doesn't have to be an electric light. A beacon is a navigational aide. Light houses are beacons and they didn't rely on electricity. I have no idea about this song. I think theorizing about Neil's songs is kind of pointless as they always have some kind of deeply personal meaning, but this song has a feeling to it that it is set in another time. I get the impression that 22 lives in a frontier like setting. The family portrait kind of sets that tone. The fact that Elliot R oberts believes it was intended for L S kind of gives it that ring too. Funny, I didn't get the impression it's at night, but it doesn't really say anyway.

 
At 1/11/2008 09:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always been a Neil Young fan but was just turned on to the 1971 Massey Hall album after seeing "Old Man" from that show on YouTube. The first song, "On the Way Home" has a familiar guitar lick and, after wracking my brain and using Google, I remebered that it sounded identical to the guitar lick from Todd Rungren's "Hello It's Me". I then did some more research and found that Young's song came out in '68, while Rundgren's song came out in '72 so it looks like Rundgren royally ripped Neil Young off on that one. I'm curious if plagerism was ever pursued.

 
At 1/20/2008 05:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My first thought when I heard "Powderfinger" was that it was about a draft dodger, given the time that it was written (during the Vietnam War) and the military is coming to get him to force "22" into service. Any thoughts on that?
L

 
At 1/20/2008 06:48:00 PM, Anonymous planobarryb said...

Draft dodger?......hmmmm. Interesting theory. Hey is this Neil?

 
At 1/27/2008 09:01:00 PM, Anonymous WAKE UP AMERICA!! said...

America-pls wake up!! pls VOTE, watch 'ZEITGEIST' avail on inet, then rent alex jones' ENDGAME' B4 U VOTE-IS OUR FATE THE NEW WORLD ORDER THAT DADDY BUSH SAID IN CONGRESS? Find out what their agenda speaks of, which is a return to FEUDALISM. woke this morning hearing the eerie 'for what it's worth' by buffalo springfield, then found 'ohio' by Neil young. At 55 yr old it hit me so hard i shivered and cried. Heard it a million times, but the line 'what if you knew her and found her dead on the ground' held a new meaning for me. Pls educate yourselves, become a peaceful activist-question authority-ask why the presidential candidates have 'lost their virginity' to the NEW WORLD ORDER. Do it now. i'm a degreed profesional who forgot her roots in activism-it works if you work it!!!

 
At 2/10/2008 09:44:00 PM, Anonymous ON THE RUN said...

Ahhh... Neil Young.. I discovered Neil Young, as a young adult. The lyrics of many of Neil Young's songs, have carried me, when I felt lost & helpless.. Many of his lyrics have opened my eyes, when I was blind from grief or troubles... "OLD MAN", "HEART OF GOLD", "AFTER THE GOLDRUSH".. There's more, of course..
I've always felt a connection to him.. As if I know him.. I'm sure, others feel the same... My life has been enriched by Neil Young.. In my opinion, no other possesses the talent of Neil Young.. His wisdom is deep & a treasure to those who take the time to listen & understand.. In a sense, he makes one see, what we are all missing, as if we live in a dream, being taught the importance of the "real world" before we are awaken, to face reality.. I'm forever loyal to his wisdom & ways & honesty.. Peace to my brother, NEIL YOUNG for he has filled my life with PEACE & HARMONY.. & led me through the tangled path, with his lyrics when I thought I'd never get to the other side, to start over again....

 
At 3/25/2008 08:52:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think, it's no coincidence, that "cortez, the killer" follows "powderfinger" on 'live rust' and and that both songs do form a triptych with "sedan delivery", the song before "powderfinger". i think, all three songs are about the numinous, strange feelings (ny said, "powderfinger" has something to do with "anger/angst") we/others are sometimes driven by, because there are things out there in/beside reality, we can't cope with. cause we are only human beings after all. a linguistic perspective on songs like "powderfinger" will form a perpetual discussion about nothing and all (just let your phantasy roll, everything is in one song if you're willing to see it in it)), but won't lead to "the truth behind the song". i think neil young means that, when he says that it was atype of unconscious process writing the lyrics of "powderfinger". and this is why "powderfinger" is as well enigmatic as simple; simple in the way, that it touches so many people so deep and disturbing: neil young is great man.

malte, germany

 
At 3/25/2008 10:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

an addition to my recent post:

on 'weld', disc two we find "cortez the killer" first, followed by "powderfinger". the situation in both song is similiar: someone's coming across the water. as killer/as a salvator?: ironic, that the aztecs thought, cortez is the promised salvator "kukulkan"/"quetzalcoatl" (="feathered serpent") from one of their archaic myths. think, one should follow that trace. "powderfinger" and "cortez the killer" is more than "some lyrics". it's great poetry. neil young is a poet. poets are hard to "understand". read, listen, think. don't analyse to much. adding numbers leads to nothing. 1+1 isn't 2 in terms of poetry.

malte

 
At 3/26/2008 08:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

cortez and powderfinger

(oh my god, i hope, ny will never read our/mine comments)

... you can even transplant verse 7 from "cortez" to the end of "powderfinger" ... i still believe that there is a relationship between both songs ... and not to forget "sedan delivry" as third "tableau" of the triptych

an abstract and relaxed approach is all we need. it's important to not understand ny lyrics (you'll loose when you're winning an understanding of ny lyrics, it's like tasting the forbidden fruit from the tree in the paradise, it will end in paradise lost)

get a feeling for the unsaid between the lines, play with the lyrics and their ever changing meanings - and the song will talking to you.

malte

 
At 3/28/2008 11:37:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've only just discovered neil young but it strikes me as pretty clear that "ordinary people" is a satirical, political attack on capitalism and the system run by crooks (the government). These are the "patch of ground people". The "ordinary people" on the other hand come in all shapes and sizes but their good old american hardworking values only prop up an evil regime. "they got faith in the regular guy, the patch of ground people". It refers clearly to american foreign policy. It talks about having a backroom full of the guns of war crookedly selling guns to the underground, helping the people to lose their ass for a piece of ground. meanwhile they get the drugs to street alright. witness american foreign policy in afganistan - poppy production has increased after american invasion. this song is bitterly sarcastic about peoples ignorance and faith in this society. It is anything but an ode to the regular guy.

 
At 4/18/2008 11:49:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

long may you run,R.S.(RIP)

 
At 4/22/2008 09:50:00 AM, Anonymous MCB said...

Hi all, first time writing on comments . I am a huge neil fan ,been to many,many shows and have my own personal ideas on his song writing. As i write songs for myself I would never let others read mainly because they would never beleive I wrote such lines. I think as I think Neil does that it comes from somwhere else. Maybe subconsiously I'm not sure. Maybe imagination unlocks a door.But anyhow Neil is brillant at putting you into the middle of somthing then showing you how you got there and never really telling you how it ends (left for you to discover). One of my favorite Neil lines is from "Running Dry" it's the last line " my cruelty has punctured me and now I'm running dry" talk abut painting a picture with words! Well kept up the good work Friends there's a lot more Neil to come I'm sure.

 
At 5/24/2008 08:34:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neil Young's Powderfinger song always makes me feel that he captures the mood and feeling of Ken Keyes' book Sometimes A Great Notion.

 
At 7/12/2008 01:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

in most of Neil Young's songs I can find some meaning but not Harvest. what is that all about?

 
At 7/17/2008 07:56:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first time I heard Powderfinger was when the Cowboy Junkies sang it. It is such an interesting song...I am glad I found this site.

When I first heard the song, I thought the gun went off accidently, thus killing him. '22' seemed so afraid. The song said the gun was raised to his eye, but who knows, he could of aimed it backwards being he was so young and scared. That, added to the 'seeing black and face flashing in the sky'.

Anyways, beautiful song. Thank you NY!

 
At 7/21/2008 11:14:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I need to add to the After the Goldrush thread.

The part about "thinking about what a friend had said I was hoping it was a lie"

I always thought this was about Hendrix OD'ing.

The song was written at about the same time.

 
At 8/08/2008 02:49:00 PM, Anonymous claudedeltieure said...

From I, Claudius...

The pedigree of "Powderfinger" makes it obvious that this is a song about an incident in the Civil War. In the first stages of the war, the Union immediately set about seeking to blockade Southern ports and especially take control of rivers to cut off both troop and supply movements. Because many rivers were either shallow or full of snags, smaller shallow-draft gunboats, packing cannon and a few support troops, were commonly used. By the nature of events, they would appear suddenly headed for some minor river port, often raiding but not occupying riverside settlements unless in support of land-based troops. The early days of the war also saw enthusiastic response by the men of many Southern states, leaving younger members to "guard the farm"and work the soil or shop. The tragic protangonist in "Powderfinger" is 22, a ripe age for military service. But right off the bat, we are given hints that here is someone left behind and alone in his actions because he is a simpleton, relying on others to tell him what to do. When left to his own devices, he reacts on a base level to perceived assault; he doesn't even think of the danger and being massively outgunned but simply takes a defensive stand -- and is killed for it. In the last stanzas, he wants his symbolic death shroud to be the sense of protectiveness to his home that was his final thought. And of course a parting goodbye to love. Enough to make you cry.

 
At 9/12/2008 03:42:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always loved Cowgirl in the Sand, and wondered endlessly what it is about.

The song has three stanzas, and each seems to talk about a woman of a different age. In the first stanza, the woman is young and beautiful, and can have her choice of any man---a real "cowgirl." The smitten young man cannot attain her, and realizes instead that the most he can hope for is to only see her sweet, sweet smile, and only then for a little while.

I think the second stanza refers to women who are older and whose physical beauty cannot quite compare to that of younger women. "Has your band begun to rust?", Neil asks---in other words, the woman has aged.

THe third stanza might refer to a mature woman who is no longer physically beautiful. She is susceptible to being jilted for a younger, lovelier woman. The famous line, "purple words on a gray background", I think, refers to love and passion to an older woman, who can and often is "turned down" for her age. But then the real message of the song comes through. This older woman, Neil says, is actually "the woman of my dreams." I think he is saying that a long, mature love with one person is the deepest and most meaningful kind of love. Indeed, that seems to be the case for a man married to the same woman now for 30 years. That he realized this about love as a very young man speaks volumes about the true genius that is Neil Young.

 
At 10/14/2008 12:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the way Neil put Fuckin Up right after White Line on Ragged Glory. It used to make me feel like we had something in common. I hope he was able to get past it too. Peace Doc

 
At 12/03/2008 03:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got an old recording of Neil doing the song "Greensleeves" and in it he sings, "greensleeves was my heart of gold." Just wondering if there is an inspiration or connection there for his song "Heart of Gold."

 
At 12/31/2008 06:18:00 PM, Anonymous philip said...

Re: Expecting to Fly; maybe about growing up and losing the security of mom and dad living together, losing the (often wrongly) assumed security of childhood - now the big bad world is here, I don't know how I fit in as (if you will pardon the paraphrasing of another songs lyric?) 'all my pictures have fallen, from the wall where I placed them yesterday'.
My perhaps over simplistic view is that many of Neil's songs refer to inner turmoil and frustration about love, loss and the betrayal and loneliness caused by realisation that things are not as they once were. Many of us hope for a base to our lives, something or someone we can trust - often we are let down.
In fact, one may argue the 'let down' idea is nearly always present in Neil's songs - from Cortez to Cowgirl to flying on the Ground, Rent is always due, Big time etc.
It has been a great year!
thanks for Thrashers Wheat!

 
At 2/01/2009 04:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I teach Neil Young to high school students who were told all of their lives they wouldn't amount to anything. I think especially "The Loner" is a ballad I like to start them with because we have no street cars or subways and most haven't see streets without men with cowboy boots on. Neil shreiks to them about lonliness when all along they have had a group to keep them from being lonely. I do teach both "Cinnamon Girl" and "Cowgirl in the Sand" as they are lyrics that can be broken down in poetic style and then I just play with their minds by telling them they are music. Kind of a hippie gone bad in the 21st century. Thanks to Neil for these 30+ great years. mhheyde

 
At 5/14/2009 01:48:00 PM, Blogger radar said...

I can give you an alternate meaning for "milk blood to keep from running out."

I was a meth addict (35 years ago) and what we would do is shoot maybe 99% of the speed into the vein, then slowly draw the blood back into the chamber of the hypodermic needle to mix with the stuff that might theoretically be clinging to the insides of the chamber and then push the plunder all the way in again. It also gave you the sensation of shooting up twice, which was an adrenaline rush in itself.

I am thankful that I hit bottom and realized it and turned away from drugs (cold turkey is at least as bad as you think) and eventually towards God. But anytime I hear that song I think of people I shot up with back then and wonder how many of them are still living?

 
At 8/29/2009 06:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

'I am a child': When "black is burned" you will have pure white. It's an every day experience e. g. at a barbecue: charcoal is the darkest black one can imagine ... burning charcoal entirely leaves: pure, absolute white = it's the ashes = the salt in/from the plants the charcoal was made of). but knowing this, mades the line not simple but even more great.

malte, germany

"In the song "I Am A Child", Neil puts forth one of his more famous lyrical puzzles. Young sings "What is the color when black is burned?" An interesting riddle, that only Neil knows the answer to, but last I checked, the answer appears to be "dark black". But could there be another color? Or is this really a question about colors? Some have interpreted the lyric to really be more of a statement about emotions and the heartbreak of love. Others think the answer is blowin' in the wind. - quote by thrasher"

 
At 8/29/2009 06:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

neil and only neil will endure

malte, germany

 
At 5/31/2010 10:10:00 PM, Anonymous thiago Nassif said...

Well, here is my view on the Neil Young “After the gold rush” lyrics:
Neil Young is an artist and as any great artist he is connected to the archetypal world. This song is full of clues that lead us to answers prior to the future of our world. Neil some how taped into this universe of symbols and expressed the pass, present and future of our nature on this song. The mother nature described in the song can also be human nature, after all we are all made of the same elements. In the first verse he’s talking about medieval times the queen that is mention is the Queen of Ethiopia or The Queen of Sheba she is mentioned as the Queen of the South in Matthew 12:42 and Luke 11:31 in the New Testament, where Jesus indicates that she and the Ninevites will judge the generation of Jesus' contemporaries who rejected him. She was also know as Solomon’s wife. Solomon is also known as a direct son of god. He used to guard the Ark of the Covenant in his temple. This ark is know as the manifestation of god it self and there is also a theory that says that the Ark holds a device that was given to us by the Sun Gods and it was used to change the gravitational fields of rocks and water. The Sun Gods were worship by ancient civilizations all around the world, they used to built pyramids to guard this device inside, the device helped Abraham conducted the people to Jerusalem by spliting the waters of the sea. Neil also talk about knights, he is talking about the knights Templar or the guardians of the truth , this device inside of the Ark holds a solution to all of this secrets that the church tried to uncovered for such a long time. This knights were around when the Ark went to Ethiopia. Queen of Sheba is also compared as the Virgin Marie that hold the blood line of the Sun Gods and its children are half god half human. On the phrase “and the archer split the tree” he’s probably talking about the tree of life, a Cabala symbol or a code to built this devices. A fanfare was blown for the Sun, this is a ritual, the Ark is safe again. On the second verse Neil is talking about him self in a state of meditation. That’s how he gathers all this information and passed to us, the consciousness is connected to the unconscious and all this thoughts can be reveal once it is all inside of every human being, the transcendental feelings is describe as getting high. He’s also thinking about some friend who probably was unfaithful at the time and confused hin with rational thoughts, he doesn’t want to believe that it is true, he believes on this Beings that will come and rescue us using the Sun as a Star gate. The last verse confirms this theory. This Gods are probably Aliens that travel in space ships thru the sun holes, there is a physicist call Nassim Haramain that explain all this theory’s. A Neil talk about the loading of the chosen ones, that’s the apocalyptic theory witch is also predicted by all ancient cultures. Only the ones with pure heart will remain, and be chosen by this Gods to leave the earth, the dying planet. The Mother Nature silver seeds are our sperm and ovules, that’s the only way to continue the Human race out of here. The Sun Gods used our sperm long time a go to make the Homo Sapiens. There is a huge gap in history that don’t prove how the cave half monkey half man became what we are now, The title after the gold rush also indicates that this song was written as a code to Humans to be prepare to this event. The gold rush took this superior beings to earth, before the man era, they collected gold in the earth to built their devices or to protect them. I also think that the Thrasher song is talking about the same thing. In this song Neil describe the space ships as a thrasher or a collector of seeds, human seed, the friends that are left behind are the ones that won’t be chosen because they loose the purity in their heart.

 
At 12/21/2010 02:37:00 PM, Blogger Sherry Adams said...

Neil Young's After the Goldrush reminds me of a profound childhood experience I had when I was 3 years old. And I saw a silver spaceship flying in the yellow haze of the sun. I remember looking into the eyes of my cosmic brother and being transported out of my body and seeing balls of colored light descending with me as I came back into my body. I was crying not out of sadness or fear, it was release. For the longest time I thought it was a dream, a very real dream and when I first heard the song After the Goldrush I thought somehow Neil Young had peeked into my experience that day. I later learned from TIME LIFE The UFO Phenomenon that there had been a sighting in Ann Arbor MI at that time, not far from where I lived, over 140 people witnessed this sighting and they described the same spaceship I saw. Maybe it wasn't a dream. The only difference was that I saw who was inside. The colors falling around reminds me of Dr. Usui rediscovering Reiki, he said that after 21 days of fasting and meditating the rainbow balls of light descended upon him enabling him to heal through touch. Perhaps the chosen ones are Healers and Children of the Sun.
The first verse reminds me of the Story of King Arthur, strangely enough my ancestors claim to be descendants of King Arthur.
The second verse, seems to me, was about Neil's experience writing/channeling this song. Myths transcend time.

 
At 2/17/2011 02:12:00 AM, Blogger tinojr said...

When I was younger I heard a song that was on a cassette of Neil Young and Crazy Horse. It had a sound effect of a cannon going off. I really want to know if anyone can tell me the name of that song so I can look for it,I have some sentimental memories connected to that song but but its been 23 yrs since I lost that tape. I know its not much to go by but could someone please help? I thank you in advance for any help you can give me.

 
At 3/28/2011 01:23:00 PM, Anonymous Gordon said...

I see a few comments about Harvest. To me, it's about child prostitution. The first couple of verses are obvious.

Did I see you down in young girls town, with your mother in so much pain?I was almost there at the top of the stairs with her screaming in the rain. (scene- a tenament with a mother yelling at her kid) Did she wake you up to tell you that it was only a change of plan? (the mother persuades the daughter it's OK..not to worry) ...."let me fill you cup with the promise of a man."(no explanation necessary)

Did I see you walking with the boys though it was not hand in hand? (the kid's been pimped) And was it some black face in a lonely place when you could understand?(no explanation necessary)

It's about a woman who pimps her own daughter.

The last couple of lines 'Well, I see you give more than I can give..well I only harvest some' suggests to me a later time when the singer rejects the girl (who's offering what she has to offer) out of compassion - she's maybe already even grown up and told him her life story - who knows. It's probably based on a newspaper report anyway and Neil just thought he'd throw in a couple of cryptic lines to give the song some mystery. But to me the overall topic is straightforward enough.

 
At 8/17/2011 06:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The story behind Harvest is well known ... no need to analyse it ...

 
At 3/16/2012 01:03:00 PM, Anonymous Ron Wilhelm said...

Big Green Country for the album Mirror Ball.

I would like to offer my perspective on the song Big Green Country. When I first heard this song I thought of it as a sequel to “Powder Finger”. It was about a pony express rider in the 1800’s with some shared imagery with PF. I have found that my first impression was way too shallow for the subject matter in this song. My deeper realization of the song’s meaning developed from the cringe factor I felt when in the first verse when I heard Neil say, “a pack of wolves wanted their money back”. I took this to mean that the wolves out on the plain waiting to attack and eat the Lone Rider, realized the Indians would get him first. When I heard this line I really thought to myself, ‘come on Neil, that is a really lame line. Something that would never have appeared in Powder Finger.”

After listen to Mirror Ball for some time, I started to have a new appreciation for the concept of the album. To me, Neil saw himself in a mentor role, a role-model, to these young guys in Pearl Jam. The album is packed with messages to the band, warnings about the music business and staying true to your muse. In general, the album is a Neil-lesson on how to survive as an artist and he is passing his wisdom on to Pearl Jam as he performs with them. It is truly an amazing album from that perspective.

Once I realized this I was forced to re-think the meaning of Big Green country. And it hinges on that horrible line I initially cringed at. From my perspective, this song is a retelling of the terrible experience Neil had with Geffen Records.

First verse

The Lone Grey Rider is Neil flying along delivering his songs at break-neck speed, as they come to him.
The pack of wolves that wanted their money pack was Geffen Records suing him for the $3 million advance that he had received when he signed with them.

“Folded arms the chief stood watching, painted braves slip down the hill”, is a comment on how David Geffen approached the lawsuit. Geffen handled this by having the company lawyers sue Neil. He stood back and watched as his “braves” attacked.

“In his head the spirit talking as they closed in for a easy kill” Neil has said that David Geffen wanted to shock him back into making great music. The spirit in Geffen’s head is his instincts for the record business. The easy kill was Neil never seeing the lawsuit coming.

Second Verse

This deals with Neil’s family life throughout this crisis. I think of the wife as being Peggy, waiting and hoping that Neil would be able to survive the artistic devastation that the law suit brought to him. “Would he make it this time?”

Third Verse

“Over the hill in the big green country, that’s the place where the cancer cowboy rides.”
This is a play on words. In the song it is directional. Over there. Over the hill where the big green country is. But it also means getting old, “over the hill”. The big green country is the money in the music business. The phrase cancer cowboy is a reference to a slowly dying artist. It is the symbolic decay of a career that has to stay fresh and vibrant in this big money business.

“Pure as the driven snow before it got him” is a reference to Neil’s naïveté to the real workings of the record business. He thought that friendship with Geffen would never allow such a thing to happen to him.

And the final telling ending…
“Sometimes I feel like a piece of paper” Neil feels like he’s just a record contract.

“Sometimes I feel like my own name” That would be “young”.

In this context, this song is absolutely brilliant. Like so many of Neil’s songs, he buries the true meaning deep within a simple story line. It is similar to Cortez the Killer and Powder Finger in this regard.

 
At 5/27/2012 11:17:00 AM, Blogger RIOTCHERD said...

Hey Dudes!
An aspect re the meaning of Neil's lyrics is how the story he tells in a song can uncannily relate to events and situations in our own lives. As if it was written for and about us.
This is a strong manifestation of the communion amongst people, of the universal soul, reaching across all the layers and reaches of human existence and emotion. What a wonderful gift is the ability to put in words such revalence. Thanks so much, Mr. Young!

An amazing example...

Having been a fan of Neil's music since the first Springfield album, I would ~always~ get his records right when they were issued. But not the case with American Stars & Bars, I was not aware of its existence until one fateful day in September 1977.
Returning home after work, I walked into an empty house. My now ex-wife had left without notice.

Runnoft!

Although our relationship had been deteriorating, this was quite a shock to the senses and emotions.
So, seeking essential companionship, I grabbed my bag of red Columbian weed and headed over to my friend and fellow NY fan Gilbert's place. After self- medicating with a huge bomber joint and a cold beer, I did my best to cope and relax a bit.
So he puts on Stars & Bars, and the very first music I heard as a newly dumped guy was the song The Old Country Waltz. And boy, did it fit my life to a tee.

"They were playing that old country waltz, in this empty bar, echoing off the walls. When I first got the bad news that you set me free, the band played the old country waltz for me."

Go figure. Awesome, heartfelt, uncanny.

That was but one of many such songs it seems he wrote "for me."

I would love to hear you guys' similar stories.

 
At 2/10/2013 02:26:00 PM, Blogger Christian Crumlish said...

pretty sure numbers add up tonothing refers to the numbers on the side of the police (revenoo-er's) boat, indicating its "the authorities,"

 
At 5/20/2014 10:58:00 AM, Blogger Frances Quasney said...

you were right or should I say your friend was right. It is a term that IV drug users use. That might be why he also adds "I know some of you won't understand. Milk blood to keep from running out." Milking blood is when you pull back on the syringe and draw up blood (after you've injected the heroin) and repeat the process. No hidden meaning there.

 
At 12/01/2015 07:52:00 PM, Blogger Pocahontas said...

When I first heard NY was divorcing Pegi, I assumed he left her for another, but after listening to Storytone Like You Used To Do and Glimmer, I think she left him. As much as I love the man, and I know some of you will understand, he may be difficult to be married to.

 
At 9/18/2016 08:21:00 AM, Blogger JB said...

Neil Young fried his brain back in the 70's and still has more talent than most of us commoners could ever wish for.
He's had a great life. May it continue for many more years.
???does he ever tour anymore?

 

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