"Powderfinger": The International Harvesters Era Style
Powderfinger by Neil Young and The International Harvesters, circa ~1984.
"Powderfinger" is one Neil's most enduring and beloved songs in his vast catalog. Curiously omitted from his latest album A Treasure, the song "Powderfinger" was a setlist regular during the 1984-1985 International Harvesters tours.
We've always found the analysis of Neil Young lyrics to be quite fascinating.
And we're not the only ones. Of all the mail and comments that we receive here at Thrasher's Wheat, nothing compares with how frequently the topic of "Powderfinger" comes up. While many long time fans sort of roll their eyes at the subject, it seems that no other song so transfixes the more "casual" fan.
A quick recap. The definitive lyrics analysis of "Powderfinger" was done by Mark "Powderfinger" Klus way back in 1995 on the rust@fish server. Mark "Powderfinger"'s original analysis was quickly dissected and expanded.
But even today, the question of what does the song "Powderfinger" mean continues to be the source of endless theories.
We've had these letters and comments piling up all over the place and thought the time had finally come to try and consolidate to find a more permanent home for these far flung interpretations.
So here are a few thoughts below...
From Shelter me from the Powder in the Finger:
One of Neil's most iconic and classic songs...I remember discussing this song with my college friends in 1980 - we'd listen to it over and over again (under the influence of who knows what!) and debate the story...it's fascinating to see the song still resonates as profoundly now as it did then...
Someone in another blog said something to the affect that 'Powderfinger' was a truly American song that touched on many themes without settling on one, and I tend to agree with that. I see the setting in the day - how else could 22 see a white boat coming up the river a mile away? Beyond that, I've always pictured a Southern scene, obviously a backwoods family earning what they saw to be an 'honest living' that wasn't perhaps legal...my wife's family were moonshiners in WV, and I can tell you they to this day believe they did NO wrong other than get caught!
As far as the specific scene, I see 22 as doing what he thinks is right regardless of knowing he is out-gunned and in a hopeless situation, that his actions of firing are his last (and only?) defiant act of protecting their lifestyle...as far as the white boat, in my mind it's the 'Government', the setting is the late 1800's, early 1900's...
I don't know if anyone will get the definitive answer as to the circumstance surrounding 'Powderfinger', but it's obviously a powerful song that, IMHO, is one of Neil's greatest, which is saying a lot considering his incredible breadth of work.
Got a hunch on what "Powderfinger" is all about? Drop a comment below.