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Saturday, July 09, 2011

"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'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 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 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.


At 7/09/2011 07:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave from vancouver wa. says...This is one of my favorites...what a great rendition...the Harvesters make the song sound so beautiful...way to go boys!!

At 7/10/2011 09:55:00 AM, Blogger Stringman said...

this is the first footage I have seen that has (a very young) Joel Bernstein in it on acoustic guitar.

A very basic country style Powderfinger


At 7/10/2011 12:48:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Stringman - great point! Missed Joel and need to go back & replay.

At 7/11/2011 04:17:00 AM, Blogger John said...

"during the 194-1985 International Harvesters tours."

Nearly 1800 years? That's one long tour!

At 7/11/2011 04:06:00 PM, Blogger Jill said...

Joel Bernstein does appear in this video someone has very kindly uploaded from the DVD `Neil Young in Berlin`, from the Trans tour.

You can see the back of his head fairly soon into the vid, then again quite clearly behind Neil from 4.52 mins in.

GReat Powderfinger, interesting how a lot of Neil`s classic songs can adapt so easily to different styles. I guess that`s because Neil himself can switch from style to style so readily. And as he has said many times, good music is good music, regardless of what catagory it fits into.

At 7/11/2011 11:24:00 PM, Blogger SONY said...

"Are you ready for the country
Are you ready for me"

At 7/12/2011 08:15:00 AM, Blogger JimDC821 said...

An all-time classic ! Maybe his best composed song of them all (and that's saying a lot). I really think A Treasure could have easily have been a 2 CD set. Missing are such obvious songs such as Comes a Time, Fields of Opportunity, and Roll Another Number, as well as relative concert rarities as Califoria Sunset, This Old House and Touch the Night. The release of some of the songs involving the marraige of the Harvesters and the Horse would be most compelling. A Treasure 2? Or, save it for Archives 2 (or 3?)???

Jim in DC

Gateway of Love

At 7/13/2011 02:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for bringing this version of Powderfinger to life. Nice county version with just enough rock.


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