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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Thoughts on “Thrasher”: Neil Young Last Performed 36 Years Ago

“Thrasher” by Neil Young, Dolby Theatre, Los Angeles, CA, 04/02/2014 (reviews)

The song “Thrasher” by Neil Young was last performed in concert 36 years ago in 1978 on the Rust Never Sleeps tour.

The reemergence of “Thrasher” in the setlist during Neil Young's solo run Dolby Theatre, Los Angeles, CA has certainly thrilled and stunned fans.

Setlist Los Angeles, CA, 3/29/2014
Photo by Candy Butterscotch

Until last week, the song had been played in concert only 32 times, the last time being Oct 24, 1978, which was captured in the “Rust Never Sleeps” concert film. (Thanks Sugar Mountain!)

So why now? Was there any particular motivation of Neil to perform this rarity in 2014 in Los Angeles?

Well, as with all things, Neil, who knows?

Just before performing the “Thrasher” encore on the 3rd night in Los Angeles (April 1), Neil Young said:
"This song, uh, you know, I did it, I haven't done it that much in my life, because, at a very vulnerable moment I read something about it. Just like the worst fucking review I've ever read. So, for all you reviewers, if you feel like your words don't mean anything, you're probably right. In that case.. in that case, they were damaging. So, anyway, we uh .. I think I got this uh.. I think this is the one here, I hope so.."
As we rambled about the other night on Thrasher's Wheat Radio, there's a great deal of significance to the song's unexpected resurfacing after its 36 years absence as Neil's most requested obscurity track.

Obviously, the song “Thrasher” is quite special to us and we've long considered the song to be Neil Young’s lyrical magnum opus - rich with poetry, metaphors, themes, allusions, and symbols. In one of our very first posts to the Rust list back in 1993 we attempted An Analysis of the Meaning of the song Thrasher Lyrics.

Looking back today at the analysis, there were some things that we think we got right and a few things that were clearly wrong. Our central thesis at the time was that "Thrasher" was about the whole mega group Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young trip in the mid-'70s. Neil seemed to be referring to his former bandmates as the "they" in “Thrasher”. The dinosaurs are CSNY - extinct, a fossil. "So I got bored and left them there, they were just dead weight to me" refers to Neil's departure from CSNY. "It's better on the road without that load" signifies Neil's successful solo path.

“Thrasher” - Rust Never Sleeps film

So that was then. This is now.

It's now been 40 years since the 1974 reunion tour and there's been much speculation about a multi-disc box set being released for the anniversary, as well as, a possible tour. While still no definite confirmation of CSNY plans here in 2014, the clock ticks on and the possibility remains.

But it would seem that the performance of “Thrasher” last week would be a good omen in terms of Neil reconciling differences with CS&N. Or not?

Could this be Neil's response to CS&N regarding the 1974 reunion tour box set, as in it's not going to happen? Well, in our humble opinion, no. The box set will be released someday and Neil will play with CS&N again someday.

"But me I'm not stopping there,
Got my own row left to hoe
Just another line in the field of time
When the thrashers comes, I'll be stuck in the sun
Like the dinosaurs in shrines
But I'll know the time has come
To give what's mine. "

First-ever performance of “Thrasher” recorded on May 24, 1978 at the legendary Boarding House in San Francisco.

Or maybe the performance of “Thrasher” has nothing to do with CSNY? Maybe another 4 letter acronym... PONO? A comment below by The Flying Scotsman just might be on to something...

Neil Young
Dolby Theatre, Los Angeles, CA, 04/02/2014
Photo by Jeff Allen
(Click photo to enlarge)

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At 4/08/2014 08:58:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They were hiding behind hay bales,
They were planting in the full moon
They had given all they had for something new
But the light of day was on them,
They could see the thrashers coming
And the water shone like diamonds
In the dew.

And I was just getting up,
Hit the road before it's light
Trying to catch an hour on the sun
When I saw those thrashers rolling by,
Looking more than two lanes wide
I was feelin' like my day had just begun.

Where the eagle glides ascending
There's an ancient river bending
Through the timeless gorge of changes
where sleeplessness awaits
I searched out my companions,
Who were lost in crystal canyons
When the aimless blade of science
Slashed the pearly gates.

It was then I knew I'd had enough,
Burned my credit card for fuel
Headed out to where the pavement turns to sand
With a one-way ticket to the land of truth
And my suitcase in my hand
How I lost my friends I still don't understand.

They had the best selection,
They were poisoned with protection
There was nothing that they needed,
Nothing left to find
They were lost in rock formations
Or became park bench mutations
On the sidewalks and in the stations
They were waiting, waiting.

So I got bored and left them there,
They were just deadweight to me
Better down the road without that load
Brings back the time when I was eight or nine
I was watchin' my mama's T.V.,
It was that great Grand Canyon rescue episode.

Where the vulture glides ascending
On an asphalt highway bending
Thru libraries and museums,
Galaxies and stars
Down the windy halls of friendship
To the rose clipped by the bullwhip
The motel of lost companions
Waits with heated pool and bar.

But me I'm not stopping there,
Got my own row left to hoe
Just another line in the field of time
When the thrasher comes I'll be stuck in the sun
Like the dinosaurs in shrines
But I'll know the time has come
To give what's mine

At 4/08/2014 09:17:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The aimless blade of science" - surely a reference to the criticism of Pono, intended or not! :-)

Also, along the same lines was Neil's story about one of his guitars: he believed the story for years. Then someone introduced doubt into his mind - it turns out the story about it wasn't true. But he kept on believing the story anyway: "So to me, it's still true".

As blatant a metaphor for his belief in hi-res audio as there could possibly be, and quite apt for the rest of us, too.

It's all about what we believe.

The Flying Scotsman.

At 4/08/2014 09:53:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@The Flying Scotsman - You know, you might be on to something here with the PONO angle and the return of Thrasher.

Throughout NY's career, folks have doubted him by saying you can't sing, your band can't play, etc.

Thrasher was another early song for the doubters. So here we are 36 years later and folks have been putting a major doubt on PONO. Makes the Lincvolt doubters look tame. (Maybe car folks are more mellow than music folks?)

We'll never forget on the 74 CSNY tour Neil playing Ambulance Blues and sneering out the lyrics:
“You're all just pissin' in the wind ”. We -- like many -- took the lines as humourous missing the undertone.

"I searched out my companions,
Who were lost in crystal (*MP3*) canyons"

At 4/08/2014 10:24:00 AM, Blogger punkdavid said...

I love this song so much, I also named my blog after it! That performance on the third night in LA is superb, no missed lyrics.

I wouldn't read too much specific into the reemergence of the song, except that it's a great, well-loved song, and Neil still finds relevance in it. It was a prediction about the future in 1978, and now it's a validation of Neil's life and the decisions he's made.

At 4/08/2014 10:35:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...Definitely a perfect final song for the LA shows! I heard the tape of the 2nd April show and absolutely loved it.

The Flying Scotsman

At 4/08/2014 11:00:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

Thanks punkdavid !

Agree that the performance is a validating statement.

Vulture = Doubter

ps - love your blog Where The Vulture Glides Descending!

At 4/08/2014 11:11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great song. Among the best of Neil's lyrics.

Too bad he just strums the chords instead of playing the song 'like it should'.

I think Philadelphia is kinda speciaal too.

At 4/08/2014 11:48:00 AM, Blogger Raincheck said...

There is little difference between car guys and audio guys. The difference is that at this point LincVolt is Neil's toy, not a commercial product. If Neil went into production and said it costs $80,000 and here are the specs and the power and the range. And all that.....

So with PONO you have a product Neil is asking people to buy, and, like any product, consumers, "experts," and idiots have opinions. Is it better than what I have? Will it sound better? Does it have enough capacity to hold my music? Do I like the design? Is it a good value?

All valid questions. And until we have one in our hands, hard to answer, but it is OK for people to opine based on what they know. It doesn't make the, "doubters" or birthers or truthers.

At 4/08/2014 12:25:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Thanks Raincheck.

The problem isn't so much "doubters or birthers or truthers" but what they stand for. Fine if you're against something but what are you for?

If you're a PONO doubter does that mean you're a MP3/ipod believer/lover? If so, fine. But say so. Is that what you're suggesting? Low res MP3 files are ok with you?

Roel over at Rust Radio sent this over just now for some strange reason?

Thrashing: a constant state of paging, rapidly exchanging data in memory for data on disk, to the exclusion of most application-level processing.

Well, that's typical TW alright -- about how our day usually was feelin' like it had just begun...

At 4/08/2014 02:21:00 PM, Blogger Raincheck said...

HeyThrasher, I'm all for PONO. Can't wait to have one in my hand and try it out. I'm just saying most of the discussion I've seen, even the negative, is pretty rational. None of us will know until we see it.

I love Neil's music. I think his book is OK and his movies are not so great. How is his music system? Can't wait to find out. Optimistic.

For me it usually comes down to the mastering. A well mastered CD can sound great to me. I hope PONO is better, but I don't know and I am interested in hearing all sides of the tech debate.

At 4/08/2014 02:43:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Thanks again Raincheck.

No disagreement that some of the negativity is based on technical discussion.

But here's where we're at. Virtually all of the negativity is coming from the "audiophile" class who have not even heard an actual PONO demo.

OTOH, listen/watch the testimonials of professionally trained musicians, engineers, etc. These respected individuals can clearly hear a big difference in quality. And they have no financial interest in the success or failure of PONO.

It's one thing to doubt based on one's own direct experience. It's another to doubt when you have a vested interest in the status quo.

At 4/08/2014 03:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm very glad Neil is concerned with audio quality, it's important. My feeling is that Pono can be a great success if they take the emphasis away from hi-res and onto other performance improving aspects such as converters, mastering, better speakers etc. Otherwise, I don't think it will last long.

At first, it's easy to trick people into thinking hi-res sounds better - just turn the volume up by as little as 1%. That's proven to make it sound better - just 1%! One of the guys who had a pono demo confirmed that Neil turned the volume up when hires came on. In fact, by Neil's own admission in a recent interview, it was "jury rigged". He's honest about it.

And yet, sound professionals far and wide can't tell 24/192 from 16/44.1 WHEN (and that's important) they don't know in advance which is which. You don't have to take my word for it : try it yourself! Download foobar, add a 24/192 file and exactly the same file converted to 16/44.1 file, see if you can hear the difference in an ABX test.

Scientific tests so far haven't found a single person who can.

So CD quality is fine for me. Certainly no worse than hi-res. I have relatively young, definitely healthy ears. Scientific tests show that I'm the rule, not the exception. There are no known exceptions, other than Clark Kent.

I listened to the 2nd April show on rust radio, in mp3 quality, and it was magical. Why? Because the performance was extraordinary, and it was a great recording. That's what really matters. Hi-res would have made it better still by introducing the placebo effect. Nothing more than that. But nothing less, either.

The Flying Scotsman.

At 4/08/2014 03:30:00 PM, Anonymous Carlos said...

You guys are funny... a decent device as the Fiio X5 was just launched at 350 USD and everybody here paint as normal to invest 400 USD in a device that none could review yet, whose specs are mostly unknown (and look inferior for what we know), only because God Neil tells you to do so. Come on... It must be some kind of Obama effect over the USA...

At 4/08/2014 05:30:00 PM, Blogger SONY said...

36 years is a long wait for ANYTHING!

I was always disappointed that the LIVE RUST didn't have the Thrasher cut on it, and I didn't know it was there until I saw the video years after having the album. So what he screwed it up. They could have and should have spliced one in from another show, who'd a known? or just add the credit.

Thrasher - song, soul and website, are among my favorite Neil exposures of life. Thru them I have discovered many a side of the man, the music, the muse, and the musings! For that, I am ever grateful. Wish he'd a played it at some of the shows I was at, but absence make the heart(of gold) grow fonder. Play it again, (and again, and again....)Neil! It is one of his BEST songs (there, I said it!)

At 4/08/2014 09:15:00 PM, Blogger setlistthief said...

The reemergence of Thrasher reminds us that the best songs are alive and changing. So it is with the 2014 performance.

When Neil first wrote and performed this song he was in his early thirties-a time when most of us finally feel like we're grownups. Indeed, Neil had already seen so much life and death, joy and tragedy up close. Thrasher seems to be a reaction to all that; the CSNY breakup. Danny and Bruce's deaths, the birth of his kids, Carrie, the longing to get away from it all. The song is full of metaphor and imagery like no other NY composition, describing childhood memories, dreams, life and death. Indeed, every line is precious, not a word wasted, following a chronological narrative from young to old. How Neil at a tender young age could write those words and set them to a simple, gorgeously rendered melody true to a traditional folk song structure is beyond astonishing. It is truly unique.

But now the song looks back over a life. In that context, it becomes something else, a chronicle, a memoir. That's what makes it alive.

"But me I'm not stopping there,
Got my own row left to hoe
Just another line in the field of time
When the thrasher comes I'll be stuck in the sun
Like the dinosaurs in shrines
But I'll know the time has come
To give what's mine"

My God. Those words in 2014 mean something completely different than they did in 1978. But the meaning hasn't changed at all, either.

At 4/08/2014 09:29:00 PM, Anonymous Cal_Trader said...

Well, I must say I too am skeptical of Pono if it's all about the player? I was an early adopter of Laserdisc and found myself on an island when it came to access to movies or video. I already own some Fiio gear and still wonder if there will ever be an affordable mainstream HD format. My Panasonic Blu-ray player currently plays most HD formats. Am I willing to pay 2x or 3x the $$ to download 192/24, sure if it's truly HD quality. I use sites like HDtracks to access some HD audio, but the pickens are slim. NO NEIL YOUNG content. The issue with HD audio is the availability of content. Their just isn't much out there. If there was more content available, there would be dozens more players available.

At 4/08/2014 10:08:00 PM, Blogger SONY said...

just a postscript here to my previous post... he did play Thrasher at the Rust Never Sleeps show I was at in '78, what a night. All these years later, my next door neighbor was at that show too.

At 4/08/2014 10:24:00 PM, Anonymous Multigrain said...

kudos to old hippie neighbors !! I'm sure most of mine were too, but most old hippies move on...for there's very few of them left my friend, from the days that used to be.

At 4/08/2014 10:44:00 PM, Blogger Dan1 said...

so well said!

At 4/09/2014 09:04:00 AM, Blogger setlistthief said...

Thanks, Dan1. And another thing...we think of Neil Young's songs as intensely personal, but ultimately what he writes is incredibly universal. Who hasn't watched westerns on their mama's TV? Who hasn't watched eagles and vultures soaring in the western sky? Who hasn't wondered how they lost their friends? And how many of us aren't becoming aware of our own mortality?

For me the most poignant line is "I was feelin' like my day had just begun." Sung by a man pushing 70, it serves to remind me how much more I want to accomplish in my life. With all his acccomplishments of the last decade (going back to Greendale) imagine how Neil Young feels.

At 4/14/2014 03:01:00 PM, Blogger Dmitri Karamazov said...

I love the alternate lyric:

The motel of lost companions
Waits with heated pool and air conditioned bar.


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