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Friday, October 10, 2014

36 Years Since Our Last "Thrasher": Neil Young, Philadelphia - October 8, 2014

Neil Young, Philadelphia - October 8, 2014
(Video by Sister Terri)

It's been a long time coming.

But it was oh-so worth the wait.

It's been 36 years ago since we first heard Neil Young perform the song "Thrasher" on the 1978 Rust Never Sleeps tour on October 7 in William & Mary Hall at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. In retrospect, it was an unforgettable moment. A moment that we eventually came to believe that we would never, ever experience again in our lifetime.

And Neil performed the song "Thrasher" with all the intensity and passion that we could ever hope. And it was flawless. All the lyrics were nailed. The right harmonica was loaded. And the audience was rapturously hanging on every note, pondering those oh-so cryptically metaphorical verses.

After 1978, Neil would never play the song "Thrasher" again... that is until 2014 at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, CA on 3/29/2014.

Until this year, the song "Thrasher" 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*. (*Cow Palace, San Francisco, 22 October 1978. Thanks So Tired & 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, based on Neil's response to a crowd shout out in Philadelphia to CSNY, Neil replied "Never again."

"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...
"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.
Well, we now know the time has come to give what's ours.

We still see the vista. We still hear the muse. We continue.
Godspeed. Thank you Neil. Mahalo.

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At 10/10/2014 11:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone have any idea what the negative review is that Neil seems to be referring to in his remarks in L.A. before playing the song?

At 10/10/2014 12:08:00 PM, Blogger andrea1bianco said...

The movie RNS was captured from Cow Palace, San Francisco, 22 October 1978, not from the 24th October date, as above mentioned.
So Tired.

At 10/10/2014 12:11:00 PM, Blogger Tom said...

I don't have a guitar with me right now and I wasn't blessed with perfect pitch.
Can anyone tell me if Neil is using the Capo to change the key of the song to A or A# or is the guitar just tuned way down and the capo is bringing him back to G?

At 10/10/2014 12:35:00 PM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

In my opinion, Thrasher is without question Neil's lyrical masterpiece (followed closely by Ambulance Blues).

To me, most of Neil's songs are incredibly "meaningful" but they're also "meaningless" when looking for clarity of intent. Lyrically, most of them lack directness (until his more recent literal works beginning with Prairie Wind). That is to say, they are very cryptic and mean different things to everyone (including Neil I believe). At his best, his songs just flew out of him in clever image couplets. To this day, no one has ever explained to me what a Cinnamon Girl is or a Cowgirl in the Sand. I could go on and on, but I know what they mean to me and that's the beauty of his writing.

As for playing Thrasher at his recent shows, it seems pretty clear to me. Thrasher is one of the few songs he's written that while beautifully poetic, also contains some pretty direct feelings about loss and age.

To me, his playing it now is his expression of brutally honest fear. Fear of potential dementia (like his father), fear of irrelevance in an ever changing world, fear of leaving something left unsaid and/or undone. There's no time left to wait (for us or for him)..

A truly beautiful song, by an incredibly moving artist facing his mortality. He's taking stock of what really matters and is opening up much of himself for us all. We are seeing and hearing what matters most to him now, and I feel at the same time he's encouraging us all to take action. With ourselves first, and then with the people and the things that matter most to us.

"How I lost my friends, I still don't understand"...

At 10/10/2014 02:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

man, me thinks you hit the nail square on the head and yer summation of "Thrasher" was eloquently stated, imho.
Love that tune, indeed.
wish he woulda played it during the Carnegie run last year. OFW. glad to hear the philly crowd should respect that seemed to be lacking the nite I saw him in NYC.


At 10/10/2014 03:12:00 PM, Blogger Old Black said...


According to the set list, he loaded up a D blues harp so my guess he capoed up in a full step using standard tuning (not dropped) so he could play Thrasher in D - he's using a G chord shape for the A.

At 10/10/2014 03:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


The Philly crowd was shouting out just as much if not more than at the Carnegie shows. The difference is, Neil seemed in a better mood to put up with it this time around.

- vertigone

At 10/10/2014 03:43:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ 11:21:00 AM - good question. we haven't heard of anyone pinning this down as of yet. maybe the review will float to the surface someday. or maybe is was just another of neil's dreams...

@So Tired - Thanks for correction! updated.

So what we were trying to say is that the last performance was 10/24 @ The Forum. But as you said, the film is 2 days earlier.

so why do we keep f'n up?! ;)

@Tom - certainly someone more musically inclined can shed some light?

@TopangaDaze - beautiful comment. definitely worthy of a Comment of the Moment.

So fear? hmm. We always like to think of neil as a pretty fearless character. Maybe his way of recognizing the fear but his way of pushing beyond the fear.

Because, as everyone knows, there is no point in living in fear. Just be.


At 10/10/2014 05:09:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

Anyone know what guitar story The Flying Scotsman was referring to? Hopefully not one that puts the origins of Hank into doubt? Or is this old news?

At 10/10/2014 07:14:00 PM, Blogger vvvv said...


I'm not certain, but I think it's the story about the guitar that had a bullet hole in it from getting shot while the previous owner was playing it.


At 10/11/2014 02:50:00 AM, Blogger dickie said...

About the review: in his second long interview for Rolling Stone by Cameron Crowe (1979), Neil said he was very upset by a story/review in Time Magazine, favorably comparing his latest tour with Bob Dylan's. Apparently he felt insulted for being instrumental in a put down of Dylan.
Could that be the story that prompted him to stop playing Thrasher ( which, in its own way, also is a put down of former companions and friends who have turned into dead weight).

At 10/11/2014 10:05:00 AM, Blogger Art Carey said...

A cinnamon girl is a groupie who attends to the drummer's needs. A cowgirl in the sand is a promiscuous woman who's roping them in. Ruby in the dust is a married woman who's having an affair. And the woman of his dreams is that cowgirl, a bit older, being rejected because of that "too many lovers" double standard.

At 10/11/2014 10:08:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@dickie - sounds plausible. we touched on this a bit when we delved into the whole Bob & Neil legends awhile back.

maybe we'll need to update with the latest thinking?

At 10/12/2014 02:46:00 AM, Blogger rojo said...

Seems like Neil is in the news everyday. Kinda liked the old way that he popped up here and there. He always seemed not to want to be in the limelight. Lot of drama going on. Just love the music!


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