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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Music Video for "Powderfinger" by Neil Young: So Now Do We Finally Know What The Song Is About?

Last month, Neil Young released the Official Music Video for the song "Powderfinger" from his new album 'Hitchhiker'.

So how much has releasing an official video of "Powderfinger" changed our impressions and interpretations of this classic Neil Young song forty years on? A comment on the video from Greg, A Friend Of Yours:
Yes, confirms the images I've always imagined in the song.

"Official" video, meaning the narrative conforms to Neil's lyrical intention? I don't know that I've ever seen this sort of video presentation exactly, a mixture of portrait, still life, and animation? Empty rocking chair? Twenty-two has joined Emmy Lou. "Red men run..."- this is the first time I've ever heard that. A close to original iteration of the lyric that seemingly must give a different nuance to the story than what it became later, or a slip up? It reminds me of the variation of "Afraid, a man feels afraid" in the Massey Hall version of Heart Of Gold, it has to give the song a different nuance. Can you imagine the effect on a stoned Dean Stockwell of these and the other song lyrics? Had to have been mind blowing (no pun intended). Love everything about this video- song, stripped down acoustic, performance, art and format.

I hope there are more on the way, executed the same way.

A Friend Of Yours
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.


"Powderfinger" would seem to be near the very top of Neil Young's vast catalog as one of his most enduring and beloved songs.

From the indispensable Sugar Mountain, "Powderfinger" has been played 780 times, the 2nd most played song in concert.

1.Heart Of Gold - 808

2.Powderfinger - 781

3.Cinnamon Girl - 780

4.After The Gold Rush - 672

5.The Needle And The Damage Done - 623

The first performance was 1978-05-26, Late Show, The Boarding House, San Francisco, California, USA. The last performance was 2016-10-15, Empire Polo Club, Indio, California, USA. This is a span of nearly 40 years.

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.

"Powderfinger": The International Harvesters Era Style, circa ~1984

"Powderfinger" was curiously omitted from his the 2011 album A Treasure since the song was a setlist regular during the 1984-1985 International Harvesters tours.

Also, check the hundreds of theories on 'Powderfinger' on the following TW threads:

Got a hunch on what "Powderfinger" is all about? Drop a comment below.

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At 10/17/2017 06:33:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

So here are a few thoughts on Powderfinger below that we're seeding this thread with from earlier comments on TW...

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.

At 10/17/2017 06:33:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

From Dan S. who said...

The song Powderfinger I feel is a metaphor of the price we humans pay when greed, power, and ego create the need to divide and conquer. Throughout human history there have been men in places of great power who feel the need to impose their need for more power by invading the innocent.

In the song, the young man has experienced the normal highs and lows of everyday life that we can all relate to, and then is faced by unknown invaders on his home shore. He is then forced to choose between freedom or oppression, and chooses to protect the only life he's ever known.

His humanity allows him a brief moment where he realizes his dilemma in the line, "shelter me from the powder and the finger", but his time of conflict between right or wrong is shortened by the fact he must act now because of forces bigger than himself. So he chooses to die a free man rather than live as a conquered man. The time and place could be anywhere or any time, but Neil chooses to create his personal vision of the location to tell his story.

These are just some of my thoughts on the lyrical content of this powerful song and I'm sure there is more to dissect, but for now I don't want to ramble on too long. The songs power is attributed to it's universal theme which anyone anywhere can relate to, and the dilemma forced on the young man's world.

At 10/17/2017 06:34:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

From Scotsman:

You've got to remember how influenced by cinema Neil Young is. For many of his best songs, Neil isn't just songwriter; he's also director, stage manager. And you, as the listener, will often become the main character (when Neil sings "Daddy's rifle in my hand felt reassuring", then you are most likely imaging that rifle in your own hands, from a first-person point of view).

"Look out mama, there's a white boat coming up the river". "He came dancing across the water". "Once I thought I saw you in a crowded hazy bar". "Mindless drifter on the road". "The sun is setting on the long road home". "The wagons in the valley pulled up for the night". Stark opening lyrics written like stage directions, Neil writing the script, choosing the camera angles, the costumes, the background music.

Of course, Greendale is the most perfect and the most extended example of this cinematic approach. "Outside the jail window, a crow flew across the sky. Completely disappearing behind each bar, then a helicopter flew by". Perfect. And requiring no explanation.

In Shakey, Neil says Powderfinger is "just a scene, y'know?", and I think that's the best way to approach it. When I listen to it, I always see a miniature film in my head. Compare it to a movie like Resovoir Dogs; there's no set-in-stone point to it, it's a fly-on-the-wall record of an dramatic incident and the listener fills in the gaps, makes of it what she will. A scene constructed for it's own sake.

Nowadays, Powderfinger is one of those songs that is always solid but rarely exciting. Crazy Horse are the only band who routinely perform it wth the required hard-rock edge. Definitive Poncho, Talbot and Molina. Almost all non-Horse versions are underpowered and lack the required levels of drama and suspense.

For a particularly thrilling listen, I'll point you towards two live takes recorded days apart in 1991. Version one is from Maryland 27th February 1991 (sensibly included on the Weld CD), and version two is from Atlanta 3rd March 1991. Always solidly performed, taking the song up a level relies on the eloquence and soaring beauty of Neil's guitar playing, and in that respect these two versions are hard to beat.


At 10/17/2017 06:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 10/18/2017 05:05:00 AM, Blogger Alan said...


At 10/18/2017 11:25:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Alan - or psychopath, most likely.

At 10/18/2017 12:45:00 PM, Blogger Stills said...

Ya know...I don't post very often. I just enjoy reading everything...everything except for this OMEMEE dude. Really not sure why he's even here!

At 10/18/2017 02:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 10/18/2017 02:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 10/18/2017 02:52:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 10/18/2017 05:27:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ OMEMEE -- is that you John "EH"? Or is someone else deleting your comments?

can't imagine why you would delete those comments?

You do know that we can still see the comments even after they are deleted right?


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