MetaChat REGISTER   ||   LOGIN   ||   IMAGES ARE OFF   ||   RECENT COMMENTS




artphoto by splunge
artphoto by TheophileEscargot
artphoto by Kronos_to_Earth
artphoto by ethylene

Home

About

Search

Archives

Mecha Wiki

Metachat Eye

Emcee

IRC Channels

IRC FAQ


 RSS


Comment Feed:

RSS

18 October 2005

Powderfinger by Neil Young. What the hell is that song actually about? I've heard it a million times and musically it's incredibly powerful, but I can't put my finger on the topic. Neil himself is mum on it. Are the protagonists frontier soldiers/homesteaders? in Vietnam? Drug smugglers? I'm baffled. Still a great song, though.
lyrics
posted by jonmc 18 October | 22:18
Just listening, reading and free-associating here, it sounds like he's living on the bayou and his moonshine still is in dire jeopardy of being dismantled by the revenooers.

Disclaimer: My great-great-great grandfather ran the most productive still in Searcy County, Arkansas. Saaaalute.
posted by go dog go 18 October | 22:25
I always assumed it was a Civil War thing, and there were evil Yankees coming up the river and . . and. . hmmm. Perhaps I am betraying my roots. I never thought about it, just naturally figured it had to be, you know, THE war. of northern aggression
posted by mygothlaundry 18 October | 22:26
Disclaimer: My great-great-great grandfather ran the most productive still in Searcy County, Arkansas. Saaaalute.

Heh. My grandpa's business partner in his Marine Supply/curio shop at Fulton Fish Market was my dad's "Uncle" Jack, who Dad described as "a professional gambler."

I always assumed it was a Civil War thing,

Except Neils Canadian, so that would be a strange perspective for him.
posted by jonmc 18 October | 22:28
From the lyrics, it appears to be about the smuggling of cocaine replacing old time country moonshinin', and the cocaine boat shooting the young man (whose sister drown'd) before he could shoot them.

Also, he was in love with his sister, or something.
posted by interrobang 18 October | 22:29
My first thought when I saw the "It's got numbers on the side, and a gun, and it's makin' big waves." was that it was referring to a patrol boat as used in Vietnam but, when I read it again, note that it is a white boat, which doesn't make sense in that context. Also, the red beacon sounds more like law enforcement, so my guess would be moonshiners.
posted by dg 18 October | 22:29
Ah, but there's the EmmyLou reference. Could it be that he's talking about Clear Channel?
posted by go dog go 18 October | 22:31
The moonshine thing is an interesting interpretation but it dosen't lend itself to the positively apocalyptic atmosphere the music creates. And Neil Young has always been somewhat obsessed with the decay and decline of sixties idealism (witness the Tonight's The Night album) so , dope smugglers, maybe? Makes more sense in context.
posted by jonmc 18 October | 22:32
Clear Channel's definitely got some numbers on its side.
posted by go dog go 18 October | 22:34
Well, so was Robbie Robertson Canadian, and he wrote about Cripple Creek - which I'm just now reading is about Colorado, not the Appalachians as I always thought. Damn. Must. Stop. Jumping. To. Southern. Conclusions.
However, in this article it turns out that Cripple Creek is actually not about anything but a state of mind. Although they do go down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.
posted by mygothlaundry 18 October | 22:35
Well John is obviously JFK and Emily Lou is probably Emily Lou Harris who, at the time the song was written, was thought dead by drowning. So, now that I've given you those details (the 'gold', so to speak), you can run with it as only an idiot states the obvious.
posted by dobbs 18 October | 22:37
I never really thought about it much but, knowing that Neil is from Canada, I always assumed it was about a - you know, Canadian thing/historical event. I also always assumed that this was the same river down by which he shot his baby.

Hmm. Maybe I have thought about it after all.
posted by yhbc 18 October | 22:39
Maybe it is about music and the doom thereof.

Think of me
as one you'd never figured
Would fade away so young
With so much left undone
Remember me to my love,
I know I'll miss her.

Hmm. It isn't blatantly out there with the message like Tom Petty and The Last DJ, but it kind of fits, apocalyptic atmosphere notwithstanding.
posted by go dog go 18 October | 22:39
Ah. I see the Canadian thing has already been introduced. Nevermind.
posted by yhbc 18 October | 22:39
Maybe it's an apocalyptic tale of the future, when government agents will naturally be coming up the river to shoot harmless hippies farmers' children as they try to defend what little the hive brain has left them.

Remember, this is Neil Young, the man who, instead of writing another line in Southern Man, just yowled. And who gave us the classically mysterious line: Old enough to repaint but young enough to sell.
posted by mygothlaundry 18 October | 22:41
"Powderfinger" came out long before Clear Channel (loathe them though I do, like any true believer) was a force in the business, but then again you are "postmodern" millie, so run with it...

MGL, that lines not mysterious at all; he's young old enough to think about setting down roots, but still old enough to want to wander through life aimlessly, that songs about the tension between the two impulses (which I know only too well, thankyouverymuch)
posted by jonmc 18 October | 22:43
Neil Young has always been somewhat obsessed with the decay and decline of sixties idealism.
Haven't we all?

I'm not so sure - not being able to remember the song (haven't heard any Neil Young for ages, having recently decided to aquaint myself with some music of this century to decide if my previous opinion that it is all crap still stands) very well, the atmosphere may change my feeling - I was just working on the lyrics. They sound a lot like any number of songs that have been written about moonshiners, demise of, over the years so this is still my best guess. If it was drug smugglers, what is the perspective of the subject of the lyrics? Smuggler? Someone caught in the middle? Police? Doesn't make sense in that context.

Old enough to repaint but young enough to sell.
Nothing mysterious there, I thought.
posted by dg 18 October | 22:43
I seem to recall reading that he'd either written it for Lynyrd Skynyrd or wanted to record it with them. Not sure which, at this late date, but perhaps that will shine a little light?
posted by bmarkey 18 October | 22:43
still young enough to want to wander through life. sorry.


The Skynyrd reference is interesting, bmarkey. In Ronnie Van Zant's voice the song would seem to be about the fiercely independent southern outlaw caught in a world that no longer has any use for him.
posted by jonmc 18 October | 22:46
It was indeed written for Skynrd. Young has also, mutltiple times, denied it has any specific meaning. He's also said he's sick of being asked as no one believes him when he tells them this. It's just a story and doesn't mean anything beyond that story.
posted by dobbs 18 October | 22:47
Well, yeah, it was pre-CC, jonmc, but at the mitosis of the corporatization of music. Neil's enough of a visionary to see the Britney that lay ahead.

Really, EmmyLou was thought dead at some point? I did not know that.
posted by go dog go 18 October | 22:48
and that's an open invitation to create an interpretation, dobbs. just saying. When something has as much emotional impact as this song does, it's natural to try and plumb it's depths. "Wrong," perhaps, but natural nonetheless.
posted by jonmc 18 October | 22:48
I didn't realize (as stated upthread) that the meaning of the song was much-debated. And I'm sorry to seem overly literal (and whatever the case Im sure you got this part already) but I always figured the song was about situations (which can vary across time) when boys have to assume a whole lot more responsibility than they are ready for. Certainly Vietnam brought that issue to the forefront, but so have a lot of other things since then. I love the song, it breaks my heart, and I sometimes try to think about what would be the girls version of Powderfinger.
posted by sophieblue 18 October | 22:50
Here's a run-down on the Young-Skynyrd connection. "Powderfinger" comes up about 2/3 down the page.

Slightly off-topic: I was watching my DVD of "Rust Never Sleeps" this weekend, (and yes indeed, Billy Talbot is wearing a Skynyrd t-shirt), marvelling over the fact that A) I was at that show, and B) it took place just shy of 27 years ago, 10/22/78. Damn, I done got old.
posted by bmarkey 18 October | 22:53
Jeez, bmarkey, I woulda been in second grade. But I still grew up loving the song. Age don't mean nothin' , right, buddy.
posted by jonmc 18 October | 22:55
On several occassions Neil has been asked point blank what the song was about and his response was either "I forgot" or he just wouldn't answer. I've heard the story that it's Neil's take on a story he heard/misheard from one of the guys in Lynrd Skynrd.

I had never actually read the lyrics until now, and it makes no sense seeing it in print. Hearing it in the context of the song the words flow and seem to mean something, but I had never actually tried to piece together the story/meaning. I used to think it was some kind hillbilly thing, but now I might think it doesn't actually mean anything specific. At times Neil can be direct, and at times he is incredibly vague and references things he only he would connect to.
posted by Slack-a-gogo 18 October | 22:55
We all got old - what happened there? I always swore I was never going to get old. Still, at least I can do something about the never growing up part. Not to mention the burn out vs fade away thing.

but I always figured the song was about situations (which can vary across time) when boys have to assume a whole lot more responsibility than they are ready for.
Perhaps if you add on the inevitability that this brings, where you can't really affect the outcome but feel honour-bound to try anyway. I doubt it, though - songs tend to be about something, even if obliquely, rather than just loose concepts.
posted by dg 18 October | 23:00
I was 17 at the time. It was the loudest show I've ever attended. The only shows I've seen that even came close were Husker Du in a mid-sized club and Motorhead in a small one.
posted by bmarkey 18 October | 23:00
Yeah, it's probably futile to plumb it's depths (much like "Ode To Billy Joe") since I guess the mystery is kind of the point, but the impact of the music makes such plumbing irresistible. Strange.
posted by jonmc 18 October | 23:02
It'd be nice if someone would post the song for those of us who have never heard it.
posted by interrobang 18 October | 23:03
I only have it on cassette, alas, or I would. Damn. I really thought it was on Decade, but it's not.
posted by mygothlaundry 18 October | 23:13
I walked all the way across the apartment to do this, i-banger.

here ya go.
posted by jonmc 18 October | 23:13
"marvelling over the fact that A) I was at that show, and B) it took place just shy of 27 years ago, 10/22/78" Crap I was there too and I was 16. Can't be that long ago.
posted by arse_hat 19 October | 03:42
No shit, arse_hat? (Oh, now there's an unfortunate sentence.) Did your 3-D glasses do anything? 'Cause ours didn't really, although we were fairly far off to the (stage left/house right) side, on the floor.
posted by bmarkey 19 October | 03:54
jeepers bmarkey we were on the other side. I really didn't give the show the attention it deserved. IT was a first date.
posted by arse_hat 19 October | 14:08
If you were president.... || Touch of Evil:

HOME  ||   REGISTER  ||   LOGIN