Monday, April 28, 2008

THE GREAT SONGS : # 62 "POWDERFINGER" by NEIL YOUNG

FROM 1979's:

Don't judge a storyteller by his reputation. Meaning, if someone says "Neil Young", a normal reaction would be "guitar hero". Fair enough. But I know kick ass fret work like I know quantum physics. So, to me, Neil Young is a song man. An assimilated troubadour from America's northern neighbor.

The sixth song on Rust Never Sleeps, "Powderfinger" starts with one of those iconic salvos that will pull a fan to their feet before the band even hit a note: "Look out momma/there's a white boat/coming up the river". Hear it more than once, twice, three times and you'll start bumping along with invisible riffs.

The character of the song is a 22 year-old country boy from an era unknown (it's a time when boats still delivered mail... if that's of any help). He's become the De facto man of the house because, well:
"Daddy's gone/my brother's out hunting in the mountains/Big John's been drinking/since the river took Emmy-Lou/So the powers that be/left me here to do the thinkin'"
In the last verse, having just popped his trigger finger's cherry, the young man feels transformed, proud, and rinsed anew:
"Cover me/with the thought/that pulled the trigger..."
Crazy Horse sings this line in full harmony with Young, giving the request a heavy, gospel tinged quality.

"Powderfinger" could be read as if the young man dies at the end of the song. That's up to you. I like to hear "Powderfinger" as a teen angst anthem for the short-lived youth of one hundred and forty years ago.

7 comments:

Tom Drew said...

Your first paragraph is spot-on, I think. I love love love Neil Young, and it's for the songs. As far as his guitar work is concerned, he's probably my favorite acoustic player ever, and not because he's flashy, but because he's unique. (Side note: Listen to the opening guitar riff on the Smiths' "Half a Person." It sounds like something from the acoustic half of Rust Never Sleeps.)

But back to the songs, and specifically "Powderfinger," which is a masterpiece on about six thousand different levels...

Aw crap, I just had a thought/epiphany/coffee-induced bit o' brain activity. Check my lil' blogspot later.

Michael the Toad said...

I have a different take on the end of the song. The young man never actually takes a shot. In my analysis, as he is raising the gun to his own eye he himself is shot, automatically, it seems like the right thing to do, but then as he is dying he questions the tragedy that is violence. "Shelter me from the powder and the finger" means shelter me from violence and the need to use violence.

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mat mazy said...

I wonder if "you better call John is reference to a Dear John letter so popular during Nam

mat mazy said...

I wonder if "you better call John is reference to a Dear John letter so popular during Nam