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.