David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 36: Neil Young (Powderfinger)

June 1, 2020

I heard Neil Young's "Powderfinger" while cleaning out my garage this weekend. I had purposefully chosen that activity to keep me distracted from the news for at least a few hours.  Fate would have it, the song did everything but distract me.

The speculation about what the song is exactly about is rather comical. Plenty of Neil Young fan pages attempt to do that. I have my own backstory to the song's narrative; I don't really care if others see the same thing or not. It is irrelevant. What is relevant is the tragic plight of the narrator set within the context of some of Neil Young & Crazy Horse's most superb musicianship. The song features the classic big guitar licks true to all of Young's epic songs throughout his career ("Cortez The Killer" and "Like A Hurricane" are the first two that come to mind). His guitar distorts, buzzes, echoes, and sears all while Crazy Horse provides the song's rhythmic core, along with some awesome threnodial "oohs" as background vocals.

Because of all that, as June 2020 rolls in, this song's story of tragic proportions seems more apt than ever.  What fate have we bequeathed our children?  How many of our kids have "just turned 22/. . . wondering what to do?"  The son (I will stick with the male pronoun, as there's a slightly different distressing narrative for our daughters) distrusts the menacing authority figures all around him, cloaked by their "big red beacon and a flag," their vehicle with "numbers on the side" "and a gun." He will see that first shot coming and will be unable and unwilling to dodge it.

In his moment of decision, the dysfunctional environment we have given him has abandoned him either through desertion or dereliction: "Daddy's gone/my brother's out hunting in the mountains/Big John's been drinking since the river took Emmy Lou." His only response is to grab his father's gun and make a hopeless stand.

We might have taught the option to run or fight, stressing the advice that "red means run, son." We might have emphasized that even having greater numbers "don't up add to nothing" in this fight with authority.  In the end, at his end, our defiant son raises the gun in defiance, sees "black" as his "face flash[es] in the sky," and we end up with yet another dead son, another casualty on the war front. 

Please, someone, shelter our kids from the powder and the finger. Protect them from the thoughts that pull the trigger. They continue to "fade away so young/with so much left undone."

I really don't want have to use Lou Reed's "Kill Your Sons" in this series. Really. Don't. Want. To. Stop pushing me toward there.

"Powderfinger." Rust Never Sleeps. Neil Young. Reprise. 1979. Link here.

Day 35: Courtney Barnett "Sunday Roast."

Day 37: Mongo Santamaria "Yeh Yeh."

See complete list here.