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Neil Young
Rust Never Sleeps

Song Meaning and Background of Powderfinger by Neil Young

Crazy Horse guitarist Frank Sampedro stated that this song came to Young in a seizure dream:

It’s an epic Western story told over five minutes about a lone 22-year-old left to defend his outlaw kin against government soldiers now that his daddy’s dead.

"Powderfinger" is a song written by Neil Young, first released on his 1979 album Rust Never Sleeps. A 2014 Rolling Stone special issue on Young ranked it as Young's best song ever.

“The lyrics are the posthumous narration of a young man who attempts to protect his family against an approaching gunboat. He realizes that all of the older men are unavailable, leaving him "to do the thinking".

After initial indecision, he eventually takes action, and is ultimately killed. He describes his death with the gruesome line "my face splash in the sky”.

Lyrics of Powderfinger by Neil Young

Look out, Mama,

there's a white boat

comin' up the river

With a big red beacon,

and a flag,

and a man on the rail

I think you'd better call John,

'Cause it don't

look like they're here

to deliver the mail

And it's less than a mile away

I hope they didn't come to stay

It's got numbers on the side

and a gun

And it's makin' big waves.

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'

And I just turned twenty-two

I was wonderin' what to do

And the closer they got,

The more those feelings grew.

Daddy's rifle in my hand

felt reassurin'

He told me,

Red means run, son,

numbers add up to nothin'

But when the first shot

hit the docks I saw it comin'

Raised my rifle to my eye

Never stopped to wonder why.

Then I saw black,

And my face splashed in the sky.

Shelter me from the powder

and the finger

Cover me with the thought

that pulled the trigger

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.

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Neil Young


Young, Briggs, Mulligan



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