Neil Young News
This is one of a series of articles which provide an explanation of the meaning of Neil Young's song Thrasher. While the interpretation of lyrics presented here is composed of several viewpoints, there is little consensus on the exact meaning of Neil's songs. The themes and symbolism of Young's songwriting provide a rich tapestry on which to project various meanings and analysis. Enjoy!
(Adapted from RUST@DEATH posts November 1993 and April 1994.)
Thrasher, one of the most gentle and beautiful of all Neil Young songs.
Acoustic poetry, if you will. But what does it all mean?
While it is impossible to ever know what Neil really means with his
lyrics, it's always an interesting excercise probing the possibilities.
With most of Young's songs, interpretation occurs at 2 levels: the literal
and the metaphorical. An analysis of "Thrasher" reveals it to be
Neil's lyrical magnum opus.
The "great grand canyon rescue episode" line, which has sparked a few
debates, is actually the third reference in "Thrasher" to geologic
formations. The first reference is "Down the timeless gorge of changes",
the second is "Lost in crystal canyons".
Literally, "the great grand canyon rescue episode" probably refers to one
of the many Western TV shows like "Rawhide", "The Rifleman", "The Lone
Ranger" or "Cheyenne" that were broadcast during the mid- 50's. Or maybe
"Lassie", as several have mentioned. The line, "Brings back the time when
I was 8 or 9 watching my mama's TV" puts the shows in sync with the
Deeper analysis, however, shows a much more revealing picture of what Neil
means by the phrase. The "thrasher" refers to several themes, actually.
There is the thrasher as a farm implement which harvests grain or a
reaper. Thus, "thrasher" is a reference to the grim-reaper (or death).
Neil is using the phrase "thrasher" as a metaphor for the decline of
traditional farming (possibly presaging his interest in farm Aid?), as well as, artistic decline.
More significantly are the references to "they".
"They were hiding behind hay bales",
"They were planting in the full moon"
"they had given all they had for something new",
"they had the best selection, they were poisoned with protection".
In Thrasher, "they" refers to CSN - who went artistically bankrupt.
There has also been speculation that Thrasher refers to the breakup of
(Update: This theory was later confirmed in a 1995 interview in MOJO Magazine with Nick Kent, Neil said: "Thrasher was pretty much me writing about my experiences with Crosby, Stills & Nash in the mid-'70s."
But straight from the horse's mouth, here's Neil talking about whether
Rust Never Sleeps had been influenced by the U.K punk scene, he had this to say:
"..Most of the songs on that album had been written well before the Sex
Pistols were ever heard of. The Thrasher was pretty much me writing about
my experiences with Crosby, Stills & Nash in the mid-'70s.."
The line "lost in crystal canyons", along with "aimless blade of science
[razor blade]", is a clear reference to David Crosby's drug problems.
The dinosaurs are CSNY - extinct, a fossil. "So I got bored and left them
there, they were just dead weight to me" refers to Neil's departure from
CSNY. "It's better on the road without that load" signifies Neil's
successful solo path.
Here's what Neil said in a Musician mag interview, 11/85 about Thrasher being a reference to crosby, Stills & Nash:
The lyrics "Headed out to where the pavement turns to sand", may refer to the making of the album On The Beach after the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young breakup.
Regarding the line "They were planting in the full moon" it clearly
indicates how out of synch Neil was with CSNY since one is supposed to
plant when a moon is waxing and harvest when full.
Thrasher is far more explicit - and cutting - than even Landing On Water's
"The flower children have gone to seed/ And the wooden ships [CSNY] were
just a Hippie Dream"
The only other song which reveals the depth of Neil's regret at the CSNY
venture is Hawks & Doves "The Old Homestead". Old Homestead is another
fertile ground of symbology and metaphor. Somebody could have real field
day on this one! (My next analysis project when I get around to it.) As
the Naked Rider inquires knowingly: "Why do you ride that crazy horse?"
Further in "The Old Homestead":
"Birds 2 & 3 [Crosby & Nash] - Where have you been, they said to the
first [Stills]. Get back to the clouds [success], we're dying of thirst
[$'s]. There's not enough time to make that call. Let's ditch this
rider [Young], shadow and all".
Thus, the autobiographical "Thrasher" is a metaphor for the liberating
effect of Neil breaking away from CSN or "that great grand canyon rescue
episode" where our hero makes the save from the artistic death of
creativity "where the vulture glides descending".
The canyons also signify a passage of time, as well as, differences of
opinion. The artistic differences which led to the breakup of CSNY were
on such a scale to be similar to a canyon. CSN on one side, Neil on the
other and a river running between them. ("Be on my side, I'll be on your
Although the surface of the simple melody and stark acoustic beauty convey a
near sense of tranquilty, underneath "Thrasher"s lyrics paint a darker
more, ominous picture. One of Young's most imagery laden songs ever,
"Thrasher" reveals the maturing of a true musical genius.
Through the timeless gorge of changes,
Here are more responses to the original post on meaning of the song Thrasher.More on Thrasher (song), Thrashers (fans) and Thrasher's Wheat.
Anyone know why the translation of Thrasher is sometimes trasher?
Neil Young Lyrics Analysis
Thrasher's Wheat - A Neil Young Archive