Neil Young News
(Adapted from RUST@DEATH posts November 1993 and April 1994.)
OK, by now everybody's probably had enough of this, but here's more for
In followups to the original posts, Welfare Mother/Charlene asked if
"Thrasher" has been performed since the '78 Rust Never Sleeps tour. As
far as I'm aware, never again.
A couple of theories on why such an unbelievable tune has disappeared from
One theory that has circulated is that Neil's buddies - Crosby, Stills and
Nash - were quiet upset by the obvious references to their artistic
demise. Whether this is true, I don't know. If it were true that
they were angered by Thrasher, would Neil have stopped playing
My theory on the Thrasher's absence is a little more whimisical. Watch
closely the film Rust Never Sleeps. During Thrasher, Neil stumbles
delivering the lines "Poisoned with protection/Park bench mutations".
It's like Neil is so into it he just goes blank. Which is really rare
for him onstage.
When I saw the RNS tour in Virginia - which was early in the tour - you
could hear a needle drop during Thrasher. It was absolutley riveting and
mesmerizing. So incredibly powerful. The crowd was breathless.
And when you watch RNS, I'm really amazed that Neil left so obvious a
flaw in the film. he could have said I screwed it up and let's cut it out.
But, thank God, he let it stay. The RNS film was a one-take deal on
the last night of the tour in San Francisco and no other concerts were
So maybe the performance flaw is so indelibly seared in Neil's mind that
he's afraid to perform it again? Or maybe the song's lyrical complexity
is too much to just throw in a set?
Kim, the Unknown Legend, and I were chatting about Thrasher
and she brings up the Biblical angle. And I'm thinking, well I don't
believe Neil is religous in the traditional sense. Would Neil actually
use the Bible as source material??
Unknown Legend cited a Bible parable in St. Matthew, Chapter 13, verses 24
to 30 and verses 36 to 43 as a possible link to Thrasher.
The specific verse is #30, here it is:
"Let both grow together until harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say
to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles
to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn."
It has also been mentioned that the melody of Thrasher is very similar to
the unreleased Evening Coconut.
Compare EC's chords and tunings in this passage:
"Have you seen the evening coconut lying on the bay, standing on the
water's edge of stone"
"when I saw those thrashers rolling by looking more tha two lanes wide"
From Zain: L.A. Music Book: "'Thrasher' was Young's condemnation of
dinosaurs...'poisoned with protection' in their 'crystal canyons' but
unable to avoid the thrashers of punk rock."
Sure, the Thrasher as a metaphor for Johnny Rotten & the Sex Pistols and
the whole punk scene is valid.
The line "the aimless blade of science chops the pearly gates" has the
following interpretation: It is a reference to "Occam's Razor" (sometimes
called the principle of parsimony as well). A "rule of thumb"
developed by the English philosopher William of Ockham (died 1349). It
states that "in explaining something, explanations must not be needlessly
multiplied". That is, if there are two answers, one simple and the other
complicated, the simple one is the most likely to be correct. Ockham's
observation was one of the founding principles of science - why bother
with complicated explanations based on "magic" (alchemy, astrology,
religion etc.) when the testable physical laws of the universe will do
How any of this relates to the rest of the song is anyone's guess. I
certainly go along with the general view that the song is about Neil
dumping CSN. I would argue that lines about "burning credit cards for
fuel" and "going were the pavement turns to sand" don't necessarily
directly follow from as a consequence of the abandonment of religion,
"chopping the pearly gates", in favour of rationalism. Science may
have given us the tools to wreck the planet but materialism and
ecological damage weren't inevitable.
Nigel Atkinson, Chem & Bio, University of Teesside, England
Through the timeless gorge of changes,
From Thrasher's Wheat Guestbook on Neil Young Comments by James Sheats:
"I must say that it had never occurred to me in many dozens of listenings to this song (and singing it hundreds of times to my infant children as a lullaby) that it had any personal connotations, though the relationship to CSN is certainly logical. But "Thrasher", whether intentionally or not, is a most extraordinary, I'd say awesome, allegory of American history from the Revolution to the present.
It is so clear that it is hard not to believe it was deliberate, though the creative process does sometimes produce such unintentional effects. The first verse is filled with allusions to the life of early American settlers: "hiding behind hay bales" is what the soldiers did battling against the British; "planting in the full moon" may be out of cycle, but it represents the spirit of pioneer agriculture.
A little later, the eagle, official symbol of the American nation, is mentioned, in ascension and in connection with images of the grandeur of the country. Already, however, ominous signs of change are evident; the imagery becomes that of machines and paved roads, and an inexorable juggernaut that rolls along not caring what it hits. Young is the awaking artist (and representative of the artistic spirit generally), who remains true to the timeless realm of spiritual values and truth when society around him turns to materialism, technology and the credit-card consumer society.
"Crystal canyons" and "rock formations" certainly resonate with the local sociology of Neil Young's professional world, but they also connect with the earlier imagery of the American landscape: the "timeless gorge of changes" with its ancient truths has turned into a canyon of drugs, the emblem of superficial instant-truth seeking. This culminates in the government's willingness to flood the Grand Canyon, the first "rescue episode" for which was being led by David Brower and the Sierra Club at just the time Young was 8-9 years old (ca. 1954).
In the last two verses we see the modern era: the ancient river has become an asphault highway, the eagle a vulture, preying on the disadvantages around the world instead of being a beacon of hope and freedom. The hay and the open waters have given way to buildings which can only tell the story of the past, instead of giving life to the present. "Galaxies and stars" are otherworldly if taken literally; symbolically they are cars with large fins and Hollywood glitter.
The best is yet saved for the last: "Down the windy halls of friendship, to the rose clipped by the bullwhip": The American democratic experiment began in Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love; it was here that our first politicians labored through many a windy speech to give birth to the Constitution and to the flowering of democracy. That dream was far in the background as television brought the nation view of Southern policeman using bullwhips on peaceful citizens. The allegories and allusions in this so
The allegories and allusions in this song are multilayered and full of many meanings, as a good song should be. As Robert Hunter has aptly said: "A good lyric is allusion, illusion, subterfuge and collusion. ... I may know where they come from, but I don't know where they've been."
01.22.06 - 4:18 am
I've been looking through your site's lyrics analysis for Thrasher and I can't see any mention of this. I've been wondering, ever since I read Barney Hoskin's Hotel California and then happened upon an article about high end real estate in LA, if it is possible that the lyrics to Thrasher refer, at least in part, to Thrasher Avenue, which is here on Google maps, near where Neil and a large number of his contemporaries lived in the sixties.
I have a pet theory that the song is about Neil's move from Laurel Canyon to Topanga described as both as a physical and metaphorical journey and the reference would fit quite neatly into this.
What do you think?
Here's a response to the post with Steve Peck's thoughts on Thrasher.
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