Friday, September 7, 2007

look out, Mama...

Ben was listening to some Neil Young music that he had downloaded the other night, and it reminded me how much I love Neil Young's music. Not all of it, of course. I mean, there is just too much to love. The man has been writing and performing music for, like, forty years now.

I love the songs on the Neil Young tape that Ben made for me so many years ago. And I mean those songs and those versions, specifically. No others will do. And Julie feels the same way I do about that. We have nearly driven Ben crazy over the years, with demands to exactly replicate that tape before it is worn out and lost to us forever. (As an aside, I am delighted to report that the tape has been successfully tranferred to CD, so it will never be lost to us, but that is not what this post is about.)

I love different songs for different reasons. You might think Four Dead in Ohio would be my favorite, what with living in Kent and all, but after parking in the lot every day for five years where four innocent college students died, it's just too sad for me. Southern Man always takes me back to the times when Julie and I sang or hummed the song softly to each other as we walked through countless flea markets and antique shows all across northeastern Ohio.

Hurricane was my favorite for many years, and how convenient it was that Ben had placed it as the first song on Side 2 of my tape. I could re-wind and play it over and over again. And I did. I loved the story Ben told me that this particular version had been a pre-concert sound check, and the musicians just kept playing as they realized how incredible it sounded.

I realized a couple of years ago, however, that my favorite Neil Young song was actually the live version on my tape of Powderfinger. To tell you the truth, I don't know why I love that song as much as I do. Well, there is Neil Young's guitar-playing, of course. Need I even say that? But, also, I find the lyrics so sweet and sad and evocative. Imagine my surprise when Ben and Tom and Julie all agreed this was one of their favorite Neil Young songs, as well. Ben even found some fascinating on line discussions where other fans discussed what they thought the enigmatic lyrics meant.

So, what the heck, I include the lyrics below. What do you think they mean?


Powderfinger

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.

11 comments:

Kristy said...

I too heart Neil Young, but my exposure to him comes mostly from CSNY and seeing him at farmaid - when I really started to like him. His scarlet lit and angry performance of "Walking to New Orleans" weeks after Katrina left quite an impression upon me and is high among my all-time favorite live performances.

And then Obama introduced Wilco and I almost peed my pants.

Julie said...

didn't we figure the song was about a clash between revenuers and moonshiners, or some such thing?

it seems to bode ill for him, don't you think, that he saw the first shot? as in, maybe he should be shooting by then?

also, yes--i have always loved "southern man"--he just seems to get so into it! my favorite songs have shifted over the years, but i always liked "white line" (i think it's called). reminds me of our pre-dawn drives on vacation, the empty road, and how pretty it was to see the sky lightening and the sunrise over the mountains (we'd usually be in PA by then).

i would add finally that there might be a very clear reason, identified in your post, as to why your cassette player in your car died. ;)

Ben said...

I downloaded Neil Young's "Weld" album - that's what I was listening to. It's an all-electric show and man he's got the fuzz and the feedback turned up to 11. He does not do White Line or Southern Man, but Hurricane and Powderfinger are both there and they're great. (Although not the sacred best-of-all-possible-versions found on the Neil Tape. It's truly a wonder that tape outlived so many cassette players).

anne mancine said...

You know, Ben, the tape is correctly called "The Neil Young Tape," not "The Neil Tape." Just thought you might want to know...

Ben said...

Yes but I did remember to genuflect and prostrate myself immediately after mentioning the Sacred Neil... whatever you said. Tape.

anne mancine said...

I mean, after all, if you just call it "The Neil Tape", it could be Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond... who knows?

anne mancine said...

Also, Jules, I did notice your attempt to shift the blame about who broke my car tape player. We know who broke the tape player. *significant sidelong look*

Ben said...

Oh that would be just like me to start talking about all your Neil Sedaka and Neil Armstrong or whatever tapes in the middle of a Neil Young thread. Has everyone gone crazy? Am I the only one who gives a shit about the rules? Mark it Neil, Dude!

Kristy said...

Swweeeeet Caroline! WAH! WAH! WAH!

anne mancine said...

Kristy - I'm sure you would have been gratified if you heard how much I laughed when I read your comment. Man, I hate Neil Diamond!

anne mancine said...

OMG! I went to Walgreen's today to buy some greeting cards, and Neil Diamond was singing "Cracklin' Rosie" on the sound system. I just burst out laughing as soon as I walked through the door. I think they're going to ban me from that place for sure this time.