Readers Poll: The Best Neil Young SongsSelections include 'Cortez The Killer,' 'Powderfinger' and 'Harvest Moon'
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For 33 years Neil Young fans have been arguing over what exactly "Powderfinger" is about. Nobody disputes that it's one of his best songs. Young must agree, because he's played it 666 times. (Only "Cinnamon Girl" has been performed more). Neil has never explained the song in detail, but here's the general interpretation: It's about a family of bootleggers (or some other kind of backwoods criminals) somewhere up in the mountains. They've been through many tragedies, and now the authorities are moving in on them – explaining why the approaching boat has "numbers on the side." The 22-year-old son has been forced to deal with the situation because "Daddy's gone," "brother's out hunting in the mountains" and "Big John's been drinking since the river took Emmy-Lou." The young man is standing on the dock with a rifle in his hand when the boat begins firing, so he raises the gun to return fire – but it backfires and blows his head off. Whatever it's about, only Young could write a song so bizarre and brilliant. Somebody should turn it into a movie.
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