Neil Young News
After the Gold Rush lyrics
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This is one of a series of articles which provide an explanation of the meaning of Neil Young's song After the Gold Rush. 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!
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 93 13:28:48 EDT From: Randy Schechter <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: rust@death.Corp.Sun.COM Subject: "After the Gold Rush"--lyric interpretation/analysis
The first Neil Young album I owned was "After the Gold Rush" which I purchased in 1979. It hooked me and remains one of my all time favorite albums. I found the title song very haunting and surreal and am still fascinated by it today. I spent many hours puzzling over its meaning with friends and would like to share my lyric interpretations with the list and get other peoples idea of what they think it means. My interpretations may be way off base to what Neil really intended and what other people think-- but thats part of the fun--a song can mean vastly different things to different people--thats part of what makes it artistry--our minds paint a picture of what the words say to us. Anyhow, the song starts off:
"Well I dreamed I saw the knights in armour coming Saying something about a queen There were peasants singing and drummers drumming And the archer split the tree There was a fanfare blowing to the sun That was floating on the breeze"
To me the above lyrics have little or nothing to do with the rest of the song. It evokes medieval imagery which seems out of context since the rest of the song seems to be set in contemporary time as illustrated by the next lines:
"Look at Mother Nature on the run in the nineteen seventies" (later updated to 1980's, then 20th century)
The above lines bring to mind man upsetting the delicate balance of nature with pollution, runaway technology, threats of (nuclear) war etc.
"I was lying in a burned out basement with the full moon in my eyes I was hoping for replacement When the sun burst thru the sky There was a band playing in my head and I felt like getting high (big cheer here) I was thinking about what a friend had said I was hoping it was a lie"
These lyrics make me think about soldiers in a battle field, or maybe even civilans surviving after a nuclear holocaust. He was lying in a burned out basement (bombed out?), hoping for replacement (a soldier waiting to be relieved), when the sun burst thru the sky--I take this to mean a nuclear out basement (bombed out?), hoping for replacement (a soldier waiting to be relieved), when the sun burst thru the sky--I take this to mean a nuclear explosion since if the "full moon is in his eyes", the sun cannot be up at the same time (its astronomically impossible). There was a band playing in my head and ... brings to my mind images from the Vietnam war of soldiers listening to Hendrix and smoking hash--so this re-enforces my notion of war-type imagery. The next line--"thinking about what a friend had said (the end of the world is at hand because of nuclear conflict), ...I was hoping it was a lie (I would hope it wasn't true too)
"Well I dreamed I saw the silver space ships flying In the yellow haze of the sun There were children crying and colors flying All around the chosen ones All in a dream, all in a dream The loading had begun All in a dream, all in a dream The loading had begun They were flying Mother Nature's silver seed to a new home in the sun"
These lines clearly suggest that the earth is now dying as the chosen ones board spaceships to find a new planet to colonize. Imagery of tragedy (children crying) and hope for the future of mankind (flying Mother Nature's silver (the spaceships) seed (the chosen ones) to a new home. I'm not sure how to interpret the phrase "chosen ones"--does he mean the wealthy get to go on the spaceships, or was there some other more impartial criteria used to "choose"? Finally, what about the title itself--"After the Goldrush"--what does it mean? To me I get imagery of men raping the land (strip-mining?) and leaving places un-fit for habitation. Hence, what do we do "After the Goldrush"? In the album notes, Neil says "Most of these songs were inspired by the Dean Stockwell--Herb Berman screenplay "After the Goldrush". As far as I know 100 In the album notes, Neil says "Most of these songs were inspired by the Dean Stockwell--Herb Berman screenplay "After the Goldrush". As far as I know this screenplay is unproduced. Dean Stockwell is an actor (he was in the T.V. show "Quantum Leap", the movies "Married to the Mob" and "Dune", and was also in Neil's movie "Human Highway", which I still haven't seen in its entireity). I have no idea who Herb Berman is. So any comments, insights, different interpretations? I'm anxious for feedback.
Randy "Just another line in the field of time"
Date: 26 Oct 1993 13:57:54 -0400 (EDT) From: Bluebeard <JUEDELSON@vaxsar.vassar.edu>
I find your lyrical interpretation both insightful and confusing. Oddly, I was pondering this same question LAST NIGHT!!! I am truly puzzled by the first verse. I can't imagine that it has nothing to do with the song's story and mearly sets the stage. Think about the first line: > Well I dreamed I saw the knights in armour coming It's a dream. Surely this has something to do with the end-of-the-world theme of the rest of the song. I am intrigued. Justin
Date: 26 Oct 1993 14:35:20 -0500 (EST) From: CBBOWERS@fair1.fairfield.edu
I think the three verses of the song talk about past, present and future. The idyllic vision of a medieval court is in stark contrast to the "burned-out basement" of the present (BTW, this line reminds me of the riots and urban decay of the late 60s). And the final verse is futuristic, and in a sense a return to the romantic ("colors flying all around the chosen one" sounds like more courtly medieval imagery). It all fits very nicely with the hippie-romanticism of the song's time--I remember it well! Cris
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 93 14:42:37 EDT From: Jerry Keselman <email@example.com>
All suggested interpretations of the lyrics have merit. I think one thing to remember is that the album was based upon a screenplay by Dean Stockwell (of Quantum Leap fame along with credited roles in too many movies to list) for a movie named, appropriately enough, "After the Goldrush". The movie (to my knowledge) was never made. I'd bet the screenplay, if it was accessible, would shed much light on the lyrics. -- Talk to ya! Jerry
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 93 18:58:54 +0000 From: Richard Dubourg <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Full moon and sun?
Perhaps to avoid confusion, instead of talking about the sun and the full moon, Neil should have taken a leaf out of Roger Waters's book and sung about "Two suns in the sunset". Aaargh! What have done? Now everybody knows I (used to) listen to Pink Floyd! Yours, retreating into hiding, never to be seen again, Rich
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 93 13:07:19 -0600 From: Jim Pixton <email@example.com> Subject: Re: Full moon when the sun is up
>From: Randy Schechter <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>I stand by my earlier statement--when the moon is full it rises >just as the sun sets. Yes you can see the moon when the sun is >up, but not a full moon. That is astronomically impossible, >technically speaking!
It isn't? Ever heard of a complete solar eclipse, or is it lunar, either way it happens when the full moon and the full sun are in the same sky. Also, in the morning, before the full moon is down, and the sun is just comming up, you can sometimes (during winter?) see both (I've witnessed this). Anyway, the last verse of ATG always reminded me of the Ray Bradbury book (Childhoods End?) where in the end spaceships come and pick up their children. -Jim
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 93 15:14:08 EDT From: Jerry Keselman <email@example.com> Subject: Re: Full moon when the sun is up
> It isn't? Ever heard of a complete solar eclipse, or is it lunar, either way it happens when the full moon and the full sun are in the same sky.
A total solar eclipse happens during the day, obviously, since the sun must be up. However, although the entire surface of the moon blots out the entire surface of the sun, the moon is not a "full moon". As a matter of fact, prior to passing in front of the sun, it is my impression that the moon is not visible! (that is, a "new moon").
> Also, in the morning, before the full moon is down, and the sun is just comming up, you can sometimes (during winter?) see both (I've witnessed this).
>Anyway, the last verse of ATG always reminded me of the Ray Bradbury book (Childhoods End?) where in the end spaceships come and pick up their children.
It reminded me of Childhood's End also. But it was written by Arthur C. Clarke. -- Talk to ya! Jerry
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 93 15:25:24 EDT From: Randy Schechter <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Full moon and sun
Sorry to disagree again--when there is a full lunar eclipse, the moon is full but the sun is down--the earths shadow falls on the moon so that the earth is between the sun and the moon (moon up, sun down, earth in-between). when there is a solar eclipse, the moon is between the sun and the earth, the dark side of the moon (as a matter of fact its all dark) is facing the earth so the moon is in the new (empty) phase and is not visible at all. The time of full moon is at a specific time of day that usually does not coincide with sunup or sundown so if its offset by a few hours its possible to see an almost full moon when the sun is rising or setting. Again TECHNICALLY the sun can not be up at the same time as a full moon (any astronmers out there care to back me up, or am I way off base on this). Actually, all this is really beside the point.
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 1993 18:39:10 +0800 (PDT) From: Brian Sagar <email@example.com> Subject: My interp of After the Gold rush
A lot of 60's/70's groups used 'gold' as a euphemism for drugs - Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven, "...all that glitters is gold..." is an example. I've always thought that After The Gold Rush was Neil's thoughts after a (or during) a 'Gold' (get it?) rush. The imagery is so disjointed that I always assumed that it came from Neil being effected by something or other. It is very similar to the jumpiness (imagery wise) of Down by the River/Cowgirl in the Sand where Neil was being affected by that high fever. Brian firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: Wed, 27 Oct 93 21:32:30 CDT From: email@example.com Subject: re: after the goldrush
Just to add my thoughts as to the interpretation of after the goldrush. I like randy's thoughts-very in-depth and cohesive. I buy it, though before I read his post I had always heard the song on a more personal level. I definately agree with who ever said they saw the three verses as three views of the past, present and future. The second verse to me is the real clincher, and the one where my interpretation differed from some of the other posts. "I was lyin' in a burned out basement/with the full moon in my eyes." I always saw neil/the narrator as doing just that: lying in some old basement, staring up at the sky. just thinking about stuff. But he seems a little down. "I was hopin' for replacement/when the sun burst through the sky." Staring up at that sky, looking at that moon, wondering just how important he was anyway, wondering if he couldnt be replaced. (Neil young music if nothing else, has been to me about knowing yourself, and then going and changing the definition of that self) Then before you know it the sun bursts through the sky, and its morning, you've just spent a night in a basement. I heard the last three lines of the verse as an elaboration on the first two. "There was a band playin' in my head/and I felt like getting high." I know I've had this feeling before, the jutbox in my head selects a tune, and Im set for the day. (As for getting high, a basement's as good a place as any :-)) I think its safe to assume that there's a band playing in neil young's head most of the time. (and when we're real lucky he lets us have a listen too) So I see neil spending the night in a basement, "thinking about what a friend had said", and listening to the music going on in his head. What the friend had said is anybodies guess; the line from the first verse "sayin' something about a queen" introduce a woman into the song, and though there is no concrete evidence that the friend is a woman, I imagine him being told "you're too tall, you're too moody, your guitar is too loud..." buy someone he cares for, and him hoping it was a lie. I had always thought of the environmental symbolism as a foil for the personal issues of the song, but reading the recent posts, and keying in my own thoughts has changed my own interpretation of the song. To me, the line "the sun *burst through* the sky" definately supports the idea of nuclear dissaster. I would have to listen to tapes, but I belive I heard neil sing "*We* were flying mother natures silver seed to a new home in the sun" as apposed to just "flying mother nature...". The first time I heard this I had to go back to the studio version and listen. Working with the idea of a dying earth, this seems to put the future in our hands, we do the flying, rather than relying on some other worldly silver space ship. On the other hand (I really cant remember if I got this Idea from a post or from my own head), the fact that "we were flying...seeds to a new home in the sun" could comment on the futility of our attempts to reverse the damage already done to our planet. What kind of home is the sun for mother nature's silver seeds anyway?
"sometimes the songs that we hear are just songs of our own" selby,
---------- Forwarded message ---------- Date: Wed, 27 Oct 1993 18:34:00 -0400 (EDT) From: Thrasher@cap.gwu.edu>
Randy, You might consider submitting your "After The GoldRush" analysis to NYAS/BA for publication. There was some provactive discussion there. In fact, what would be interesting is an article which captures the dynamic interchange of RUSTies in action. I've saved the messages if you didn't and like the idea. Or maybe, we could post a message/analysis and let everyone know what our intentions are and see what kind of a dialogue it prompts. It would be excellent way to encourage BA readers to seek out RUST. What do you think? The Thrasher <Thrasher@cap.gwu.edu>
Date: Thu, 28 Oct 93 10:06:05 EDT From: Randy Schechter <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: email@example.com Subject: Re: "After the Gold Rush"--lyric interpretation
Hi Thrasher--well while I think it might be a good idea to send the ongoing discussion of AFTGR to Broken Arrow, frankly at the moment I don't have the time or energy to do it (I will be attending several Jerry Garcia band shows over the next few weeks which will take me to New York, Rhode Island and Virginia). If you want to do it, by all means , go ahead. Take care Randy
Date: Fri, 29 Oct 1993 10:03:19 -0400 (EDT)
From: bunn scott william <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Yes, I'm all for a publication of Randy's interpretation. It was by far the best message posted on the mailing list since I have been on. By all means, do it.
Date: Thu, 28 Oct 93 14:53:18 EST From: Who Shall Remain Nameless <Y79@ucc.uwindsor.ca>
While I have certainly enjoyed the astrological debate (what about the Harvest Moon? ;-] ) I think the point is moot. The verse mentions being in "a burned-out basement with the full moon in my eyes" but (and here's the significant part) he was "hoping for a replacement when the sun burst through the sky." ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
I've always thought of this as someone involved in some sort of guard duty (hoping for a replacement) as in an apocalyptic situation such as a nuclear war (or tidal wave). The sun coming up simply denotes the passage of time. He was hoping for a replacement till dawn. I'm not really sure what else "hoping for a replacement" could mean. Any ideas?
Date: 28 Oct 1993 16:38:32 -0500 (EST) From: CBBOWERS@fair1.fairfield.edu
Jim Kelly asked for interpretations on the "hoping for a replacement" line. To me, it's sounds like a way of saying "why me?" If you're lying in a burned-out basement, I guess you might wish it was happening to someone else. In fact, the whole song sounds to me like a meditation on the past and a hope for the future, given from the point of view of someone who's in despair over the state of the present. I don't see any real references to nuclear war, but I think it's implied as part of the package--violence, destruction of the environment, all the "misery issues" of the 60s (and now). It's all in that burned-out basement. Who wouldn't want out? Cris
Date: Thu, 28 Oct 93 18:42:37 -0400 From: email@example.com
It's funny how music hits people. I never once wondered about the lyrics to after the goldrush. They never made any sense to me at all. But, I always loved how Neil used that Cmaj in the last stanza of each verse. The song , played in the key of D, is mostly diatonic, with changes to G and A. Even the Bmin is a diatonic, a very pretty chord to go to after doing the I-V-IV. But then that Cmaj is wierd. It's kinda like a trip into alien territory. Actually, Neil uses major chords out of key quite a bit. They are kind of bold, wake up! type chords, yet are very tuneful. They make it feel like when you return to the root chord, you're not quite home and are often used as a stepping stone for a modulation. But in "After The GoldRush" we don't have any key changes. It's just a bold chord for that 'New home in the sun'. As for hoping for replacment? How many words do you know that rhyme with basement? :-) omar.
Date: Fri, 29 Oct 93 15:03:42 EDT From: Jeff Aaronson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I agree with many of the comments regarding the interpretation of "After The GoldRush" (past, present, future; ecological destruction; nuclar devestation; etc.). I do have a couple of points to add. The third verse immediately brought Noah's Ark to mind. I think Neil is giving us a warning. Yes, Mother Nature can't be beat, but she may well start all over again without you (if you're not among "the chosen ones"). Think back to the first verse:
I dreamed I saw the knights in armour come saying something about a queen Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970's
We've got Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s Perhaps the queen is Mother Nature, warning of the fate that's in store for the people who ignore her ("saying something") or her importance. The warning wasn't heard or heeded. In the second verse, perhaps what the ("friend had said") finally is heard and seems frighteningly real ("I was hoping it was a lie"). A friend is one with credibility, provided by the (nuclear) destruction ("burned out basement", "sun bursting through the sky"). In other words, only when there is tangible evidence of doing wrong by Mother Nature does anyone recognize the severity of the situation. Neil seems to think it's too late, at this point. In the third verse, Mother Nature abandons the pillaged planet, and goes in search of a new beginning ("silver seed"). Some people debated whether it is the people themselves who are choosing, or some higher authority. It seems clear to me that a higher authority is in charge here (as with Noah). Witness the imagery of "children crying, and colors flying, all around the with Noah). Witness the imagery of "children crying, and colors flying, all around the chosen ones".
Jeff (And since I just started listening to Harvest Moon . . .) "she's been running half her life the chrome and steel she rides colliding with the very air she breathes"
Date: Wed, 27 Oct 93 08:56:00 PDT From: "Stewart, Randall" <RStewart@UNEX.UCLA.EDU> SUBJECT: Neil on Charlie
>"Well I hear that Laurel Canyon is full of famous stars/ I hate them worse then lepers/ and I kill them in their cars"
>Maybe there's a connection between ""After The GoldRush"" & "Revolution Blues"? I'm pretty certain that the narrator in "RB" is a certain pathetic individual who tried for awhile to break into the music business in L.A., later achieving cult status as the leader of a group that ran a couple of hunt and kill raids in the Hollywood Hills, and who is now a guest of the state in one of our finer long-term residential institutions. There are many allusions to him and his family in the song and the above quote is an almost dead-on reference (sorry for the pun). The title could also be a reference to one of this individual's favorite songs. While "After The GoldRush" could be another of Neil's "California" songs, I think that at best it and RB are opposing sides of the same coin. BTW, I've also always thought that the title ""After The GoldRush"" could be a sly reference to the sensation following ingestion of a substance that was in fairly widespread use around the time that the song was written. But hell, that's probably just me. :-) Randall
Date: Sun, 31 Oct 1993 11:00:56 -0600 (CST) From: Tim Parrish/Dreaming Man <Z_PARRISHT@CCSVAX.SFASU.EDU>
rusties, there's certainly proof that we all hear this song differently. the burned out basment/gettin high verses are the only one i can explain at all.
I was lyin' in a burned out basement with the full moon in my eyes.
he/i wasn't physically in the basement, but in the 'gutter.' life was not cool like it used to be, he/i had really sunk to the depths of the soul- near depression. 'full moon' - though at such a low point, he/i was looking for a way out (full moon always makes me feel good), looking for something good in this 'burned out' situation.
I was hopin' for replacement when the sun burst through the sky. wishing something would come and take the pain away. maybe being afraid of being a 'one-hit-wonder.' i've given up, forget this scene...whoa, wait a sec 'the sun burst' - this would have been before the carrie snodgrass chapter (?) maybe it was a new insperation of new material coming on (?)....oh, maybe it was meeting the person whom 'i believe in you' was written for?!? anyone know whom this would be??? There was a band playin' in my head and I felt like getting high. pretty much self-explanatory (sp?). i certainly feel that way sometimes, especially w/ a full moon out! I was thinkin' about what a friend had said, I was hopin' it was a lie. same as above. (1) hey, i'm his/her friend. i've put my trust in this person, please don't let this rumor of my friend/lover be true. (2) a friend tells you you're fucking up, you're a failure, you ARE a 'one-hit-wonder.' please don't let it be true!
Date: Mon, 01 Nov 93 17:43:28 EST From: Who Shall Remain Nameless <Y79@ucc.uwindsor.ca>
I agree with the "Noah's Ark" idea re: "After The GoldRush" and the idea of the ecological pillaging of our planet/Mother Nature. After all, the one element of the song that I don't recall anyone mentioning is the title, which certainly seems to reflect the aftermath of exploiting the bounties of nature through human greed, etc. Any connection b/t "After the Goldrush" and his next big song where says he's been "a miner for a heart of gold" ? Has Neil ever studied metalurgy? gold, rust, weld, arc, etc. :-]
Listen to MP3 sample clip of "After the Goldrush"
"After the Gold Rush" lyrics and reviews.
Lyrics Analysis of Neil Young Songs
Thrasher's Wheat - A Neil Young and Crazy Horse Archive