Neil Young's 'After the Goldrush' - two questions

  1. What, if anything, does this song mean?
  2. What’s the woodwind instrument being played?

god only knows what the song means, but I believe that is a French horn solo in the middle (a brass instrument, not a woodwind)

It’s a cautionary song about the poisoning and destruction of the world. The key line in the song is, “Look at Mother Nature on the run in the nineteen-seventies.”

The first third of the song is a dream about a medieval scene. The line in this third that stands out is, “And the archer split the tree.” Maybe all the medieval military fanfare is an analogy for modern militarism, and the archer splitting the tree is about missiles and other weaponry doing damage to nature.

The middle third is not a dream, and it’s from the POV of the dreamer. He’s hiding in a burned-out basement at night–the wreckage of battle? The detail about the sun bursting through the sky might be a nuclear explosion in the night. “I was thinking about what a friend had said; I was hoping it was a lie.” Game’s over?

The final third is again a dream, but this one’s about the future–possibly (if the prior “sunburst” is a nuke) a dream that’ll never come to fruition. The dreamer imagines a limited evacuation of Earth “to a new home in the sun.”

I think Orca Chow summed it up beautifully and in a most eloquent manner.

Thanks, m’dear!

Thanks OrcaChow. I guess sometimes Neil means what he sings! If it was his intention to give me an uneasy feeling with this song, mission accomplished.

My pleasure, Mr. Blue Sky. After about thirty years, that song still haunts me a bit. It’s always been one of my favorites.

IMO, Neil usually sings what he means. Remember that song about his not wanting to shill for Pepsi?