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After The Goldrush is an acoustic album that led to many other confessional singer/songwriter works in the early '70s (James Taylor, Carole King, etc.). Young had injured his back lifting a slab of polished walnut and standing up to play his electric guitar was impossible. In addition, he had dropped Crazy Horse as his backing band so he prepared an album of acoustic songs.
In his extensive biography on Mr. Young, author Jimmy McDonough reveals that After the Goldrush was an album loosely conceptualized around a screenplay of the same named written by child star, and Neil Young neighbor, Dean Stockwell. Apparently the only two songs on the album that are based on the as-yet-unproduced screenplay are this song and "Crippled Creek Ferry," the closing song on the album. (thanks, Chris - Philadelphia, PA)
New York songwriter Patti Smith recorded a stark piano-and-vocal cover of this ecological paean for the closing track of her 2012 album Banga. Her version features a children's choir singing the chorus at the end. " 'Constantine's Dream,' the song before it, is such a dark song," Smith explained to Billboard magazine. "It ends so darkly, with Columbus having a dream of the environmental apocalypse of the 21st century. Even though I fear that myself, I didn't want to end the record that way. I wanted to write a song that was more like the dawn that gave some kind of hope. Then I happened to hear 'After the Gold Rush;' I was sitting in a cafe and thought at least the two verses of Neil's song said what I wanted to say because it has a sense of optimism, but it's also at a cost. So I thought I'd just sing that, because that's what I wanted to say... And having children sing that with all their innocence and purity, I felt that brings out the danger of what he wrote."
The song has been covered a variety of artists, including Thom Yorke of Radiohead, The Flaming Lips, Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds.
When Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt recorded it in 1999 for their collaboration Trio, they got some unique insight into the song from the man who wrote it. Said Parton: "When we were doing the Trio album, I asked Linda and Emmy what it meant, and they didn't know. So we called Neil Young, and he didn't know. We asked him, flat out, what it meant, and he said, 'Hell, I don't know. I just wrote it. It just depends on what I was taking at the time. I guess every verse has something different I'd taken.'"
In live performances, Neil replaces the flute solo with a harmonica performance. Additionally, he's amended the final line to "Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 21st century" (it was originally "in the 1970's").
Mike Watt - "History Lesson, Pt. 2"
Mike Watt of the Minutemen tells the story of the song that became an Indie Rock touchstone. It's also the story of what Mike calls "The Movement."
The Creed lead singer reveals the "ego and self-fulfillment" he now sees in one of the band's biggest hits.
Curt Kirkwood of Meat Puppets
The (Meat)puppetmaster takes us through songs like "Lake Of Fire" and "Backwater," and talks about performing with Kurt Cobain on MTV Unplugged