Suggest a Songfact / Artistfact
Down By The River by Neil Young
Album: Everybody Knows This Is NowhereReleased: 1969
In the liner notes to Young's 1977 Greatest Hits album Decade
, he explained that he wrote this song as well as "Cinnamon Girl
" and "Cowgirl In The Sand" in one day while sick with a fever.
Young recorded Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere with his band, Crazy Horse. Soon after the album was released, he was asked to join Crosby, Stills & Nash, and he spent the next year dividing his time between that group and Crazy Horse.
Fans have come up with many interpretations of the song, including the inevitable suggestions of drug references. Here's one we got from Dean in Alabama:
On the surface this song appears to be about a mad psychopath who shot his love and suffers regrets. However, if the love is seen as a metaphor for some addictive drug, (or anything someone might obsess about), then the song is about banishing this addiction. The first verse is about the acceptance of the addiction; that is why there is no reason to hide. But the chorus brings in the contention; even though she could take him over the rainbow, he shot her: He quit using. The second verse is a lamentation to his addiction and a justification for quitting the drug. The last verse is the same as the first verse because no addiction is ever completely banished. The chorus is repeated again to show that he must banish this addiction every day. Each day he has to shoot his baby again. What happened down by the river? He realized his addiction and began the struggle to stop. Who? Anyone, me, maybe you...
With the refrain of "I shot my baby - down by the river," this song gets your attention. In a 1970 interview with Fusion
, Neil Young cleared it up: "There's no real murder in it. It's about blowing your thing with a chick. See, now in the beginning, it's 'I'll be on your side, you be on mine'. It could be anything. Then the chick thing comes in. Then at the end it's a whole other thing. It's a plea... a desperation cry." (This interview is available at Rock's Backpages
Neil elaborated the song during a lengthy introduction before a September 27th life performance in New Orleans: "I'd like to sing you a song about a guy who had a lot of trouble controlling himself," Young began. "He let the dark side side come thru a little too bright." The explanation goes on the describe the murder, the killer's arrest and, finally, the guilt he feels as he realized what he's done."