"Mellow My Mind" can't be properly understood outside the context of the album on which it appears.Tonight's The Night
is a distinctive work in Neil Young's catalogue, both in its painfully emotional sound and in its distinctly personal subject matter. The album was made following the death of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry. Both men died from drug overdoses, and the story goes that it was Whitten who introduced Berry to the heroin that would eventually kill him. These deaths inspired the earlier "The Needle And The Damage Done
," but the grief they caused Young is explored in more depth throughout Tonight's the Night
It's the album's larger backstory that has folks such as Marc Weingarten in Guitar World
(September 1995) calling "Mellow My Mind" an "anti-drug" song, though the lyrics wouldn't otherwise identify it as such. Young himself is quoted in that Weingarten piece as saying, "The whole thing [Tonight's the Night
] is about life, dope and death."
Taken as an isolated artifact, "Mellow My Mind" is about a man yearning for the simple joys of a lost, innocent youth, "like a schoolboy on good time" that is "satisfied with a fish on a line." Young's cracking, tortured vocals lend the song real emotional intensity, amplifying that yearning into something heartbreaking.