The lyrical poetry of Thrasher is Neil Young at his best.
Thrasher, by Neil Young
They were hiding behind hay bales,
They were planting in the full moon
They had given all they had for something new
But the light of day was on them,
They could see the thrashers coming
And the water shone like diamonds in the dew.
And I was just getting up, hit the road before it’s light
Trying to catch an hour on the sun
When I saw those thrashers rolling by,
Looking more than two lanes wide
I was feelin’ like my day had just begun.
Where the eagle glides ascending
There’s an ancient river bending
Down the timeless gorge of changes
Where sleeplessness awaits.
I searched out my companions,
Who were lost in crystal canyons
When the aimless blade of science
Slashed the pearly gates.
It was then that I knew I’d had enough,
Burned my credit card for fuel
Headed out to where the pavement turns to sand
With a one-way ticket to the land of truth
And my suitcase in my hand.
How I lost my friends I still don’t understand.
They had the best selection,
They were poisoned with protection
There was nothing that they needed,
Nothing left to find
They were lost in rock formations
Or became park bench mutations
On the sidewalks and in the stations
They were waiting, waiting.
So I got bored and left them there,
They were just dead weight to me.
Better down the road without that load.
Brings back the time when I was eight or nine
I was watchin’ my mama’s T.V.,
It was that great Grand Canyon rescue episode.
Where the vulture glides descending
On an asphalt highway bending
Through libraries and museums, galaxies and stars
Down the windy halls of friendship
To the rose clipped by the bullwhip
The motel of lost companions
Waits with heated pool and bar.
But me I’m not stopping there,
Got my own row left to hoe
Just another line in the field of time
When the thrasher comes, I’ll be stuck in the sun
Like the dinosaurs in shrines
But I’ll know the time has come
To give what’s mine.
As with any good poem, this song has many layers. On the surface, Young wrote about parting ways with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and many see the song only from that perspective. However, Neil is clearly suggesting that the path forward (progress) is sometimes counterproductive (regress) regarding things that are ultimately important… “They had given all they had for something new,” and “When the aimless blade of science slashed the pearly gates.”
An unspoken technological imperative tries to persuade us that “if it can be done it must be done” (Thomas Merton). There is also the financial imperative that states “if it makes a profit it must be done.” Wisdom informs us that other priorities should be considered. The important things that Neil mentions throughout this poem are simple companionship and friendship. He uses the archaic spelling, Thrasher (instead of Thresher), to make it a more violent-sounding noun. He portrays the Thrasher as the technological beast that is mowing over important parts of life (yea, even manual labor) that may not be as efficient or productive and certainly not as enticing. “But me I’m not stopping there, got my own row left to hoe; just another line in the field of time. When the thrasher comes I’ll be stuck in the sun like the dinosaurs in shrines, but I’ll know the time has come to give what’s mine.”
Read his poem again.
Accompanied by his 12-string guitar, this song was first published on his “Rust Never Sleeps” album in 1979. Here is a link to Neil Young’s studio version of Thrasher: https://youtu.be/vcH-trr75d8 (ignore the slide show, if possible).