What Dolly Parton taught me about 'After the Gold Rush'

"After the Gold Rush" is one of Neil Young's biggest hits despite (or partially because of) it's opaque lyrics (it's the one with "Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s" "I was thinking about what a friend had said, I was hoping it was a lie" etc.). I never thought about it much until I heard a wonderful cover of the song on "Trio II" (by Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, and Linda Ronstadt), and heard that Dolly Parton felt that it was a religious song.

Well, shows what one can learn from Dolly Parton - this made me take a fresh look at the song, and I think that Dolly's right. On this web page, here's my take on the song. Thanks Dolly!

I'm going to look at the second verse ("I was lying in a burned out basement") first. The first verse ("Well I dreamed I saw the knights in armor coming...") describes a moment in the middle of the story - it's foreshadowing. The second verse sets the stage and the story:

I was lying in a burned out basement
With the full moon in my eyes.
OK, we have a burned out basement. Not just a burned out basement, but one with a view of the night sky. The building is in ruins.

The narrator isn't just in the basement, but lying in it. Not just lying in it, but lying in such a way that the full moon is in their eyes. The in my eyes then has an extra connotation, that the soldier is severely wounded and can't even turn their head - the moon is "in their eyes".

I was hoping for replacement

This strengthens the scenario - who 'hopes for replacement' when lying in a burned out building? A soldier.

When the sun burst thru the sky.
There was a band playing in my head
And I felt like getting high.

OK, now it starts getting weird! We have this wounded soldier starting at the night sky, when suddenly night turns into day ( "the sun burst through the sky"), a band starts playing, etc. Something very odd, something other-wordly, something magical, something miraculous is happening.

I was thinking about what a
Friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie.
Thinking about what a
Friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie.

This passage now makes sense. There are several things the friends could have told the soldier:

Now, the foreshadowing from the first verse comes in - this is all more detail to the miraculous vision the soldier is seeing, scenes out of a medieval fair:

Well, I dreamed I saw the knights
In armor coming,
Saying something about a queen.
There were peasants singing and
Drummers drumming
And the archer split the tree.
There was a fanfare blowing
To the sun
That was floating on the breeze.

This is followed by:

Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the nineteen seventies.
Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the nineteen seventies.

This isn't a reference to pollution, but to the laws of nature - we are now in a place where the laws of nature aren't holding, a place of magic and wonder. The laws of nature are "on the run".

The song continues with more of the narrator's vision, which I think Dolly would say is of the Rapture, Whether we use that loaded term or not, I agree that it's about the "chosen ones", including hopefully the narrator, going on to their new place in the sun - they are leaving this mundane world to live in the world of magic and miracle - their 'new home in the sun'

Well, I dreamed I saw the silver
Space ships flying
In the yellow haze of the sun,
There were children crying
And colors flying
All around the chosen ones.
All in a dream, all in a dream
The loading had begun.
They were flying Mother Nature's
Silver seed to a new home in the sun.
Flying Mother Nature's
Silver seed to a new home.