Lost In Music: The Story Behind Neil Young’s After The Gold Rush

“This Time-Travel Thing…”

“After the Gold Rush” is one of Neil Young’s most epic and enduring songs. The title track tells an interesting story which makes you wonder how he came up with the seemingly crazy idea. The track has three verses – the first one talks about the past (e.g. medieval celebrations), the present depicts the distressed singer lying in bed during a sunburst and the last one is about the future (e.g. spaceships).

Dolly Parton covered the song and once said that she asked Neil Young what the words meant. Young answered, “‘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.” But in one interview, Young said:

“‘After The Gold Rush’ is an environmental song. I recognise in it now this thread that goes through a lotta my songs that’s this time-travel thing… When I look out the window, the first thing that comes to my mind is the way this place looked a hundred years ago.”

The birth of the monolithic record was way back in 1969 when director Dennis Hopper asked then-teen star Dean Stockwell to write a screenplay that he can produce. He wrote “After the Gold Rush” when he came back to Topanga Canyon where coincidentally, Young was staying too. Young was struggling with a writer’s block and somehow, he got hold of a copy of the screenplay and immediately went to work. He finished writing the whole album three weeks later.

“I read the screenplay and kept it around for a while. I was writing a lot of songs at the time, and some of them seemed like they would fit right in with the story.” – Neil Young

Young was supposed to pen the soundtrack but Stockwell was having difficulty convincing the producers because they had some issues with Dennis Hopper. Young, however, went ahead and recorded the songs.