Preparing myself mentally for this Saturday, when my family will spread my dad's ashes in a garden at his church, I came back to Neil Young's "Daddy Went Walkin'," a song that took on great meaning to me in the days and weeks after my father's death. I was surprised, as I searched online for Young's interpretation of the lyrics, by other people's impressions of the song.
In a PopMatters review of Young's Silver & Gold album, Bill Holmes's interpretation is that the song "deals with broken families from the perspective of a hopeful child." Concert reviewer Chris Nelson, writing on MTV.com, says of the song: “While the lyrics seemed simple, Young’s purposeful delivery rendered the lines cinematic. One could picture the song’s narrator, only as tall as the weeds, walking beside a towering father."
"'Daddy Went Walkin' is just a playful number about Dad going out and cutting wood, accompanied by the barnyard cat. Is that really worth a song?" asked Jeffrey Overstreet in reviewing Silver & Gold on Tollbooth.org, a Christian-themed entertainment site. "Like a William Carlos Williams poem about a red wheelbarrow, Neil Young is calling attention to the lasting value of simple memories, simple lives, simple tasks."
Other reviewers thought the song simple and rather stupid, and not worth their time.
Looking for meaning in a song, poem, book or movie is subjective, of course. Where others hear a child's voice or the value of honest work and living simply, I divine a middle-aged guy imagining his father in the afterlife, ambling along happily with his former pets, doing some chores and thinking about the day he'll be reunited with the love of his life.
Mama's waiting / at the top of the hill,
They'll be laughing / oh the stories they'll tell...
When he holds her / in his arms again
They'll be sweethearts / with time on their hands
I plan to recite, possibly even sing, these lyrics during the short service on Saturday. Listen to the song, and let me know what you think it means.