Neil Young Explains ‘The Needle and the Damage Done’ to a Mother of ‘Junkies’

A poignant, painful moment during “An Evening With Neil Young”

“Every junkie’s like a setting sun,” Neil Young sings on his 1972 heroin ballad “The Needle and the Damage Done.” On Monday, a woman who said her two sons have battled the drug asked him what the lyrics meant.

It happened at the end of “An Evening With Neil Young,” a live Q&A with director Cameron Crowe, when Crowe asked if anyone in the audience had a final question. The woman raised her hand.

“Both my sons are junkies and one of them killed himself… overdosed at 24 years old,” she said. “And my older son is struggling with it now. But I’ve played that song since I was 14 years old and I killed my fingers on every note. I’ve always wondered what you meant by ‘every junkie’s like a setting sun.'”

Young answered:

“The song’s pretty straightforward. When I said every junkie’s like a setting sun, it’s like, if that’s what you’re gonna do, you’re not gonna… you’re gonna go down,” Young said. “You can’t do that. Very few people have been able to hold on to that for their whole lives. And their lives have been affected, and even the most successful ones have ended up dying suddenly…”

“It’s such a sad thing, and I totally feel for you,” he told her. “But it’s going to be all right. There’s nothing you can do. You’re you and they’re them, and that’s the thing to remember, is that we’re all different, and we’re not responsible for the decisions that each other make. We can only try to guide, but we can’t take the blame.”