"Powderfinger" opens the second side of Neil Young's classic Rust Never Sleeps album, heralding the record's shift from the delicate and elegiac acoustic approach of the first half to the desperate, corrosive sound of Crazy Horse in full electric stride; it's a sudden, almost blindsiding metamorphosis, which is entirely the point -- it's the shot you never saw coming. As the centerpiece of Young's epic meditation on history, mortality, and violence, "Powderfinger" is, like so many of the album's songs, an epitaph. Set in the Old West, it tells the story of a young man left virtually alone to defend his family and frontier settlement against attack, sacrificing his life not in a blaze of glory but in the paralyzed grip of indecision and fear. Although "Powderfinger"'s vividly poetic first-person narrative evokes traditional folk storytelling, Crazy Horse's performance is pure, incendiary rock & roll, with Young's riveting guitar solos expanding to mythic proportions as the song builds toward its harrowing climax. "Just think of me as one you never figured/Would fade away so young/With so much left undone," the fallen hero sings from beyond the grave, echoing Rust Never Sleeps' central and oft-quoted maxim that "It's better to burn out than to fade away"; of course, for better or worse, rock & roll guarantees your immortality either way.