Behind The Lyric: Neil Young, “Hitchhiker”

Neil Young’s “Hitchhiker” first surfaced during the mid to late-’70s period when the songwriter was working at Indigo Recording Studio in Malibu, California. Like much of his output from this era, Young was cagey about releasing the material. “Hitchhiker” was originally titled “Like An Inca” and live performances of the song — as well as much-debated bootlegged studio demos — have surfaced over the years, though Young never officially released the song until 2010’s Le Noise. In an interview for American Songwriter, Young told Jaan Uhelszki that he never released the song because, until recently, the song was unfinished. “Finishing was important,” Young said. “The song never could have been done without those verses,” he said, referring to the newly-added final verses that reference his friends, enemies, the past, his children, and “faithful wife.” Of the song’s subject matter, Young joked, “It’s about a memory. It’s the drug chronicles. Drug chronicles, TMI. That’s like a TV show, you know?” In the early versions of the song, “Hitchhiker” was done acoustically, though Young and co-producer Daniel Lanois found new sonic possibilities for the album Le Noise after recording an electric version of “Hitchhiker.” “When I realized that I was going to use the White Falcon and we were going to explore that area, I brought it in and we recorded a couple of songs on it. One of them had been one that we tried acoustically earlier [‘Hitchhiker’] and another one was a new song, ‘Walk With Me,’ and then there was another song, ‘Sign Of Love’ for that full moon segment.” After Young pulled out an electric version of “Hitchhiker,” Lanois said, “I see there’s a doorway to another set of tones here we could operate by.”

“Hitchhiker”

When I was a hitchhiker on the road
I had to count on you
But you needed me to ease the load
And for conversation too
Or did you just pass on through?

You didn’t see me in Toronto
When I first tried out some hash
Smoked through a pen and I’ll do it again
But I didn’t have the cash
I didn’t have the cash.

Then I tried amphetamines
And my head was in a glass
Taped underneath the speedometer wires
Of my ’48 Buick’s dash.
But I knew that wouldn’t last.

Then came California
Where I first saw open water
In the land of opportunity
I knew I was getting hotter
I knew I was getting hotter.

But the neon lights
And the endless nights
Fame took me by surprise
The doctor gave me valium
But I still couldn’t close my eyes
I still couldn’t close my eyes.

Then came paranoia
And it ran away with me
I would not sign my autograph
Or appear on TV
Or see or be seen.

Living in the country
Looked good to me
Smoking grass while the summer past
In the real organic sea
Where everything was green.

Then we had a kid and we split apart
I was living on the road
A little cocaine went a long, long way
To ease that different load
But my head did explode
My head did explode.

I thought I was an Aztec
Or a runner in Peru
I would build such beautiful buildings
To house the chosen few
Like an Inca from Peru.

(new verse?)
How many years are come and gone
Like friends and enemies
I tried to leave my past behind
But it’s catching up with me

I don’t know how I’m standing here
Living in the light
Thankful for my children
And my faithful wife

Written by Neil Young