‘The Needle and the Damage Done’ was written by Neil Young in 1971 and it came out on his Harvest album which was released in February of 1972 and this song charted #75 in the UK. The song was written before his bandmate Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry both died, but Neil wrote this to try to bring awareness to heroin which at the time was misunderstood, but Neil knew that it was a very dangerous drug. Whitten died later in November of 1972 and Bruce died in June of 1973. Bruce was a professional roadie for the members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, both as a group and individually. His brother was Jan Berry of Jan and Dean, and his father worked with Howard Hughes on the Spruce Goose. Harvest is the only Young album to hit #1 on the Billboard 200 chart.
The group Crazy Horse started out in 1969 and continues to the present day, they have been co-credited on a number of Young’s albums. Neil ran across a band called the Rockets after he left Buffalo Springfield. This group was led by guitarist Danny Whitten, they were a former doo-wop group that had morphed into a psychedelic folk outfit. They weren’t highly trained musicians, but they played with incredible intensity. Success had eluded them for years, and they jumped at the chance to play with someone as established as Neil Young, who promptly changed their name to Crazy Horse after the Oglala Sioux Indian chief who fought against the removal of his tribe to a reservation in the Black Hills.
Frankie Lyman of the Teenagers died from heroin, followed by Janis Joplin on October 4, 1970, and Jim Morrison’s 1971 heart attack was thought to have been triggered by an overdose of heroin. The cause of death listed for Danny Whitten of Crazy Horse was Valium and alcohol overdose. One day Whitten was so high on heroin that he couldn’t even hold up his guitar, so Young fired him, gave him some money and a plane ticket back to Los Angeles. The Velvet Underground had a song ‘Heroin’ on their 1967 debut album written by Lou Reed, which discusses heroin use and abuse. The James Taylor song ‘Fire and Rain’ came out on his second album in August 1970 and this was a reaction to the suicide of his childhood friend Suzanne Schnare, and his own struggles with a heroin addiction that began when he was 18.
Heroin addicts were known to sell their blood for money, and then use that money to buy their next fix. Heroin is a disgusting drug, especially when it is injected and not snorted. In my wilder days, I was at this party snorting coke when I watched a guy who just shot up heroin and the needle got stuck in his arm. I felt like I was going to puke from looking at him while he was crying out for help, but I left the room and some other junkie eventually helped him.
Milk-blood refers to a heroin shot where some heroin users fill a syringe with a heroin mixture that has a white (“milk”) color. Then they stick the needle of the syringe in a vein and pull the plunger to check if they are inside the vein. If so, blood is sucked into the syringe. They then push the plunger to inject the heroin-blood mixture into the vein. The phrase “Milk blood” in this song most likely refers to the act of extracting heroin-laden blood, for reinjection at a later time. There is no way to stop the sun from setting, as once it starts going down, it is inevitable that darkness will follow. This may be why Neil wrote, “every junkie’s like a settin’ sun”, because when you start fooling around with this drug, there is a good chance that it will end up killing you.
I caught you knockin’ at my cellar door
I love you, baby, can I have some more?
Ooh, ooh, the damage done
I hit the city and I lost my band
I watched the needle take another man
Gone, gone, the damage done
I sing the song because I love the man
I know that some of you don’t understand
Milk blood to keep from running out
I’ve seen the needle and the damage done
A little part of it in everyone
But every junkie’s like a settin’ sun
Written for Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Music Challenge #184 – LSD-25.