Thursday, May 04, 2017


Mary Ann Vecchio, 14, kneels over the body of Jeffrey Miller, killed by the Ohio National Guard on May 4, 1970

Today, May 4, is the 47th anniversary of the Kent State Massacre. That's when Ohio National Guardsmen shot and killed four students -- Allison Krause, 19, Jeffrey Miller, 20, Sandra Scheuer, 20 and Bill Schroeder, 19 --  during a protest of President Richard Nixon's invasion of Cambodia.

Neil Young wrote a song, "Ohio" that raged against the killings. It, more than any news report I've read, sums up the tragedy.

"Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, 
We're finally on our own. 
This summer I hear the drumming 
Four dead in Ohio.

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground

How can you run when you know?"

Young recorded it as part of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on May 21, just a little over two weeks after the killings. It was released as a single in June -- basically an "instant" murder ballad, a protest song ripped from headlines that still were fresh.

As Ken Bigger wrote in the Murder Ballad Monday blog a few years ago, "Ohio":

delivers a sharply honed emotional point, with scant reference to the details of May 4. “Ohio” does not tell a complete story–as if it could. The theme it mines lies principally within the lines “we’re finally on our own” and “four dead in Ohio.” The song is both dirge and protest anthem, plaintive wail and drumming a beat for a counterculture response.

I'm assuming that everyone is familiar with the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young version of the song. (If not, CLICK HERE)

But there are other versions. The Isley Brothers combined it with Jimi Hendrix's "Machine Gun" for a smoldering emotional punch in the gut.

And Devo did a quirky take on "Ohio." But while it's jarring, it's not irreverent. Singer Mark Mothersbaugh and bassist Jerry Casale were students at Kent State when the shootings occurred. Casale actually witnessed the shootings and personally knew Allison Krause and Jeffrey Miller. Mothersbaugh talked about the shootings on Marc Maron's WTF podcast this week.

There is so much political bile and violence in n the air these days, I worry that another Kent State could happen. I pray it doesn't.

UPDATE: Jerry Casale of Devo will discuss Kent State tonight on CNN's Soundtracks.

For more deep dives into songs, check out The Stephen W. Terrell Web Log Songbook

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