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Sunday, May 02, 2010

Neil Young's 'Ohio': "the most evocative pop-culture response to a defining moment in American history"

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - Minneapolis, MN 1970
"They were about to walk out on stage and were spending a moment warming up."
Photo by Henry Diltz

Next week marks the 40th Anniversary of the tragedy of the Kent State Massacre.

And. We're. Still. Living. With. War.

Immediately after the Kent State shooting on May 4, 1970, Neil Young composed the song "Ohio" after looking at photos appearing in Life magazine and then taking a walk in the woods. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young went to the studio and recorded the song which was released to radio stations shortly after the killings.

A rather significant article in today's The Cleveland (Ohio) Plain Dealer "Neil Young's 'Ohio' evokes strong images of May 4, 1970 shootings at Kent State" by Mark Dawidziak:
It was more than just another protest song.

Ohio was a cry of anguish, penned by Neil Young after seeing pictures taken at Kent State University on May 4, 1970.

But 40 years after members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire on college students, Young's "Ohio" remains the most evocative pop-culture response to a defining moment in American history.

"This is an event that now is in every history book," said Carole A. Barbato, a Kent State University professor of communication studies who team-teaches a course on May 4. "Wherever you live, even though your environment obviously shapes how you perceive things, you're probably as aware of the shootings at Kent State as those of us in Northeast Ohio. And even though this still would be in the history books, the pop culture certainly does perpetuate that. "Ohio" was entering the pop-culture consciousness within three weeks of the shootings.

"It was the quickest and best reaction to Kent State, with Neil Young acting as 50 percent songwriter and 50 percent journalist," said David Bianculli, a pop-culture historian who teaches at Rowan University and regularly contributes to NPR's "Fresh Air."

"I'll tell you what that song meant," said Bianculli, author of the recently published "Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour." "After the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, you felt kind of helpless as a young person. It seemed that when someone had your voice, that voice was silenced, usually by violence.

"Then you have Kent State, and college kids are actually fired upon. And when you just might start to be thinking, you don't dare have a voice or there is no voice, from the radio comes this voice of solidarity and outrage. It wasn't just a pop song."

"After 1970, that doesn't happen again. It didn't need to happen again, mostly because it didn't need to happen there. And that's what Neil Young's song spoke to."

Thanks Ken D.

More on Neil Young composed song "Ohio" performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSNY).

Timeline of Events Leading up to May 4, 1970:

  • 4 Days in May: Ohio, May 1, 1970
  • 4 Days in May: Ohio, May 2, 1970
  • 4 Days in May: Ohio, May 3, 1970
  • 4 Dead In Ohio: May 4, 1970

    UPDATE: From Montreal Gazette: Next Chapter: The boomer generation and beyond by Michael Shenker:

    It was an image that would mark my generation. It came to symbolize the deep and sometimes ugly chasm in America during the Vietnam War, and for one side of the divide, it came to symbolize all that was wrong with the country. Kent State was the rallying cry. Neil Young could have written the caption for that picture – “This summer I hear the drumming. Four dead in Ohio” – when he penned the words to “Ohio” just weeks later. Kent State and Vietnam, Nixon and Agnew. And Trudeau.

    Thanks to him, Americans of draft age had another option besides going to war or going to jail.


    At 5/02/2010 03:53:00 PM, Anonymous Rose K. said...

    More than the event itself, I recall where I was when I first heard "Ohio." A local cover band played it in less than 10 days after the students were shot. I foolishly thought the locals composed it, but found out on their break that it was a Neil Young composition. My feelings of distaste that someone was capitalizing on the event almost immediately after it happened was tempered by stronger feelings of horror, fear, and anger that a student in the USA could be senselessly killed by a soldier of the US Army for no good reason whatsoever! The members of CSNY are about my age and the song really captured how we felt about this tragedy. "Four dead"... "how many more?" How many more, indeed... -RK

    At 5/02/2010 04:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    The big banks ,corporations and the top 1% run this country. And they run it with a thoughtless hand. They don't think about me and you. And they have the power to activate military enforcement, where it suits them best. Here its is 40 yrs later, and it hasn't changed!
    What blows my mind is that when it comes to the LS-NY feud (of the mind), there's a hundred comments, most BS! If there was a DRAFT going on right now, you can all bet your ASSES there would be a thousand comments here!

    At 5/03/2010 10:43:00 AM, Anonymous SONY said...

    This song presents a real dilemma for me. Fisrt off, it is one of my favorites! of Neil's or anyone elses. That guitar lead - as recognizable as the morning sun. But I can't help feel strange about liking it so much when it carries such a 'heavy' message about something so tragic, unnecessary, embarrasing and completly abhorant to me, dealing with the events of that day, the mindset that preceeded it and the awfullness of knowing that it could happen again. The pain and anger that it evokes demonstrates one of the most honest reactions to any event in our history. I can not imagine the emotion and anguish Neil went throught to have this song come out of him as he was the medium by which the message was put out.

    I remember not long ago being completely angered and upset by a conversation with a friend(?) who could cut me like no other and writing a very heartfelt retort in song which I thought could eradicate the inner reactions and pain I was feeling. It helped, but I haven't lost the perspective on it. And every time I play or hear that song it comes running back, almost like an anti-love song

    No short haired-yellow bellied
    Son of tricky dicky
    Is gonna mother hubbard
    Soft soap me

    All I want is the truth
    Just give me some truth

    (Don't need no more lies)

    At 5/03/2010 11:32:00 AM, Blogger RICK RANGEL said...

    I was a junior in high school in May of 1970.I remember going to the lunch room and seeing my friend Jack Turner setting all by himself with a black armband on. I asked about the armband & he told me it was in memory of the slain Kent State students. He then told me I shouldn't be setting with him because the asistant principal was on his way in to escort him to the office. I sat with him anyway.Jack was right ,Mr Phillips did walk up to the table & asked Jack to come with him. I learned a lesson that day about standing up for what you believe is right, only I wasn't shot for it....


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