On the 50th anniversary of Kent State Massacre, listen to the Isley Brothers' "Ohio"

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/05/03/on-the-50th-anniversary-of-ken.html


Wow … that Isley Brothers version is freaky powerful.


Of course, on Steve Miller’s Number 5 album, there is “Jackson-Kent Blues”, which of course includes the killings at Jackson State on May 15th that year. Two dead, and 12 wounded. It’s often forgotten.

I was only ten. My only memory from that time was some kid in school mentioning students being shot, in a sort of current events thing. But I’m not even sure the two are connected, I can’t quite place it in 1970.

It was barely two weeks after Earth Day. The song I remember from that spring was “Ride Captain Ride”. A few months later I was called a political activist in the newspaper.

There must be other songs related to the event, but none come to mind. Jeffery Miller, who is lying on the ground with Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over him, is said to be a fan of the Grateful Dead. Two of the dead were just going to class, not protesting.

The most complete book (maybe more recently there have been more in depth books) was James Michener’s “Kent State: What Happened and Why” from 1971. IF Stone also had “The Killings at Kent State” in 1971.

In 1981 there was a made for tv movie, “Kent State”, which I onky saw tge first time it aired. I thought it represented the events well, but it’s been 39 years. It’s partly based on James Michener’s book.

It doesn’t seem like fifty years, but then back then I couldn’t visualize fifty years in the future.


Kent State always sits in a weird spot in my head. I came up as a leftist anti-war activist in north east Ohio, which meant that it is ever present. If you attend more than a couple demos you will absolutely meet someone who lost a friend, or was wounded, or was just on campus at the time. Younger activists have regularly been heavily involved in planning the annual memorial because the university wanted to bury it. Even with all of that, I’ve never attended the event on the fourth due to family obligations. Then this year the university decides to take it over again, puts a CIA operative as the head of the committee, and drove out the student group. That abomination was cancelled by the outbreak, but instead tomorrow there will be air force reserve flyovers all over north east Ohio.


I’ve always hated the voice of Neil Young for some reason his nasally voice never resonated with me.

But I’ve heard this song many times and I never knew what they were saying or what they were singing about it just blended in in the background of classic rock I grew up around.

I know about the history of the massacre but now I know how rock responded and I learned something more about my country’s history, and I’m deeply humbled by the power of Neil Young, 50 years later.

Where is the power in music today like this?

I’m no old man- I’m 36, and I still don’t see it.

Fuck the pigs indeed.


I’ve always thought it was interesting how close the Kent State Massacre was to one of the founding events of the US, the Boston Massacre. In both cases you had protestors facing off against soldiers, most of whom didn’t want to be in this situation at all, and who were taking the brunt of the protestors’ ire rather than the people in authority who were actually responsible for what the protestors didn’t like. And then, as almost inevitably in this situation, one of the soldiers opened fire. Which of course led to other soldiers firing.

1 Like

Devo actually recorded a cover of Ohio:

1 Like

I still have that album. I was only 14 years old at the time but I knew in my heart of hearts the Peace movement was over starting right then, right there at Kent State. Hippies started fading away too.

1 Like

Don’t be offended, please, but:

From what you wrote, you managed to live 36 years without realizing Neil Young’s Ohio had that power. Occam’s razor says, you are simply overlooking it in today’s music as well :slight_smile:


A lot of the powerful political content is in rap and punk.

The soldiers were actually responsible for a lot of what the students were protesting. Time has smoothed over it, but the campus occupation was a multiple day event. The initial protest was against the invasion of Cambodia, but it had expanded to include the brutality of the guard itself. Students were tear gassed and bayoneted on the third. But Rhodes needed to win his primary so he was happy to push the same guard unit that he had just used for strike breaking in Richfield to kill students. To this day there are universities buildings on multiple campuses in Ohio named after the him.


Totally fair critique.

I meant it more as exaggeration for dramatic effect I suppose.

Yeah- and I listen to a lot of that. But whens the last time you heard “Law For The Rich” on the radio by The Exploited?

I listen to plenty of things that have a message but they aren’t things that get played on mainstream normal radio. Neil Young definitely always has been.

I definitely feel like an idiot for not realizing what this song was about but it was probably because as soon as Neil Young comes on I tune out because I can’t stand his voice

The Exploited don’t get much airplay, but Green Day certainly did. There were a lot of overtly political songs that charted throughout the mid 2000s. Youth of a Nation by P.O.D. topped the alternative charts. System of a Down got a lot of airplay. Dear Mr. President got some radio play for Pink (though more popular outside the US). Kendrick Lamar got both heavy radio play and critical praise. Janelle Monae didn’t chart for Hell You Talmbout, but the song definitely got around. I think we over-inflate the presence of meaningful music in the past and dismiss it in the present.

1 Like

As awful as this event was I can’t help thinking how much worse it would have been, once the shooting started, if many of the students were carrying assault rifles. As bad as this was it wasn’t Attica.

Those of a certain mindset would probably argue that the shooting would have been less likely to occur if there were weapons on the other side, but…it quickly becomes easy to wander down the counterfactual rabbit hole.

My final conjecture would be that if the students commonly showed up with rifles the Guard would probably have shown up in tanks.


History is rarely internalized from the perspective of the present.


Maybe, but we have a test case to some degree. At the 2003 memorial students were less armed than in the period around the original shooting. People were protesting the Iraq invasion and cops came in with helicopters and tear gas. Two years ago an open carry walk managed to continue even after someone was arrested for assaulting a cop with no need to teargas anyone. Generally cops turn violent because they choose to and there is a pretty tenuous relationship to the actions of those they are using violence against.


And don’t forget the Rhodes State Office building in Cleveland. The joke was it was the largest concentration of Republicans in Northeast Ohio.

Scary good cover.

If young people protested against power peacefully on campus nowadays, they’d still be met with violence.
(Unlike white men with weapons. They’re met with peaceful passivity.)