photo by John Filo
Neil Young News
The Truth About The Kent State Massacre
Play and listen to a MP3 sample clip of "Ohio" (studio version)
"Ohio" lyrics by Neil Young
Please comment in the guestbook
[Note: This is one of a series of articles which provide an explanation of the meaning of Neil Young's song "Ohio". While the interpretation of lyrics presented here is composed of several viewpoints, there is little consensus on the exact meaning of Neil's songs. The themes and symbolism of Young's songwriting provide a rich tapestry on which to project various meanings and analysis. ]
Immediately after the Kent State shooting (sometimes referred to as the "Kent State Massacre") 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. Soon, the lyrics "Four dead in Ohio" became an anthem to a generation. In some parts of the country, the song was banned from playlists because of it's "anti-war" and "anti-Nixon" sentiments.
"What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground?"
Excerpted from the article "An Analysis of Music and Lyrics in Relation to American Culture in the 1960s" on Epinions by Andrew Lasho. Lasho interprets the meaning of the lyrics to Neil Young's song "Ohio" and offers an analysis of the song's historical importance:
One of the most outspoken songwriters of this era and calling was Neil Young. Whether it was with Buffalo Springfield or with his other group, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Neil Young expressed his opinion at every opportunity that presented itself. In his song Ohio, he expresses both his opinions about the war, and about a specific event that took place on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio.
"Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming
Four dead in Ohio."
("Ohio" lyrics by Neil Young)
On May 4, 1970, a student demonstration at Kent State, Ohio left four students dead, one paralyzed, and eight others wounded. This demonstration, meant to be one of many peaceful demonstrations against the war, was ended abruptly and violently when the National Guard fired into the crowd for 13 seconds. The brief shootings ended the lives of students Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, William Schroeder, and Sandra Scheuer. The distances ranged from 270 feet to 390 feet. Some of these students were not even directly involved. Justified or not by self-defense, the "massacre" sparked a nationwide student strike that closed many colleges and universities.
The line, "We're finally on our own" describes the feeling of freedom and independence in college, and the line "Four dead in Ohio" refers to the four slain students at Kent State. The "Tin soldiers" are the National Guard, and many people, including Young, felt that it was President Richard Nixon's fault.
"Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago."
The "Tin Soldiers" in Ohio "Cutting them down" at Kent State University
The Day America Killed It's Children
When asked about releasing the song "Ohio", Graham Nash responded:
James Allen Rhodes - Governor of Ohio &
Richard Milhous Nixon - 37th President of the United States
Some believe that a conspiracy covering up the true motivations behind the shootings that involved James Allen Rhodes, Governor of Ohio and President Richard Nixon. (See the book Four Dead in Ohio: Was There a Conspiracy at Kent State by William A. Gordon for more details.)
In 13 Seconds: A Look Back at the Kent State Shootings by Philip Caputo, the author details Richard Nixon's decision to invade Cambodia, the militaristic missives of the ultra-leftist Weathermen, and statements such as high-profile California governor Ronald Reagan's declaration about student protests, given three weeks before the shootings ("If it takes a bloodbath, let's get it over with") as part of the events leading up to that fateful day.
Jimmy McDonough writes in the Neil Young Biography "Shakey" about the song "Ohio": "In ten lines, Young captured the fear, frustration and anger felt by the youth across the country and set it to a lumbering D-modal death march that hammered home the dread."
Author Dorian Lynskey writes in the book 33 Revolutions per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, from Billie Holiday to Green Day:
The front page of the New York Times newspaper (May 5, 1970) with the Pulitzer Award photographic image by John Filo that shocked America
From President's Commission on Student Unrest (Report , 1970, p. 87): "The indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable."
"Ohio" single with the United States Bill of Rights
Highlights the right to peacefully assemble
From David Crosby's site, an interview with Bill Halverson, recording engineer for the song "Ohio". Halverson is interviewed by Tony Bittick on remembering the recording studio session:
The mood was just very intense. I mean when they come into a room... I've been around those personalities for a long time, and the four of them take over a room. They are four distinct personalities and any one of the four is quite overpowering and together they're just a joy to be with. It's just a hoot to see them interact. And they were bent on getting it right and were on a mission.
["Ohio" was recorded at The Record Plant] ... on an old Quad-Eight console, an eight-track console that was modified where you could probably do 16 at one time without using... with just direct patches. We had a rented 3M machine from Heiders, probably a 79, 24-track.
[Using some of Wally Heiders equipment] ... yeah just because I really liked his machines and rented them all the time to bring over there. And he had enough extras where he did have a good rental business. Amp mics...I've always used Shure 57s... it was back in the days when I still used SM-57s on the snare and on toms and on snare and on high hats. I had a couple of Noymans on the overheads... it was after I discovered the D12 for kicks so probably the D12 on kicks... and vocal mics... I probably had some Shures just because the amps were in the room and I needed more separation. So I probably wasn't using Neumans on the vocals just because it was loud and everybody was in the room together.
TB: And all four musicians stayed in the room and helped mix?
BH: Oh yeah we all got in there and pretty much just mixed it together. Everybody has their input and there's no referees and it's just... you get on with it.
TB: The story that David has written and that I've heard is that he saw the picture in Life magazine and pretty much gave it to Neil Young as something kind of a challenge or a spur to write something and he did. Is that the story that you're familiar with?
BH: I've heard that story and I've read that story and all I know is he came in with the song and they had rehearsed it. I love the way the B-side got to be. And the B-side is "Find the Cost of Freedom". While they were listening to the mix and finishing up the mix they said "we don't have a B-side, we need a B-side for this."
So they had been rehearsing also "Find the Cost of Freedom" because they did that at the close of the show. So I went out and set up four chairs so they'd be knee to knee sitting facing each other and set up four vocal mics and a guitar mic for Stephen because he was gonna play guitar. Once I was set up they went out there and sat knee to knee with the four vocal mics and Stephen started playing guitar and then they started singing and sang it through. And before they could come in I rewound the tape, put it on another five tracks, and rolled it again, and they heard the guitar so they knew what was going on and waited for the vocal to come in and Stephen played along with himself, a little on guitar, played the little fills and stuff...
In fifteen minutes we had "Find the Cost of Freedom".
We air freighted tapes to New York and I also know, well I don't know, as I recall we had some acetates cut in LA and Atlantic in LA got it on the radio there and as fast as they could they got it mastered and pressed in New York.
TB: Do you recall hearing it on the radio for the first time.
BH: No. I do recall that AM wouldn't play it and it was very controversial that AM wouldn't play it and FM, the underground, all the FM stations started playing it... and it got up in the 30s or so just with FM play and at that point FM was pretty underground and AM was the deal. But they tried to ban it."
The Life Magazine (May 15, 1970) issue which inspired Neil Young to write the song "Ohio"
CSN performed at Kent State University on May 4, 1997 during the 27th annual commemoration of the 1970 shootings. The group played at the end of the commemoration ceremony, held in honor of the 4 dead in Ohio and the 13 wounded:
More recently, from NCTimes.net, former basketball star and broadcaster Bill Walton, who participated in antiwar demonstrations while an All-American at UCLA, believes the Kent State tragedy should stay fresh.
Photo by Norma J. Marr
Care to comment and add your thoughts on the meaning and significance of "Ohio"?
Please comment in the guestbook.
Excerpted from the article "An Analysis of Music and Lyrics in Relation to American Culture in the 1960s" on Epinions by Andrew Lasho. Lasho interprets the meaning of the lyrics to "For What It's Worth" by Stephen Stills of The Buffalo Springfield:
Perhaps they wanted to make the song more timeless? Even without the image of Dick Nixon, the Isley version of “Ohio” is a bone chiller. While Neil Young captured the rage and anger in the original, the Isleys captured the fear of watching a government violently turn against its own people."