Neil Young’s song Ohio has very little meaning to most people today. To many of we Baby Boomers, it is a remembrance of one of the darkest days in our journey during the 60s and 70s. A President (JFL), a Presidential candidate (RFK), and a civil right icon (MLK) had been shot. Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin perished with drug overdoses. The Kent State massacre holds the same level of importance in my mind and emotions.
Kent State Massacre
The May 4, l970 shooting of Kent State students that seemed to cause more anger than sorrow. The Ohio National Guard opened fire into a crowd of Kent State University demonstrators. After the shots stopped, bodies laid all over the grounds. Four were dead and nine more were wounded. It became known as the Kent State massacre.
The killings at Kent State ignited angry demonstrations across the country. Students went on strike causing hundreds of colleges and universities to shut down.
Neil Young’s Ohio
Neil Young’s Ohio memorializes the four dead and the emotions of the time.
Neil Young and Jonathan Demme, the director of The Silence of the Lambs, have teamed up to produce Neil Young Journeys, their third documentary of Young.
Kent State Relatives
Demme appreciated the emotion in Young’s song and wanted to highlight it by showing images of the clash between the students and the protestors and the faces of the four dead. So he tracked down the families of those students and asked their permission to show the images. Securing their agreement was an emotional experience for Demme.
He says, “We were able to take the viewers back to the campus that day. I’m sure 75 per cent of the audience have never seen that footage, they probably don’t know the name of the college and they certainly don’t know there were two young women and two young men who got shot down that day.”
He adds about this remembrance of the Kent State massacre, “I thought, in these contentious times – with everything that’s going on in the country and around the world – how close are we to shooting our students again? I feel there’s a cautionary dimension to presenting the song today that I think is valuable”.