Ohio

Neil Young, 1970

Who is the speaker? Is there more than one? Is the same "speaker" talking in each line? Who could have said each of those lines?

What is the relationship between the pairs of lines in the second verse? One line is the voice of the students; it is answered by the voice of authority.

How does the music add to the song's meaning? First verse is a march; four lines, rhymes; second verse is more melodic. What feelings does the juxtaposition convey? Disorientation, confusion.

What event is this song about? Kent State shootings. When did this event happen? May 4, 1970. Who is Nixon? Who are the "tin soldiers"? National Guard. What were the students demonstrating about? Vietnam War. What happened during the demonstration? Guardsmen fired on students, killing four. What is the message of this song?

Search the internet for photos taken of the shootings. What emotions can you see on faces of the students? Of the Guardsmen? How are those emotions reflected in the song?

"Ohio" performed by Neil Young on Neil Young: Greatest Hits, Reprise Records, © 2004. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

 

For more information on Neil Young, visit his official website.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. Please consult this online source:

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NYT headline after the Kent State shooting
New York Times headline after the Kent State shooting.

Neil Young was born in 1945 in Toronto, Canada, and like many songwriters of his generation began playing in bands when he was in high school. In 1965 he moved to California, where he teamed with Stephen Stills to form the folk-based Buffalo Springfield, a band that found success with their thought-provoking hit single “For What It’s Worth.” From the beginning of his career, Young followed his creative impulses and recorded with different groups. These included a band called Crazy Horse, with which he recorded some of his classic songs, and the quartet Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Young has produced dozens of albums that shift from style to style, featuring changing techniques and instrumentation. His lyrics, however, remain intensely personal and introspective. When Crazy Horse bandmate Danny Whitten died of a heroin addiction, Young composed “The Needle and the Damage Done” (1972), a sorrowful portrayal of addiction. With his uniquely high, falsetto voice, Young’s works offer stirring commentary on life in the second half of the twentieth century.

“Ohio” first appeared on the live album Four Way Street (1971), featuring Young with David Crosby, Stills, and Graham Nash. The song commemorates the death of four students killed by national guardsmen at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. Also featured on the album is “Chicago,” a song by Nash that comments, in a similar fashion, on the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968.

Research reactions to the event in newspapers and magazines of the time. Draw a political cartoon taking a stand one way or the other.

Imagine it is 1970 and you just heard about this news event. Write what your reaction would be as a high school student.

Choose one of the following people and write a letter to the editor expressing his or her reaction: college student, parent, Vietnam vet, World War II vet, college dean, National Guardsman, foreign exchange student.