The rush of memory

Whiteray over at Echoes in the Wind today offered a simple yet elegant tribute to the four students shot to death at Kent State University during an antiwar protest 38 years ago.

He posted the classic Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young tune, “Ohio,” to accompany the names of the four dead in Ohio.

Seeing that and hearing “Ohio” in my head, it took me right back to that time. I was 12 that May day and became a teenager not too long afterward.

We were living in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a mostly white, mostly working-class city of 50,000 along Lake Michigan. It was the kind of town that in 1970 still had a band shell — albeit a nice new one — in the park right smack in the middle of downtown.

That summer, there was some kind of teen rock show or perhaps a battle of the bands. With it came a modest furor over one band’s plans to cover “Ohio,” which had been recorded and rushed into release in June, barely a month after the shootings. Neil Young’s rant about “tin soldiers and Nixon coming” did not play well in Sheboygan in the summer of 1970.

I don’t recall how the matter was resolved, but I suspect “Ohio” was covered and the teens remained peaceful, proving unwarranted the city fathers’ fears of unrest on 8th Street.

It remains a vivid memory is because it’s such a contrast to a more innocent memory of music from Sheboygan.

Only two or three summers separated the fuss over “Ohio” and the absolute, wide-eyed joy of discovering that some high school kids who lived up the alley had a garage band.

I was even younger then — 10, maybe 11. I don’t remember the names of the guys in the band, but they let us kids listen. Absolutely the coolest, man.

I’ll never forget the tune they played best. I tried to learn it when my dad brought home an electric guitar that had been damaged in shipping. (Dad worked for REA Express, sort of like today’s UPS, and if a customer declined a shipment, he could put in a claim for it.)

I finally got these chords down. But no, I never had a garage band.

“Little Bit O’ Soul,” the Music Explosion, 1967. Available on “Little Bit O’ Soul: The Best of the Music Explosion,” a 2002 CD compilation.

This tune by a garage band from Mansfield, Ohio, spent 10 weeks in the Top 10 on the singles chart at WLS radio in Chicago, from Memorial Day weekend through the end of July in the summer of 1967.

3 Comments

Filed under May 2008, Sounds

3 responses to “The rush of memory

  1. Bob

    Little bit o soul is a great, great tune! thanks for reminding me of it. I seem to only hear it in the summer…which actually works out ok since it is so upbeat—good sunshine music. Thanks!

  2. I was only seven at the time of Kent State, so the greater meaning of the day was lost on me at the time. But, with a brother who started college in 1968 (in Fredonia, NY, not so far from Kent State), I was seeing the protests and sensed the upheaval that was going on. I saw the hippies on the highway headed toward Watkins Glen, as well, being that I lived about 10 miles away. I’ve always been fascinated with the late 60’s — the music, the politics, the literature — but it’s a little shrouded, as if I were there but not there. As always, your words are well-spoken and appreciated.

  3. J.A. Bartlett

    Your story reminded me of one in 2004, when student musicians at a high school in Colorado got a visit from the Secret Service after they announced they were going to play Dylan’s “Masters of War” at a talent show. A few locals considered the song a threat against George W. Bush, despite the fact that it had been written in 1963.

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