Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Just an old song

Through most of last week, for no apparent reason, I listened to a lot of 70s music on youtube. Or should that read watched music on youtube.  Videos of songs that I had grown up on, but was only really properly seeing, in many cases for the first time ever, people whose familiar voices I'd often heard on the radio or on music cassettes. Now I don't know if it's just me and if it's because I'm no singer or am particularly musical but I tend to never really pay much attention to song lyrics. I just catch bits and pieces and sing those or just vaguely hum along and then sing out the instrumental solo bits. This is why last week when I watched an old song that I'd played often without really noting any of the lyrics, it brought up something I had long, long forgotten.

The song was Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and it turned out to be a song about an incident I had read about and seen pictures of in Life magazine years ago. On May 4th 1970 in Ohio, America, there had been a huge stand-off between students of Kent State University protesting against the Vietnam war and the government, which ended with soldiers shooting the unarmed college students, leaving 4 dead and several wounded. Of course, being on the other side of the world at a time when there was yet none of the instant media we have today, I think I got to see this issue of Life only around 1975/6. My sister and I were full of childish shock and fascination by the pictures (and Life carried only really great pictures) and I remember we felt especially sad for one of the victims who seemed particularly good-looking. The magazine with all the pictures was around for a while but over time, it disappeared, as did my memories of it. Until last week. 

What an amazing invention the Internet is, I keep thinking as I follow links around of the story. It had apparently been a huge, traumatic moment in the nation's history. Plenty of books have been written on it, there are lots of videos online with people still arguing bitterly over it, lots of articles, blogs et al. How could a government kill its young? How could it just shoot into a crowd of unarmed students? As a teacher, I know students, especially collegiate-aged ones, can be infuriatingly difficult to deal with. Late teens, early twenties. They're not so young and impressionable anymore as school children, they've read a bit more, know a bit more but they're not quite adults either and can be impossibly idealistic and stubborn. A real force to reckon with. Case in point, the student movement of South Korea in the '80s. But to shoot into a crowd of your own young? When the '89 Tiananmen Square massacre took place in Beijing, I had long forgotten the Life pictures but I wonder now as I write this, what people then who remembered the Kent State shootings had to say about it.  I remember my mother trying to rationalize the Tiananmen incident by attributing it to the Malthusian theory which was totally new to us and I remember us scolding Mum for being so callous. What a pity we had all forgotten about the Life/KSU incident then. I wonder what my mother would've made of it. For now, I'm still following around and reading up on this story that was evoked by an old song. 

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.