David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 77: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Ohio)

July 12, 2020

This one feels like a cheat. "Ohio" bears the name of all four members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but the song embodies Young, whom I have already featured via "Powderfinger" (Day 36).  For many of us, "Ohio" comes from Neil Young's retrospective Decade and nowhere else; however, there is enough CSN influence on the song to salve my angst.

First, why "Ohio," why today?  Let's first provide the metaphorical answer. Is it 2020 or is it 1970? The President of the United States wants the National Guard called in to maintain order during protests. Is it 2020 or is it 1970? Cameras have caught the senseless death of citizens at the hands of governmental officials. Is it 2020 or is it 1970? Is the country hungry for real leadership at the local, state and national levels? Is it 2020 or is it 1970? I can tell you, as senior leader at an institution of higher learning, one of my biggest misgivings about returning to campus in the Fall (assuming that we all can) is the boiling over of emotions into something much uglier.

So, if you ask why "Ohio" today, metaphorically, get your head out of your backside.

However, I have to be honest, less symbolically, "Ohio" today because I am driving across it. I have driven across that boring state on I-70, or I-80/I-90 hundreds of times. It's flat, it's boring and its drivers, well, I would leave them in my rear-view mirror if they got out of the passing lane. Especially when I lived in Bloomington, which is beautiful and hilly, and drove back to Morgantown, in spectacularly mountainous West Virginia, Ohio ends up as the boring nothing-but-flat-middle.  Devo's "Jocko Home" always came out opposite as I drove: "What's high on the ends and low in the middle? OhiO."

So I thought about using "Jocko Homo" for today's entry, or "My City Was Gone" by the Pretenders or even "Love Rollercoaster" by the Ohio Players, as homage to the land of buckeyes.  In the end, there could be no doubt it would be CSNY's "Ohio."

The beauty of "Ohio" is that Young wrote the song quickly, the band got into the studio and with two takes recorded the perfect final version, and the record company got it released within days of the Kent State shootings. Even in an era where news could simmer instead of being overcooked and thrown out for the next morsel, this turnaround meant the incident and the song could be intricately linked, so much so that 50 years later, one could think the song came out the same day.

Of course, lyrically, "Ohio" is sparse, adding to its bleakness, basically two verses, bridge and fade-out. The opening couplet captures a whole generation's recognition of how their country felt about them: "Tin soldiers and Nixon coming/we're finally on our own," and from there the rest of the song lays open the nation's wounds: "What if you knew her/and found her dead on the ground?"

The beauty of the song resides in two qualities: the anger, which given his entire catalog, is mostly Young through his hastily penned lyrics and blistering (and sobering) opening guitar riff; and the unification, of individual anger into mass action, which comes from the rest of the alphabet soup of a group name.  David Crosby came up with the harmony parts, and perhaps more importantly, championed the song from idea to release. Stephen Stills infused the song with the second guitar part, playing so elegiac-like against Young's. The hair-raising moment on the song, if you ask me, is Crosby's plaintive wail at the end "Four dead/how many more?" over the "four dead in Ohio" fade out.

CSNY, of course, didn't last much longer. Too many egos and too much talent. Neil keeps cranking out socially relevant material, the other three less noticeably.  I still wonder if David Crosby turns on the news these days, wailing beautifully, "how many more?"

"Ohio." Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Atlantic. 1970. Link here.

Day 76: The Vogues "5 O'Clock World."

Day 78: Steve Earle & The Dukes. "It's About Blood."

See complete list here.