04 May 2010

Tin Soldiers And Nixon's Coming....

A fairly benign pic at first glance, this is Kent State, where a dead student's body once lay.

On May 4, 1970, the Ohio State National Guard opened fire into a crowd of student protestors and killed four people.  My friend D.J. and I were roommates in 1986-1987 when we were students at the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.  D.J. had a Crosby Stills Nash and Young t-shirt that he wore quite a bit from a concert he went to the summer before I met him.  We all liked CSNY, our crew.  D.J. would make mix tapes for the afterhour parties and he always played "Ohio" because he liked to point at me when they sang "and Nixon's coming."  I looked (look) like Dick Nixon apparently.  Eventually D.J. would marry Eva, whose father (I swear) was a dead-ringer for Henry Kissinger.  I think he must have thought it was fate that we should come together.  I'd been fascinated by Nixon, even before Watergate, and when I was all of six years old I did a Nixon impersonation.  Weird kid, right?

1986 was the beginning or maybe the middle of a cultural revival of the Sixties.  The Grateful Dead found their way back into the mainstream and the neo-Hippie movement was in full swing.  The good kids that we were, being young and all, we were Liberal and anti-establishment.  Mostly we liked to do stuff the kids in the Sixties did but I think we had more fun and didn't take ourselves nearly so seriously.  Which was easy for us.  We didn't have Vietnam, or the murders of 1968, or the cultural schism between the Hippies and their parents to deal with.  And we had no chance of being shot on a collge campus.  My only link to those kids who got shot at Kent State was the Neil Young song, my relationship to the political ghost of Nixon, and the hopes and dreams I had for a society in which people are free from prejudice.

In 1990 I got a call from my buddy Eric and he said that CSNY was going to play a concert at Kent State in two days.  I lived in Buffalo at the time and high-tailed it down to Edinboro.  It was Friday, May 4th, the twentieth anniversary of the shooting.  We probably got drunk that night but for sure me, Eric, and Johnny (and maybe George) drove to Kent State in the morning.  There was no concert, that was pretty obvious, and there was actually not much going on.  I was wearing my Phi Sigma Kappa hooded sweatshirt while I was walking around the campus and I remember someone taking my photo.  I wonder where that photo is?  It was a rare moment we get sometimes in life where who we are brings us to where we feel we should be, even if it's only for a moment.  The song that had played so many times at the after hours parties became a reality that morning.  People were shot and killed here.  My significance to the event, my trek to see CSNY, seemed like a small, selfish act.  It reminded me of Abraham Lincoln and what he said at Gettysburg:

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.  But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

It was a somber ride back home.

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