December 15, 2018

   

Talkin' Music with Jack - A Social Justice, or Injustice, We Got A Song for That

 A Social Justice, or Injustice, We Got A Song For That

By Jack Coll

Neil Young penned one of the most famous social injustice songs just days after the Kent State University Shooting on May 4th, 1970.  Young's song "Ohio" sung by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young was heard nationally on the radio within weeks of the shooting.  Neil Young - Photo by Jack Coll at Farmaid - 2006

Neil Young penned one of the most famous social injustice songs just days after the Kent State University Shooting on May 4th, 1970. Young’s song “Ohio” sung by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young was heard nationally on the radio within weeks of the shooting. Neil Young – Photo by Jack Coll at Farm Aid – 2006

     If you’re a fan of Social Justice and Human Rights songs, you’ll love this week’s column, if you’re not a fan, we’ll see you next week.  I was brought up on the poor side of town, and from the time I could hold my transistor radio to my ear at night, I was drawn to certain songs.  These songs told a story, sometimes these songs spoke to me, sometimes they spoke for the masses without voices, but most of these songs always spoke the truth.

     I was reminded of this while driving in my car, Philadelphia’s Classic Rock station WMGK was pumping out the tunes, when a cutting guitar comes out of my left speaker, you recognize the tune immediately, and the volume gets turned up. Crosby, Stills Nash, and Young, “Ohio,” a song written by Neil Young, most of us are familiar with the song, and how the song came about, the opening lines of the song go:

Tin Soldiers and Nixon coming,

We’re finally on our own.

This summer I hear the drumming,

Four Dead in Ohio.

     The cutting guitar and the lyrics bring back a flood of memories for me, but just to catch everyone else up, President Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia on national television on April 30, 1970.  President Nixon stated that the need to draft another 150,000 young American men and women were needed for the expansion of the Vietnam War effort.  Young Americans who felt the war had run its course and America was on the way out of Vietnam were extremely disappointed with Nixon’s decision to send in more troops.  College students throughout America staged massive protests at their campuses, in an effort to express their feelings about America’s participation in the war, and students continued to protest the draft.

     At Kent State University located in Ohio, a demonstration organized by students included setting fire to the ROTC building, this action prompted the governor of Ohio to dispatch nearly 1,000 National Guardsmen to the campus.  On May 4, 1970, the Guardsmen became un-easy, shots were fired into a crowd of protesting students and when the smoke cleared four un-armed students were dead, and nine others injured from gun fire, dozens more were injured in the panic.

A Pulitzer Prize winning photograph taken by a Kent State photography student depicting a young woman, (14 years old) kneeling, crying out, arms raised beside a dead student, became an iconic symbol of the slaughter.  Following a large public outcry, the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest did acknowledge however, that action of the Guardsmen had been unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.  Eventually a grand jury indicted eight of the Guardsman, but the charges were later dropped due to lack of evidence.

Within a week, Neil Young penned this song, and less than three weeks after the killing of four Kent State University students, the song “Ohio” hit the air waves nationwide.  The song simply has ten lines, and yet to this day is still so powerful.

 Ohio.

Tin Soldiers and Nixon coming,

We’re finally on our own.

This summer I hear the drumming,

Four dead in Ohio

 

Gotta get down to it

Soldiers are cutting us down

Should have been gone long ago.

What if you knew her

And found her dead on the ground

How can you run when you know?

 

Gotta get down to it

Soldiers are cutting us down

Should have been gone long ago

What if you knew her

And found her dead on the ground

How can you run when you know?

 

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,

We’re finally on our own.

This summer I hear the drumming,

Four dead in Ohio.

 

Four dead in Ohio

Four dead in Ohio

      Nineteen years after the slaughter I was reminded of the shooting when the Conshohocken Ambucs sponsored a trip in 1989, to Akron Ohio for all the Conshohocken Soap Box Derby drivers to view the National Soap Box Derby Race.  During the eight hour ride to Akron, shortly after we crossed the Ohio, State line our bus pulled over to feed the kids at a restaurant.  I went to the pay phone to call Donna and informed her that all was well.  (No cell phones back then, not that I would have been carrying one).  When she asked where we were, I looked across the street from the phone booth and a sign said Kent State University, with an arrow pointing the way, I said to her we are at Kent State University, and when I said it out loud, I think the blood turned cold in both of us.  Years later Donna and I visited the university, and pulled up to the grassy hill that was once occupied by the National Guard, that grassy hill had been ground zero and the flash point for the slaughter, we’d seen enough and left.

     When the news of the Kent State University shootings spread throughout the Country, I was 17 years old, and even I knew at that moment, that the 60’s were truly over.  Peace, love and understanding were behind us, for kids my age it was time to grow up.  We were all a tad too young to comprehend the killings of Kennedy, King, and Malcolm X. Bobby Kennedy seemed like part of the rebellious end of a violent decade.  We were aware of the riots in Chicago at the Democratic Convention, the nationwide riots that followed King’s assassination, and even the whole Charles Mansion slaughter of Sharon Tate, but it was the Kent State shootings that told us it was over, it was the one, clear cut incident that said this was the end.  But it wasn’t the end, it was just the beginning, the proof came two weeks later.

Before we leave this topic, we should take a minute and remember what most of the Country forgot, Jackson State University in Jackson Mississippi.  Just ten days after the Kent state University shootings, On May 14, students at Jackson State, an all-black school at the time, were also protesting against the Viet Nam War, specifically the United States invasion of Cambodia.  A group of students were confronted just after midnight and the police opened fire with automatic weapons on the un-armed students in front of a dormitory.  Two students were killed, twelve others wounded, the gunfire lasted for 30 seconds and at least 140 shots were fired by a reported 40 police officers firing their weapons from 30-50 feet away.  Every window in the Alexander Hall, a women’s dormitory, was shattered by the gunfire, a small miracle that dozens of students didn’t lay dead.

And the beat goes on.

A lot of social justice songs have addressed the war issue over the years, Edwin Starr later sang the song “War.”  Bruce Springsteen also belted the “War” anthem, “War, What is it good for, absolutely nothing.”  Marvin Gaye broke the Motown mold when he hit the air waves with “What’s Going On.”

“What’s Going ON”

 Mother, Mother

There’s too many of you crying

Brother, Brother, Brother

There’s far too many of you dying

You know we’ve got to find a way

To bring some lovin’ here today

 

Father, Father

We don’t need to escalate

You see, war is not the answer

For only love can conquer hate

You know we’ve got to find a way

To bring some lovin’ here today

 

Some years ago, well a lot of years ago, I remember this movie called “Billy Jack,” it was a 70’s pop culture movie, (it was a series of four movies, and actually they weren’t that good).  Billy Jack, played by Tom Laughlin, was a half Indian/half white ex-Green Beret looking to correct injustices heaped on the reservation where he lived.  As I remember it the climatic ending shows Billy Jack surrendering to dozens of cops on the reservation with the theme song blasting away, “One Tin Soldier.”  Most of us never took the song very serious as a “rock, pop song,” but I always enjoyed it.

“One Tin Soldier”

 Listen Children to a story that was written long ago

‘bout a kingdom on a mountain and the valley folk below

On the mountain was a treasure buried deep beneath a stone

And the valley people swore they’d have it for their very own

 

Go ahead and hate your neighbor

Go ahead and cheat a friend

Do it in the name of heaven

Justify it in the end

There won’t be any trumpets blowing

Come the judgment day

On the bloody morning after

One tin soldier rides away

 

So the people of the valley sent a message up the hill

Asking for the buried treasurer, tons of gold for which they’d kill

Came an answer from the kingdom “with our brothers we will share

All the secrets of our mountain, all the riches buried there.”

 

Now the valley cried with anger,

“mount your horses, draw your swords”

And they killed the mountain people,

So they won their just reward

Now they stood beside the treasurer,

On the mountain dark and red

Turned the stone and looked beneath it;

“Peace on earth” was all it said.

 

Go ahead and hate your neighbor

Go ahead and cheat a friend

Do it in the name of heaven

Justify it in the end

There won’t be any trumpets blowing

Come the judgment day

On the bloody morning after

One tin soldier rides away.

 

     Before moving away from the war songs, which there have been hundreds of protest war songs written over the years, I’d like to mention two of my all-time favorites, one I’m sure you’ll know, the other, perhaps not so much.  Never in the history of rock music has there been a voice quite like John Forgerty, of Creedence Clearwater Revival.  I’ve heard it on the radio and heard John sing it live, and man does he have a great voice.  John served a little time in Viet Nam, and when he came home he had this to write.

 “Fortunate Son”

 Some folks are born made to wave the flag,

Ooh, they’re red, white, and blue.

And when the band plays “Hail To The Chief”,

Oh, they point the cannon at you, Lord.

 

It ain’t me, it ain’t me,

I ain’t no senator’s son,

It ain’t me, it ain’t me

I ain’t no fortunate one, no.

 

Some folks are born silver spoon in hand.

Lord, why don’t they help themselves? Oh.

But when the taxman comes to the door,

Lord, the house looks a like a rummage sale, yes.

 

It ain’t me, it ain’t me,

I ain’t no millionaire’s son, no, no.

It ain’t me, it ain’t me,

I ain’t no fortunate one, oh.

 

Yea, some folks inherit star spangled eyes,

Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord.

And when you asked them, how much should we KILL,

Oh, they only answer, more, more, more, yoh.

 

It ain’t me, it ain’t me,

I ain’t no military son,

It ain’t me, it ain’t me

I ain’t no fortunate one.

      My other favorite war protest song was a song written by Buffy Sainte Marie, an early 1960’s folk song writer and singer.  Although Buffy wrote “Universal Soldier” many artist have recorded it over the years.  I picked up on it in the mid 1960’s just as I was taking notice of Viet Nam, a favorite artist of mine at the time was a guy  simply named ‘Donovan,” he was a Dylan knockoff but I really dug his music.  (Donovan spent a lot of time in India with the Beatles, I finally saw him in concert some years ago at the Keswick theatre)  Donovan sang a pop tune or two, you might remember one of my favorites “Catch The Wind,” or maybe “Sunshine Superman,” “Mellow Yellow,” or Hurdy Gurdy Man.”  I like some of his deeper songs like “Wear Your Love like Heaven,” or “Atlantis,” in later years I remember thinking “what the hell is he singing about.” Donovan managed to record with a lot of heavy hitters in the music industry over the years including the Jeff Beck Group, you might remember Jimmy Page playing guitar on Sunshine Superman, and of course when Donovan sang, “They call me Mellow Yellow’” this soft whisper would come in saying “That’s right slick,” well the whispered background vocal was provided by Paul McCartney.

I loved “Universal Soldier” then, and I love it today, it’s still part of my play-list. By the way you can still catch Buffy and Donovan in concert from time to time, still very enjoyable acts to catch.

 

Universal Soldier

 

He is five foot two,

And he’s six feet four,

He fights with missiles and with spears,

He’s all of thirty-one,

And he’s only seventeen,

He’s been a soldier for a thousand years.

 

He’s a Catholic, a Hindu,

An atheist, a Chien,

A Budhist, and a Baptist and a Jew,

And he knows, he shouldn’t kill,

And he knows he always will,

Killing for me, my friend, and me for you.

 

And he’s fighting for Canada,

He’s fighting for France,

He’s fighting for the USA

And he’s fighting for the Russians,

He’s fighting for Japan,

And he thinks we’ll put an end to war this way.

 

And he’s fighting for democracy,

He’s fighting for the Reds,

He says it’s for the peace of all,

He’s the one who must decide,

Who’s to live and who’s to die,

And he never sees the writing on the wall.

 

But without him, how would Hitler

Have condemned him at Lw’ow, (a German concentration camp)

Without him Cesar would have stood alone,

He’s the one, who gives his body

As a weapon of the war,

And without him all this killing can’t go on.

 

He’s the universal soldier,

And he really is to blame,

His orders come from far away, no more

They came from here and there,

And you and me and brothers,

Can’t you see

This is not the way we put the end to war.

 

     Universal Soldier was penned more than a half a century ago, and to me still rings true today.  Just a mention of a few other social justice, and, or injustice songs I have sang along with over the years.  I was always taken back with Dion’s “Abraham, Martin, and John.”  I was called up on stage years ago at the Mann Music Center to sing with Dion, it was a pretty exciting moment for me, if you don’t believe me just ask Mayor Bob Frost, he was the one pushing me.  “Ball of Confusion,” by the Temptations, Dylan with “Blowin’ in the Wind.” (Along with about another two dozen of his songs).  “A Change is Gonna Come,” a song that will make your arm hairs stand up on end when you listen to Sam Cooke sing it.  “Every Day People” by Sly and the Family Stone, “Get Up, Stand Up” by Bob Marley, “Give Peace A Chance” by John Lennon, “Indian Reservation” by Paul Revere and the Raiders, “Inner City Blues” by Marvin Gaye, “ Living for the City,” by Stevie Wonder, “Peace, Love, and Understanding,” by Elvis Costello, “Peace Train,” by Cat Stevens, “Say It Loud, (I’m black And I’m Proud,”) by James Brown, the old standard “This Land Is Your Land,” by Woody Guthrie, and “We Shallo Overcome,” by Pete Seeger, along with so many others.

Perhaps you have a favorite that I didn’t mention, feel free to share your social Justice or injustice favorite.

 

Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Questions

(All to do with the name Jackson)

#1   Most of us know the MTV VJ J. J. Jackson, who was John J., there was another J. J. Jackson, Jerome J.,

who had a monster hit in 1966 called “But It’s Alright.

“You don’t know, how I feel,

You’ll never know how I feel.

For When I needed you to come around,

You always tried, to put me down.”

#2   Michael Jackson got a lot of air play on MTV with his hit song “Thriller,” A few of his other hits songs

of the MTV era included,

“The Girl is Mine”

“Billie Jean”

“Beat It”

“Say, Say, Say” with Paul McCartney

“Bad”

“The Way You Make Me Feel”

“Man in the Mirror”

Among others

#3   In 1982, Joe Jackson had a nice hit viewed on MTV called “Steppin’ Out.”

 

This Weeks Trivia

#1   One of my all time favorite social Justice songs was called “Eve of Destruction, can you tell me who sung it?

 #2   In the song “Abraham, Martin, and John” by Dion, he sings about Lincoln, King, and Kennedy, the final verse makes reference to Bobby Kennedy where Dion sings,

“Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?

Can you tell me where he’s gone?

           Where did Dion think he saw Bobby walking?

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