The Kent State Massacre was 50 years ago today. It inspired one of history’s great protest songs.

Fifty years ago today, National Guard troops opened fire on students protesting the Vietnam War at Kent State University in Ohio. They used live ammunition. Twelve students were hit. Four were killed.

Among the people in the crowd that day was Chrissie Hynde, who was still years away from forming The Pretenders.

The killings shocked the nation, resulting in not only additional protests but also counter-protests. President Richard Nixon was blindsided by the event, which many historians believe sent him on a downward spiral towards Watergate.

Neil Young was outraged when pictures appeared in Life magazine. The lyrics and music came together quickly. Less than three weeks later, all of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Yong were at the Record Plant Studios in Los Angeles for a fast session on May 21, 1970. A B-side, “Find the Cost of Freedom,” written by Stephen Stills, was also recorded.

The single was rush-released to radio and stores, even though CSN&Y had a single, “Teach Your Children,” on the charts. By early June–about a month after the shootings–the song was everywhere. At the time, such speed from writing to radio and retail was unheard of.

Many radio American radio stations refused to play the song because of its “disrespect” to the Nixon administration. The new FM rock stations had not such problem.

Guitarist Joe Walsh released this statement today:

“Today is May 4th and it marks 50 years since the shooting at Kent State University. Those of us who were there remember that day graphically, when our classmates, our friends, got shot down. We were naive young people who had left our parents nest and were just starting our lives by going to college and furthering our education. And we were peacefully demonstrating but because of a total dysfunctional authority trying to handle a situation they didn’t understand, it mutated into elevated emotions and anger, chaos and fear escalated into violence. It was a long time ago but the reason it is so important and should be remembered is because history repeats itself – and we are as divided as a country now as we were then – and people demonstrating have no chance against people with guns.  The solution then, as it is now, is to be able to peacefully assemble and understand each other and accept our differences, without fear, without hatred, without violence.”  – Joe Walsh   #KentStateMay4

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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