Posted on Thu, May. 19, 2005


CD remembers May 4, 1970


Neil Young's `Ohio' starkly missing on Kent State project. What's with Ramones revival?


By Malcolm X Abram
Akron Beacon Journal

The recent May 4 memorial services and events have come and gone and many folks won't think about that shocking day in the spring of 1970 for another year.

Many young people, even those who grew up in this area, still know little about the day beyond the basic facts that emissaries of the United States government murdered four Kent State students -- Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder -- and wounded nine more, and Neil Young wrote a song about it.

The May 4 Task Force, with the help of Sean Carlin, former Dink member and current beatmaker for House of Sectionals, has produced a double-disc compilation simply called The Kent State May 4 CD Project. The collection features 36 tracks, mixing music from area and national artists past and present, as well as interviews with people who were there.

The first disc, titled ``Witnesses and Tributes,'' features several songs in a variety of styles that directly address that day and the people affected by it, such as the folk tunes Hey Sandy by Harvey Andrews, and Kent by Kent duo Magpie, whose Terry Leonino witnessed the shootings.

Former Kent State students Chrissie Hynde and Joe Walsh contributed the Pretenders' Every Mother's Son and the eight-minute Decades respectively. Singer/songwriter Holly Near, The Numbers Band and the last Dink song ever recorded, Down, described by Carlin as ``the song that got us kicked off Capitol,'' are also included, as well as some instrumentals.

Disc two, dubbed ``Fellow Travelers,'' features more interviews and mostly recent songs by area artists, including indie rockers Full Wave Rectifier, ragtime blues guitarist Patrick Sweany and the Pennsylvania rock rap group the Impossebulls, with Public Enemy leader Chuck D. There's also a remix of Yoko Ono's Give Peace a Chance and an audio collage from local music archivist supreme Jimi Imij.

One song that surprisingly doesn't appear is the most famous song about May 4, Young's Ohio. ``We tried to get any version -- Neil Young's, Devo's, Dink's -- but we had to pull it because of Young's publishing (company),'' Carlin said. ``It's weird, you know, for a guy who once said if he'd written that today he'd give the proceeds to the families. We just couldn't get it.'' He surmises that the request never made it to Young himself.

Even without the signature song, The Kent State May 4 CD Project is a worthy collection for a worthy cause. Since Cleveland record label Telarc underwrote the entire project and Sony pressed the CDs for free, 100 percent of the compilation's sales will go to The Kent State May 4 Commemorative Student Activism Scholarship Fund. It's available for $20 at http://dept.kent.edu./may4/ and in some Kent record stores.

Hey! Ho! Let's go shop!

The Ramones were certainly a successful band. No, none of them got rich directly from being a Ramone, though Joey knew to how wrangle a stock portfolio. They never had a hit album or even a real hit song to boost their profile, and heroin isn't free, but their influence on the thousands of bands that followed in their 22-year wake is staggering.

Here's the thing: They no longer exist, but the Ramones brand and the music lives on. Where?

Well, a few weeks ago my wife showed me a photo in a Kaufmann's catalog of a young, clean-shaven young man in a Ramones T-shirt with the classic eagle/names-in-a-circle logo. I'm not naive about marketing, but it still managed to creep me out a little. The guy had the vacant model smile, some goofy model pose and absolutely none of the attitude that people who wear that shirt used to have. It's just another logo, a visual shortcut for ``hip'' and/or ``rebellious.''

A few days later I found myself in Target, and there, at a strategically important intersection, was a display featuring reproductions of vintage T-shirts from the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and other ``heritage'' rock bands, along with, sure enough, the Ramones.

Shortly after that, whilst shopping in my local Walgreens, I heard over the PA, nestled snugly between (I kid you not) Pat Benatar's We Belong and Billy Joel's We Didn't Start the Fire, the Ramones' Blitzkrieg Bop, already a jingle for a product I've tried not to remember.

There was an older woman next to me in the lotion/soap aisle who gently tapped her hand on the shelf to the beat until they got to the ``Hey! Ho! Let's Go!'' battle cry, which caused her to glance disapprovingly upward toward the speakers.

For a band who always thought they were writing good radio tunes, I wonder if this would have been the kind of success they wanted. Its songs featured in television commercials, and sporting events; its logo stripped of any meaning in prominent retail outlets; and an old woman and a black dude from East Oakland both doing their own version of the Blitzkrieg Bop in a drugstore chain. If this had all happened in 1983 (you remember '83, disco dead and buried, synth pop on the rise, hair metal soon to be king) would it still be THE RAMONES?

It took 30 years, but perhaps this the ultimate crossover, the zenith in mainstream acceptance. Chart success is fleeting (unless you're Pink Floyd, Bob Marley or Tupac) but TV jingles, sporting event soundtracks and customized business music services (seemingly) last forever.


Malcolm X Abram can be reached at 330-996-3758 or mabram@thebeaconjournal.com




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