Saturday, January 10, 2009

Gerald Casale on the Kent State shootings

Well, THAT was an interesting evening.

After several people (including myself) posted 1980s era pictures of ourselves, I began posting links to a number of 80's era videos.

And the conversation flowed around my sharing of a video of the Clash's performance of "Straight to Hell" at the US Festival.

First, I was talking about the performance of "Straight to Hell" that I really wanted to see:

Good performance, but the one I *really* want to see is their performance from Saturday Night Live. They owned Studio 8H that night.

Incidentally, that was the same night that Eddie Murphy, in character as Raheem Abdul Mohammed, referred to the mustached Ron Howard as "Opie Cunningham."

Then Larry Kless contributed his memories of the Clash:

Thanks for sharing this. I was lucky enough to see them live in Kent, Ohio at the student center when they were on their Combat Rock Tour. I remember wearing army fatigues head to toe, army boots and painted my face army fatigues too. They made the 80's bearable!

I replied:

Larry, I never saw the Clash live, but I did see Devo around 1981-1982.

Larry certainly had a contribution to make at that point:

Thats cool Ontario, I didn't see Devo but they got their start at Kent State in Ohio where I went years later. That must have been a fun show.

Yes, Devo definitely got their start at Kent State University, and what Gerald Casale and Bob Lewis saw there helps to explain the rest of Devo's career.

Yes, Bob Lewis was definitely there:

Lewis played basketball briefly for Bobby Knight at Cuyahoga Falls High School, was a National Merit Scholar at Kent State University, and the first student at the university to earn a degree in anthropology, graduating shortly after the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970.

But Lewis no longer speaks for Devo any more, and now lives in Independence, Missouri, home to Dave Winer's hero Twitterin' Harry Truman.

Gerald Casale, of course, has no reluctance in speaking, and has spoken about his experiences in Kent State. In 2008, Alan Canfora interviewed Casale. This is (part of) what he (Casale) said:

By 1970 there seemed to be evidence to suggest that about 1200 students belonged to and/or participated in various anti-war groups on campus. That would still account for less than 10% of registered students at Kent State at that time. SDS, of which I was a member, was certainly the most threatening of those groups by virtue of their somewhat militant, politically and socially astute, articulated attacks on the hypocrisy of our federal, state and local government in a supposed free, democratic society. Their ideological, Gestalt type analysis went way beyond passively opposing the Vietnam War. To us, that war was just a symptom of the corrosive power of the military-industrial complex married with corporate capitalism. The co-option of true freedom and the dissolution of local community power were points of serious contention. In light of present day culture all we can say is "I hate to say I told you so"....

There is an indescribable lifelong bond between so many of us who survived that day. Imagine being 18 or 19 years old at noon on a sunny day in May attending a student rally against President Nixon's unlawful expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia after being subjected to Martial Law type, Banana Republic tactics by local police and deputies in town on the weekend before. You're standing on a grassy hill known as The Commons on campus with many of your friends listening to various activist luminaries ranting against our tone deaf leaders. Suddenly you are surrounded by National Guard troops who have been hiding in non-classroom buildings on campus as well as many more who pour onto campus in military jeeps. They announce your assembly is unlawful and thereafter start shooting tear gas at you when you defy their order to leave your own campus....

Like some Civil War parody, the first row of soldiers kneel and the second row stand. To the side a commander yells something and drops his arm. They all shoot!

As I ran from them I wheeled around in the direction of hideous, mass screaming to see Allison Krause laying on the ground, a huge pool of blood spreading out around her, coagulating in the bright heat of the sun. My mind snaps. The guns are LOADED WITH LIVE AMMUNITION!...

We were marched off campus single file after what seemed like hours. No campus buses were operating so I walked home 3 miles crying and taking back streets to avoid the locals, many of whom were out for blood having heard false radio reports that students had shot at guardsmen.

Casale then said:

People thought that what I did and said with my band, Devo, was just a silly prank. True we employed humor and irony to get our message out. But, unfortunately, Devolution is real.

More here.

P.S. Although audiography got Mothersbaugh and Casale mixed up, it's interesting to know that Devo covered the Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young song "Ohio." You can hear it here on

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