Forty years ago today at Kent State University, Ohio National Guardsmen shot four unarmed students to death and wounded nine others. In 2005 the Vermont Review interviewed Devo's Jerry Casale. Here's an excerpt from the interview in which Casale shares his memories of the Kent State Massacre and how it led to the formation of Devo.
VR: Going back to your early days. You were present at the Kent State shootings in 1970. How did that day affect you?
JC: Whatever I would say would probably not at all touch upon the significance or gravity of the situation at this point of time — it would probably sound trite or glib. All I can tell you is that it completely and utterly changed my life. I was a white hippie boy and then I saw exit wounds from M1 rifles out of the backs of two people I knew. Two of the four people who were killed, Jeffrey Miller and Allison Krause, were my friends. We were all running our asses off from these motherfuckers. It was total, utter bullshit. Live ammunition and gasmasks – none of us knew, none of us could have imagined… They shot into a crowd that was running away from them! I stopped being a hippie and I started to develop the idea of devolution. I got real, real pissed off.
VR: Does Neil young's "Ohio" strike close to your heart?
JC: Of course. It was strange that the first person that we met, as Devo emerged, was Neil Young. He asked us to be in his movie, The Human Highway. It was so strange – San Francisco in 1977. Talk about life being karmic, small and cyclical – it's absolutely true. In fact I just got a call from a person organizing a 30th Anniversary commemoration. Noam Chomsky will be there and I may go talk there if I can get away. I still remember it so crystal clear, like a dream you will never forget . . . or a nightmare. I still remember every moment. It kind of went in slow motion like a car accident.
VR: You said that the Kent State shooting sort of served as a catalyst for your theory of Devolution, which spawned Devo–
JC: Absolutely. Until then I was a hippie. I thought that the world is essentially good. If people were evil, there was justice… and that the law mattered. All of those silly naïve things. I saw the depths of the horrors and lies and the evil. The paper that evening, the Akron Beacon Journal, said that students were running around armed and that officers had been hurt. So deputy sheriffs went out and deputized citizens. They drove around with shotguns and there was martial law for ten days. 7 PM curfew. It was open season on the students. We lived in fear. Helicopters surrounding the city with hourly rotating runs out to the West Side and back downtown. All first amendment rights are suspended at the instant the governor gives the order. All of the class-action suits by the parents of the slain students were all dismissed out of court, because once the governor announced martial law, they had no right to assemble.