Thirty-one years ago, Neil Young sang, "What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground?" about the May 4, 1970 killings of four Kent State University students by the Ohio National Guard. Peter Jedick knew her. In fact, he knew both hers. The Cleveland Fire Department lieutenant and KSU graduate (class of 1971) can't forget them, so he memorialized them in Hippies, a novel set at the KSU campus during the fateful school year of 1969-'70.
"Until May 4, protest rallies were fun," Jedick explains, reiterating the now-standard line that only a handful of agitators were at the anti-war rally that ended tragically; the rest of the crowd was made up of curious students. "It was just something to do. They were like a football game. Nobody thought anyone would be killed."
Jedick calls Hippies, which is dedicated to the four victims of May 4, a love story. And its breezy, nostalgic tone certainly lends itself to the genre. It's divided into semesters, ending on May 4, just as the first gunshots are fired. It's basically autobiographical, he admits, but "jazzed up a little to tell a story." And surprisingly (or maybe not so), it's a hit among college kids.
"I think they want to know what their parents were doing back then," Jedick theorizes. "And basically, college is the same now as it was then. We just had Vietnam hanging over our heads." Jedick has been traveling across the country lately, visiting campuses (Yale and Harvard were on a recent itinerary). He's back in town Friday, signing copies of Hippies at two West Side Waldenbooks.
All of which leaves Jedick, who's also written two nonfiction books (Cleveland: Where the East Coast Meets the Midwest and the ballpark memoir League Park), feeling a bit euphoric. The initial pressings of Hippies were self-published and sold out immediately ("It looked like an underground book, which probably had something to do with its success," he laughs). Creative Arts Book Company out of Berkeley picked it up for subsequent editions, made minor tweaks, and ponied up some cash to include song lyrics from the era. "Still, I could only get six of them," Jedick sighs. "The Rolling Stones wanted $1,500 for just a couple of lines of 'Satisfaction.'"
Now, Jedick, who graduated "cum laude, with general honors," sees a parallel between the catalyst of events depicted in his book (essentially, the United States engulfed in an unwinnable situation) and the ones currently occupying our country. "Before September 11, I really just wanted to let people know about the history," Jedick says. "This changed my whole generation. But now, there are all these similarities. People are thinking about the government again."