Song of the Day: War in Music (Day Five). “They Killed the President”.

“We start from different ideological positions.  For you to be a communist or a socialist is to be totalitarian; for me no … On the contrary, I think socialism frees man”.

– Salvador Allende.

El President, from the 1998 album White Magic for Lovers, is a collaboration between Drugstore and Thom Yorke, singer of Radiohead.  The song, released as the second single from the album and, much due to Yorke’s involvement, reached number 20 in the UK singles chart, giving Drugstore the biggest hit of their career.   El President tells the story of the death of the democratically elected Chilean President Salvador Allende during the 1973 Chilean coup d’etat.  The coup was a watershed moment in both the Cold War and the history of Chile.  Following an extended period of social and political unrest between the conservative-dominated Congress of Chile and the socialist President Salvador Allende, together with economic warfare ordered by US President Richard Nixon, Allende was overthrown by the armed forces, led by Commander-in-Chief Augusto Pinochet, and national police.

Up until the 1960s, Chile had been known for its stability in Latin America, particularly compared to its neighbours.  This all change when Chile began to be affected by the Cold War and Chile became part of the Alliance for Progress.  The alliance was meant as a way to keep socialistic revolutions from taking hold in Latin America.  However, the Alliance for Progress was scorned by a majority of the countries that signed it, including Chile.  At this time, the president of Chile was Eduardo Frei.  Frei was endorsed by the Johnson administration and sought to pass radical reforms.  However, as Chile became more industrialised, the more Labour unions demanded higher wages.  Due to the Labour unions’ dissatisfaction with the wages that they received, prices and inflation soared.  The Chilean youth adopted a Leftist view and started to protest against the government with Labour unions, with both leaning towards Chile’s Communist Party.

In 1970, the Socialist Party won the presidency.  New president Salvador Allende promised the people of Chile a republic and said that he would make the working class more equal.  Meanwhile, in America, President Nixon, in conversation with his advisors, namely Henry Kissinger, scorned Allende and wanted him out of power.  The viable method of removing Allende would be by way of a Chilean military uprising.  Kissinger sent a cable to the CIA office in Chile saying that agents were to continue instigating a military coup.  However, this wasn’t entirely necessary as after three years, the Chilean people were standing against the president.  Allende nationalised the copper industry and other industries as well as freezing prices and raising wages in order to stop inflation.  During these reforms, the CIA was busy running propaganda against the president.

By 1973, the Chilean Congress and Judiciary stood against Allende, claiming that his government went against the Chilean constitution.  On September 11th 1973, shortly before the capture of the Palacio de La Moneda by military units loyal to Chilean Army leader Augusto Pinochet, President Salvador Allende made his famous farewell speech to the Chilean people on Radio Magallanes.  The President spoke of his love for Chile and his deep faith in the future.  He continued to tell of how much he was committed to Chile, so much so that he refused to take the easy way out or be used as a propaganda tool by those he referred to as “traitors”.  Throughout his radio broadcast, gunfire and explosions could be heard clearly in the background.

Shortly afterwards, an official announcement was made declaring that Allende had gone to war with an AK-47 rifle.  The rifle was reportedly given to Allende by Cuban leader Fidel Castro and bore a golden plate engraved with the words, “To my good friend Salvador from Fidel, who by different means tries to achieve the same goals”.

What happened next has been the subject of much speculation.  At approximately 1.50pm local time, Allende ordered the defenders of the La Moneda Palace to surrender.  In response, the defenders formed a line from the second floor, down the stairs and onto the Morande street door.  The President walked along the queue, from the ground floor up the stairs, shaking hands and thanking each of the defenders personally for their support in that difficult moment.

The President went into the Independence salon, located in the north-east side of the Palace’s second floor.  At the same time, Doctor Patricio Guijon, a member of La Moneda’s infirmary staff, was on the second floor of the palace recovering his gas mask as a souvenir.  Guijon heard a noise and opened the door of the Independence salon in time to see the President shoot himself with the AK-47 rifle.  At the other side of the salon, Doctor Jose Quiroga; Arsenio Poupin, a member of the cabinet; Enrique Huerta, a palace functionary; two detectives from the Presidential security details and various Presidential Security (GAP) members were able to either see the moment of death, or arrive a few seconds afterwards, attracted by the noise.

Despite these witnesses to Allende’s apparent suicide, many of Allende’s supporters have always upheld the presumption that he was killed by the forces staging the coup.  On the 28th September 1973, just two weeks after Allende’s death, Fidel Castro told the Cuban crowd in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolucion that Allende had died in La Moneda wrapped in a Chilean flag, firing at General Pinochet with Castro’s rifle.  Castro continued to tell his version of events to the Cuban people for the next few decades.  In his 1975 book The Murder of Allende and the end of the Chilean way to socialism, Robinson Rojas agreed with Castro’s version of events and claimed that Allende was killed by Pinochet’s military forces whilst defending the palace.

Despite the speculation as to what actually happened to Allende, the end of the military junta in Chile in 1988 and different testimonies becoming available in news and documentary interviews have made the verdict of suicide the more accepted version of events.  Members of Allende’s immediate family have never disputed that killed himself.  However, there are some who still argue that Allende was murdered, including Chilean doctor Luis Ravanal, who in 2008 published an article in El Periodista magazine claiming that Allende’s wounds were incompatible with suicide.  In response to the article, Isabel Allende, the daughter of the President said that the correct version of events was suicide.

In January 2011, a Chilean judge opened an investigation into the death of Salvador Allende, as well as hundreds of other possible human rights abuses committed during the 1973 coup which brought Augusto Pinochet to power.  In May of the same year, Allende’s remains were exhumed by order of the Chilean court in furtherance of a “criminal investigation into the death of Allende”.  On the 31st May 2011, shortly before the autopsy had been completed, Chile’s state television reported that a top-secret military account of Allende’s death had been discovered in the home of a former military justice official.  The 300 page document was only found when the house was destroyed when the house was destroyed by the 2010 Chilean earthquake.  Following a review of the document by two forensic experts, findings revealed “that they are inclined to conclude that Allende was assassinated”.

The results of the autopsy were officially released in July 2011.  Medical experts who conducted and reviewed the autopsy results confirmed that Salvador Allende had died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds, indicating that Allende had died after shooting himself with the AK-47 given to him by Fidel Castro.  The report continued to tell of how Allende had died from two gunshot wounds fired from the rifle, which was held between his legs and under his chin.  The rifle was set to fire automatically.  The bullets blew out the top of his head and killed him instantly.  The conclusion made by the forensics team was unanimous, stating “We have absolutely no doubt” that Allende committed suicide.

On Drugstore’s El President, singer and songwriter Isabel Monteiro, in a duet with Thom Yorke, upholds the belief that Allende was murdered by Chilean armed forces in a US-backed coup:  “I’ve seen the masterplan, Kill the president, They killed the president …”

The song tells the tale of the arrival of military advisers, fighter jets and bombs to carry out the coup, “It came from the skies, In all shades of green”, with the “green” being camouflage.  The song goes on to tell of Allende’s refusal to surrender and his final address to the nation in the lines “I’m not giving in, All the people understand, ‘Cause they all fell down and prayed, I know …”

Further to this, the song criticises the West’s involvement in the coup with the lines, “We can always justify, We can measure up your dreams, I know; I’ve seen the masterplan”.  And of course, we all know what happened due to this masterplan:  Democracy died along with Allende and Chile, under the new rule of Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990, became a hotbed of repression, torture, forced disappearance, and for many Chileans, exile.

Propelled by Ian Burdge’s stunning cello playing, dramatic piano interludes and Daron Robinson’s strummed acoustic guitar, El President is a brief but beautiful retelling of the events of the 1973 Chilean coup d’etat.  The song was coupled with an equally wonderful video featuring Monteiro and Yorke singing the song in a small room whilst the rest of Drugstore are projected on the walls around them.

Note at the end of the video, upon Yorke singing the line “I’m just a man”, he points two fingers, symbolising a gun, to his head, perhaps inferring that Allende’s death was suicide.  Therefore, what the song is saying is that even if it was suicide, he was still driven to it by the events of the 11th September 1973, the Chilean army and the US.

Song of the Day: Places in Music (Day Five). “Four Dead in Ohio”.

On the 30th April 1970, President Richard Nixon appeared on national television to announce the invasion of Cambodia by the United States Army.  He explained the need to draft 150,000 more soldiers for an expansion of the Vietnam War effort.  Nixon’s announcement provoked massive protests on campuses all over the United States.  At Kent University in Ohio, the protest included setting fire to the ROTC building which prompted the governor of Ohio to dispatch 900 National Guardsmen to the campus.

On May 4th, twenty-eight guardsmen opened fire on a crowd, firing 67 rounds in the space of 13 seconds.  Four people were killed (Jeffrey Glenn Miller (aged 20); Allison B. Krause (aged 19); William Knox Schroeder (aged 19) and Sandra Lee Scheuer (aged 20)) and a further nine were wounded, one of whom (Dean R. Kahler) was left permanently paralysed from the chest down.

There was significant national response to the incident, almost five hundred colleges being forced to shut down due to a student strike of four million students.  Despite public outcry, the Justice Department initially declined to conduct a grand jury investigation into the incident in Ohio.  However, a report by the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest did acknowledge that the action of the guardsmen had been “unnecessary, unwarranted and inexcusable”.  Eventually, a grand jury indicated eight of the guardsmen but charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.

As a reaction to what quickly became known as the Kent University Massacre, Neil Young wrote the protest song Ohio.  Young was inspired to write Ohio after seeing photographs of the dead and wounded at Kent state university in the media and in particular, a photograph of fourteen year old Mary Ann Vecchio screaming over the body of one of the victims, Jeffrey Miller, who had been shot in the mouth.  The photograph in question was taken by Kent State photojournalism student John Filo and won a Pulitzer prize.  It became one of the most enduring images of the anti-Vietnam movement.

Ohio was performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and was recorded a mere seventeen days after the incident.  According to recording engineer Bill Halverson, the song was completed in (at most) three takes.  In the liner notes for his compilation album, Decade (1977), Neil Young said of the song:

“It’s still hard to believe I had to write this song.  It’s ironic that I capitalised on the death of these American students.  Probably the most important lesson ever learned at an American place of learning.  David Crosby cried after this take”.

Of the lyrical content of the song, the “Tin soldiers” mentioned in the opening line refer to the Ohio National Guard and “Nixon’s coming” alludes to Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia and makes it clear that Young felt the incident at Kent University was Nixon’s fault.  When the song was released, David Crosby noted that including Nixon’s name in the lyrics as “the bravest thing I ever heard”.  The line, “We’re finally on our own” describes Young’s feelings that his generation has been abandoned by institutions and the government and his dismay that their country is now openly attacking them.  In this line, Young removes any remaining link that he feels between his generation and the establishment.

The lines “Gotta get down to it, Soldiers are gunning us down, Should’ve been done long ago” are a reference to the general public reaction following the incident and strong anti-student feeling.  A Gallup poll soon after the attacks showed that 58% of those taking part in the survey blamed the students whilst only 11% blamed the guardsmen.  In this verse, Young attempts to shock those who blame the students out of their complacency with the lines, “What if you knew her, And found her dead on the ground, How can you run when you know?”  In the fade out of the song, Crosby can be heard singing, “Four, why?  Why did they die?” and “How many more?”

The refrain of “Four dead in Ohio” was taken from the newspaper headlines following the incident.  The song quickly became an anthem to those opposed to the war effort.  The song was rush released as a single in early June 1970, backed with the equally direct song, Find the Cost of Freedom, written by Stephen Stills as a tribute to those killed in the Vietnam War.  Ohio was heard on the radio despite the band already having the hit single Teach Your Children in the charts at the time.  In some parts of the country, Ohio was banned from playlists due to its strong anti-war and anti-Nixon sentiments.  Upon the song’s release, Graham Nash said:

“Four men and women had their lives taken from them while lawfully protesting this outrageous government action.  We are going back to keep awareness alive in the minds of all students, not only in America, but worldwide … to be vigilant and ready to stand and be counted … and to make sure that the powers of the politicians do not take precedent over the right of lawful protest”.

The Love of Richard Nixon: An Historical Drama in Twenty Songs. Richard Nixon Announces The Release of Edited Transcripts of White House Tape Recordings Relating to the Watergate Scandal. This Day in History, 29/04/1974. / Richard Nixon Takes The Rap For The Watergate Scandal, 30/04/1973.

1.  Manic Street Preachers ‘The Love of Richard Nixon’

(from the album Lifeblood, 2004).

2.  Stevie Wonder ‘He’s Misstra Know-it-all’

(from the album Innervisions, 1973).

3.  Randy Newman ‘Mr President (Have Pity On The Working Man)’

(from the album Good Old Boys, 1974).

4.  The Undisputed Truth ‘Smiling Faces Sometimes’

(from the album The Undisputed Truth, 1971).

5.  Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young ‘Ohio’

(single A-side, 1970).

6.  Phil Ochs ‘How High’s The Watergate’

(from the album Live 1974, 1974).

7.  Neil Young ‘Campaigner’

(from the album Decade, 1977).

8.  Lynyrd Skynyrd ‘Sweet Home Alabama’

(from the album Second Helping, 1974).

9.  Frank Zappa ‘Son of Orange County / More Trouble Every Day’

(from the album Roxy & Elsewhere, 1974).

10. Elton John ‘Postcards From Richard Nixon’

(from the album The Captain & The Kid, 2006).

11.  Curtis Mayfield ‘(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go’

(from the album Curtis, 1970).

12. David Bowie ‘Young Americans’

(from the album Young Americans, 1975).

13.  John Lennon ‘Gimme Some Truth’

(from the album Imagine, 1971).

14.  Gil Scott Heron / Brian Jackson ‘H²Ogate Blues’

(from the album Winter in America, 1974).

15.  Bill Horwitz ‘If I Had A Friend Like Rosemary Woods’

(from the album Lies Lies Lies, 1975).

16.  Robyn Hitchcock ‘1974’

(from the album A Star For Bram, 2000).

17.  James Taylor ‘Let It All Fall Down’

(from the album Walking Man, 1974).

18.  Billy Joel ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’

(from the album Storm Front, 1989).

19. Pink Floyd ‘The Fletcher Memorial Home’

(from the album The Final Cut, 1983).

20.  Mono Puff ‘Nixon’s The One’

(from the album Unsupervised, 1996).