Moving on ‘In a World Where They Tried to Kill You’

Listening party and Q&A with musician Chris Butler for the May 4 Visitors Center’s “Snapshots in Time: The Lives of Four Students”

Stories of friendship and loss set against the backdrop of May 4 memorabilia and a ’60s soundtrack were the focal points of a listening party held Sept. 21 as part of “Snapshots in Time: The Lives of Four Students” held at the May 4 Visitors Center. The “Snapshots in Time” exhibition provides a more personalized remembrance of the four students who lost their lives during the events of May 4, 1970, at Kent State University when the Ohio National Guard fired on Kent State students during an anti-war protest. The first four weeks of the exhibition were dedicated to Jeffrey Miller, one of the four students killed that day.

Header graphic showing faded images of the four students shot on May 4, 1970

Music lovers, activists and special guests gathered at the center to hear stories from Chris Butler, musician and survivor of the May 4, 1970, shootings at Kent State, and his relationship with Miller.

“It was great to connect Chris Butler and Russ Miller, Jeffrey Miller’s brother, through this event,” said Alison Caplan, director of the May 4 Visitors Center. “They’ve met in passing during May 4 Commemorations but never had time to sit and exchange stories about Jeff.”

From political undertones that scored the music of his college days to his career in the 1980s band The Waitresses, Butler drew musical connections across the story of his life.

Gallery One of the May 4 Visitors Center located at 147 Taylor Hall

Surrounded by the center’s archival photographs and powerful, multimedia displays, Butler began by describing life as a sociology student at Kent State in 1970 and his time with Miller.

Today’s Kent State is nearly unrecognizable to Butler, who described campus in 1970 as “surrounded by cornfields” and “inhabited by people full of hatred,” but it was a shared love for music that brought Miller and Butler together.  

Miller’s personal record collection was a focal point of the evening. On display behind the crowd, the collection featured albums by artists including The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan.  

“The records Russ loaned us, and the items Chris donated to the May 4 Archive, helped shine some light on the life that Jeff Miller lived,” Caplan said. “Music was such a big part of Jeff’s life, and it was truly special to discuss the musical bond that Jeff and Chris shared.”  

Butler remembered Miller’s taste in music coinciding with a cultural shift, as members of their generation began listening to songs with strong, political undertones that reflected the issues of the time. They played music together. Butler lent Miller his drums because Miller had an apartment large enough to house them. Then came the protests.

Butler’s memories of May 4 are clear, though he does not claim to be an expert on the events leading up to and including that day. Butler recounted his own experiences of running from a helicopter’s spotlight, witnessing a police officer brutally drag a student by his hair and later having his drums impounded by the FBI.

Chris Butler's calfskin drum, part of Jeffrey Miller's 'Snapshots of Time'

Though he demanded the calfskin drums back from the agency, Butler never got the full set returned to him. Some of those that did get returned were on display in the center, part of Miller’s snapshot in time.  

In the wake of tragedy, Butler held on to music. Best known for his role as a guitarist and songwriter for The Waitresses, Butler talked about finding success in the music scene. Recounting the rush of live performances and his experience with drug use, Butler painted a picture of nostalgia before making a somber statement.

“It was very hard to get a career in a world where they tried to kill you,” Butler told the crowd, “either by the draft or by the shootings.”  

Musician and May 4 Witness Chris Butler and Alison Caplan, director of the May 4 Visitors Center

After Butler’s presentation, the event transitioned into a listening party inspired by Miller’s record collection. The crowd then gathered around Butler and Caplan for an open question-and-answer session.  

The “Snapshots in Time” display changes every four weeks to honor each of the four students who died. Miller’s display ran from Aug. 28-Sept. 22. The next snapshot is dedicated to Sandra Scheuer from Sept. 27-Oct. 20.

Find information about “Snapshots in Time: The Lives of Four Students.”  

Learn more about the May 4 Visitors Center. 

POSTED: Tuesday, September 26, 2023 11:23 AM
Updated: Wednesday, September 27, 2023 09:27 AM
Paul Burlinghaus, Caroline Willis, Flash Communications