When I heard the news late Friday evening that 92 year old folk singing legend Pete Seeger was participating in an Occupy Wall Street rally on the West Side of Manhattan, I grabbed my camera and went to take a look. I wasn’t disappointed, and posted some of the best shots above.
By now, readers of this blog know that I photograph aging musicians and artists. Combine that with the opportunity to photograph New York City street life and I am there. Pete was at the vanguard of the folk movement in the mid 20th Century, writing or co-writing such classics as “If I had a Hammer,” “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.”
Anyone who believes that the OWS movement is composed of young white people on the fringe of society should have seen this group, which clearly defied this description.
The march began at Symphony Space on 95th Street and Broadway, and headed down to Columbus Circle where the crowd joined in folk songs. I caught up with the group near Fairway Supermarket in the 70’s. There was plenty of NYPD on hand, but the atmosphere was peaceful and upbeat. Pete kept up with the crowd using two canes.
Pete was accompanied by other legends including Arlo Guthrie, composer David Amram, and jazz musician Guy Davis. David Amram played flute, and was joined by other guitarists including Pete’s grandson Tao Rodgriguez-Seeger, and folk singer Rick Nestler. Rick wrote the song, “River That Flows Both Ways,” which was popularized by Seeger.
Pete’s long career as a song-writer and musician spans well over a half century. As well as being an opponent of the arms race and the Viet Nam war, he was active in the environmental and Civil Rights Movements. He was indicted for contempt of Congress in 1957 for not answering questions before the House Un-American Activities Committee. On Friday night he still managed to march 36 blocks down Broadway with two canes.
Pete didn’t sing, and looked a little tired after his long walk. He did however, get a standing ovation at the end of the singing session. The crowd became quiet as Pete recited the words he sang many times in his activist days when he sailed a wooden boat up and down the Hudson River to call attention to the need to clean up the pollution, “I could be happy spending my days on a river that flows both ways!”
As a geriatrician I find aging to be a mysterious process. Why are some people able to survive into a vigorous old age, while others wither away? Is this due to medical advances, genetics, or a healthy lifestyle? One characteristic I have seen again and again in very old people is passion, whether it be for art, life, love, or politics. This is a common element that was clearly on display at Columbus Circle on Friday night.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *