Back in 1970 I was singing in the pit band of the Broadway show Hair on Saturdays. It wasn't a typical pit band, nothing about Hair was typical, but was in a sort of band wagon on the side of the stage. I had auditioned for Hair on the advice of some friends in the show and got called back for a part. I never took it because it took so long to be called back, that I had already booked a flight to spend the summer banging around Scandanavia and England. But I happened to be singing with them on Earth Day and the cast had been invited to sing at the ceremonies down in Union Square. It was a pretty big deal with lots of incredibly passionate speakers and performers which included Dustin Hoffman, Pete Seeger, Leonard Bernstein and Paul Newman. It was the first time something like this had been planned and coordinated with so many other cities across the U.S. Fith Avenue was close to traffic from Union Square Park to Central Park and 14th Street between 3rd and 7th Avenue. It was basically an "ecological carnival." There was bunting all over and posters made both by the city and "protestors". Back then, if you sat down at Battery Park on the lowest tip of Manhatten, you could see the raw sewage bobbing along and something clearly needed to be done. Union Square Park was the focus of the observances with about 100,000 people present over the course of the day and there were "teach-ins" all over the city. Cars were banned in Central Park, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, Forest Park in Queens and Silver Lake Park in Staten Island.
From the website 6ftsq.com
The day was marked by so much fanfare that there were three separate rallies in Union Square (at Noon, 3pm and 5pm), where speakers included Mayor Lindsay and Margaret Mead, while Leonard Bernstein, Paul Newman, Dustin Hoffman, Pete Seeger and the cast of “Hair” all provided entertainment. In summation, the New York Times surveyed the joyous scene and reflected, “If the environment had any enemies, they did not make themselves known.”
photo Getty Images Santi Visalli
I found it incredibly interesting to find this photo from that day - how almost poignant it is to see this picture of people wearing face masks to keep out pollution as we wear them today to keep from spreading the Corona Virus.
Being a part of this was pretty amazing and really something I pretty much fell into because of singing with the band. I was able to meet and talk to Leonard Bernstein and Paul Newman (who was my crush of the moment after seeing him in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). One of the girls in the cast went up to Paul and asked if she could have an autograph for her mother. Paul said he didn't do autographs, he would rather shake a person's hand. Leata looked at him, held out her hand and said "Shake my hand for my mother" He did and we all had a good laugh. When it was time to go back uptown to the theater Paul asked if he could hitch a ride. Of course we said yes and he ended up sitting in the seat in front of me and I had a lovely conversation with him. Also pretty amazing!
I look at our world today and feel like we have made an incredible amount of progress over the past 50 years. However, I find it interesting to see recent pictures of Los Angeles, India, Africa and Venice - since the virus - to see the air unclouded by toxins and the canals clear as crystal. Perhaps it shows we haven't made as much progress and we think we have. What do you think?