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River song

Ned Cheever

As often I do, I ventured to the Moon Walk along the Mississippi River the other morning as the sun rose above Algiers Point. There were only a few people stirring, mostly joggers and dog-walkers.

At a point beyond the Dumaine streetcar stop, there are steps made of railroad ties or similar material which extend from the pedestrian walk down into the river. It is not uncommon to find these steps populated with homeless people in the morning, but today there was only one man calling this place home.

Like a rite of passage, I always take pictures here. I must have hundreds, all taken of the river bend at the Governor Nicholls Wharf and the stretch toward the Crescent City Connection. Something about this place just seems to fend off the pressures of our hustle-bustle society. On that visit I found a perfect subject.

Just before 7 a.m., the sun focused into his face, a young man sat on the steps, semi-reclined on his backpack and bedroll. The brim of his hat was pulled down over his eyes to shield out the intense sunlight. The collar of his jacket was turned up to divert the chilly breeze coming off the river.

In his hands the man held a guitar which he strummed lightly as he sang just above a whisper, the 1973 Bob Dylan classic, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” Bob Zimmerman, a.k.a. Dylan, penned this exposure of his wish for life beyond This World in a time of turmoil and confusion for many young people like himself.

Wishing to seize the moment, I drew my camera to the ready. By virtue of all miracles electronic, I held the option of catching a still of the man, gilded by the sun, or perhaps better, a video of his performance replete with audio. I was an audience of one, beyond his field of vision; a presence wholly unknown to the minstrel.

As I raised the camera to capture this poignant image of New Orleans culture, a compelling force told me to put away the camera.

Likely possessing little more than the gear laid around him and his musical talent, this young man sang happily to himself, unknowing of my attention. My emotions shifted from bright interest to a dark guilt of voyeurism as I peered upon this balladeer, a young man at peace with the world.

He neither announced nor showed intent of occupying the river; there were no objections to corporate greed, no complaint of his station in life, and no disdain for the rich. The man simply leaned back in the morning sun and sang softly a song to himself as he played the guitar in a muffled fashion, solely for his own hearing.

Returning the camera to my pocket, I turned away from the concert on the steps. Conscience prevented me from violating the sanctity of this moment, and I moved quietly on, hoping not to disturb or distract the one who has found, at his young age, the illusive solace that his elders have long sought, but few will ever find.

Ned Cheever writes about New Orleans for NolaVie. Read his blog at


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