Be afraid, for there are dark days ahead. With the likelihood of yet another depression looming on the horizon, the outlook is distinctly bleak. After all we’ve been through, the news couldn’t be gloomier. But wait, there is a plus side. We’re not talking about an extended economic downturn, this is simply a way of saying goodbye summer, hello autumn. As the nights begin to draw in no one knows what meteorological surprises lie ahead, but right now there seems to be a few dog days left to enjoy. When the unforgiving forces do play ball, New Yorkers tend to act very much like their counterparts in the U.K. If for instance the weekend promises an upturn on the barometer, folks simply drop everything and head for the beach. To get the full picture, try and imagine a seasoned wastrel heeding the call by donning a pair of wraparounds and cueing up ‘Day Tripper’ and ‘Palisades Park’ on an i-pod. Unfortunately the utopia is somewhat lost in the magnification, because Palisades Park no longer exists. The site was razed to the ground in the early 1970’s to make way for a community of uninspired high rises.
There are, however, still a few boardwalks in situ that regularly attract the determined venturer. Brooklynites are blessed with a prime example, namely the wooden decking that graces the celebrated turf of Coney Island. It’s intriguing to discover that this four-mile tract of land inherited its moniker from the Dutch word for a rabbit. This is highly appropriate, because many a young buck, I’m sure, has chased a cottontail or two around Coney’s warren of Waltzers over the years. History shows that despite their pungent aroma of diesel oil and fried onions, amusement parks make for an ideal hangout when it comes to dating. Just ask that Brooklynite of no fixed record label, Lou Reed. The famed fretboarder became so taken with his locale, that he once wrote and recorded ‘Coney Island Baby’ for an album of the same name. Right now the island’s main attraction is inline for a much-needed makeover after being held back by years of corporate bluff and bluster. So instead of being replaced by yet another parade of land-eating apartments, Coney Island is going to hang onto its tangled rollercoasters and its Wonder Wheel, in addition to a host of idiosyncrasies including a mermaid parade, a troop of fire-eaters and a phalanx of amateur psychoanalysts.
Here in 2009 the letters WINS are used by Microsoft to initialize their ‘Windows Internet Name Service’. Back in the day, visitors to Coney Island would recognize WINS as the call sign for a key Manhattan radio station. First and foremost WINS was home to Alan Freed, the jock with the stock who emceed four hours of rock & roll every evening. During the late fifties it was possible to stroll along the boardwalks of the Atlantic Coast whilst digging Freed’s show on a pocket transistor. Needless to say on the other side of the Atlantic it was a different story. England certainly had its share of penny arcades and amusements, but there was no flagship broadcaster to match what Freed was doing. As no one in their right mind would stroll around with a portable radio tuned to the BBC’s Light Programme, the only alternative if you wanted to get your fill of rock & roll was to hang out at a fairground. You knew that the guys running the rides would crank up the volume good and loud, so this was the one place you could really home in on the latest product from Elvis, Chuck Berry or Fats Domino.
But was it? Let’s not forget the power and the influence upon our society of those luminous vending machines that bore the names Seeburg, Bal-Ami and Wurlitzer. Yes, we’re talking about those perpetual purveyors of piercing pop music – jukeboxes. I have to say that I’ve leaned on a quite a few of the things over the years, but never so memorably as the model that resided in a shooting gallery on the Central Pier in Blackpool. During my short trouser days, this west Lancashire town was about as near as you could get to Coney Island. The Colmans, like so many other northern families, would head to the resort for a standard seven day visit each and every summer and we’d have a spiffing time. It seems ridiculous now but whilst my parents were busy sunning themselves on the beach, their eleven year-old son would be wandering around the town’s amusement arcades without a care in the world. That’s where I came across the aforementioned jukebox. The striking thing about this vintage piece of equipment was that instead of 45s, the machine played 78s. This confused me because the whole idea was that a mechanical arm would flip the records to give access to the other side. It eventually dawned on me that any such action would almost certainly smash a ten inch slice of shellac to smithereens. My next question was, how did that week’s holidaymakers get to play the hidden songs? The answer came in the form of a hand-written note that was taped to the coin box. “For anyone wishing to hear the b-sides, the proprietor will turn the records over on Wednesday”. Happy days.