Sunday, July 20, 2008

Coney Island 1939


It was a major attraction at Coney Island. Well advertised and presented by George C. Tilyou. (Who was he?) It had a logo consisting of a face with a wide toothy grin, literally from ear to ear. (I was perhaps 10 or 11 years old, so I am writing through a filter of 70 or so years.) There was an entrance fee of perhaps a dollar, maybe more, but certainly way too much for me. But a cereal box had a coupon: free admission if accompanied by an adult. Not a problem. Wait at the entrance and ask adults to take you in. To my surprise, this always worked.

The wonderful thing about Steeplechase is that your admission gave you access about 25 “rides.” When you went on one of these, it was duly noted on your card. But the idea of going from ride to ride without paying was exhilarating. And what rides! There were the usual Coney Island rides – the whip, roller coaster (I think), etc. There were Horses: these rolled on a track, powered by some unknown source, fairly fast, simulating a run at a racetrack. The race was visible from the street, and may have served as an enticement for onlookers to come in. For me, the big attraction was a giant wooden slide. We were warned (perhaps it was common knowledge) to keep our arms around our chest, lest we get serious burns. A great slide. And I believe we had unlimited access to it. The slide was one of a kind, and I have never seen the likes of it again. Then there was the Barrel. Large and rotating. you had to run though it without falling. Many did not.

But wait! There was The Stage. At some point, you found yourself walking across a stage with a clown who was trying to get a laugh at your expense. He had a wand (probably a cattle prod) whose purpose was to give you a little shock and make you jump. There were people in the audience (mostly parents) enjoying the fun. If you were female and happened to wear a skirt (most did) and passed over certain places on the stage, you experienced a sudden rush of air under you, and were in a situation subsequently made famous by Marilyn Monroe. I quickly found the seats to this show, and waited patiently for some unsuspecting female to show up on stage.

I went back a few times, mostly for the slide and barrel and for the view of the stage. Many years later I learned that Steeplechase was no more. A fire ended its life. That part of my life was no more too, and I was deeply saddened. A similar attraction, Luna Park, which I had never visited, was also destroyed by fire.

This musing occurred to me when my wife, Shirley, one morning asked me the simple question, ”What was the happiest time of your life?” There was a more gallant answer, but I must admit that Steeplechase managed to pop into my mind.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Correction to Greer blog

It has been pointed out that Germaine Greer is not British, but rather Australian. My mistake, and apologies to British subjects and others who were offended.

Monday, June 30, 2008

What is it With These Brits?

I just came across an article in the Guardian, dated June 30, 2008, by Germaine Greer. The thrust of the article is given in its heading:

Why do people think Bob Dylan was a great lyricist? That creep couldn't even write doggerel.

She's never forgiven him for delaying his Isle of Wight concert for 3 hours, and then quotes 7 lines from Visions of Johanna, beginning with

And Madonna, she still has not showed.

She then says, among other things,

"Fustian of this ilk crosses my desk every week. It's not verse, not even doggerel. Nor is it prose, because it doesn't make sense. Its combination of pretentiousness and illiteracy isn't surprising, which would be something; it's just annoying..."

You get the idea.

She then gives a beautiful eight line poem from Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, and briefly analyzes it, and goes on to praise the singer/songwriter Morrissey and how beautifully he sings his material (in much the same way that critics say Dylan sings his material.) She ends with the sentence

"The music does what the words alone cannot do. To present the words without the music is to emasculate them."

Which is an admission that she emasculated the words to "Visions." She also mentions the British poet Byatt, who has also done her share of Dylan bashing.

Which brings to mind that the British Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, singled out this very Visions of Johanna as "simply the best song lyric ever written." (The Guardian, October 3, 1999.) Motion also states, "He's one of the great artists of the century" and has a lot to say positively about teaching Dylan in the schools.

So what is it with these Brits?

As a long time Dylan fan, this is of interest to me. In the Winter, 2009 session, I am giving a Dylan course "Bob Dylan: Music, Lyrics, and Influence" in The North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement at the Reuters Center of the University of North Carolina in Asheville. An article such as this is perfect for the course!

Thanks to Karl Eric Anderson's website "" for the leads to this article, and his continuing devotion to all thing Dylan.

Mel Hausner



Since my wife started a blog, I thought I too would try to put down some thoughts about things that interest me or bug me. I hope these thoughts will be of some interest to you. Let me know.