Monday, July 02, 2007

Dusty Old Fairgrounds....

A rambling (but mostly sober) meditation on the Fourth of July, Carnivals, the Circus, Annette, Fairyland Park, Bruce Springsteen, photography, patriotic songs and The Twilight Zone.

For no particular reason that I’m aware of I’ve never been to the circus. It wasn’t planned that way, it’s just never happened. Carnivals, and old school theme parks along with county fairs are another story though. To those I am the moth to their flame. Other than the clowns that have fallen out of favor over the years, (thanks no doubt to the likes of John Wayne Gacey and Shakes) the circus seems to be a fun time for family and friends. An assault on the senses for kids from one to ninety two.

A roadside carnival or fairground midway on the other hand seem to house a darker more sinister side of life. Maybe it’s the location of the park or the transient nature of the carnival that saps the colors from them and makes it all seem like something in sepia and covered in a “don’t touch that” patina from another time and place. (HBO’s “Carnivale” did nothing to restore them to family fare.) No doubt the steady parade of slice and dice movies over the years have given carnivals a less than warm and fuzzy vibe to overcome.

I try to not miss any carnivals that come to my area these days. I never set foot on a single ride, but I never arrive without my camera either. I’m there to capture what it is that makes them so seductive to me. Things have changed since I was a youth of course. The calliope has been replaced with whatever radio station plays the loudest music and most of the carnival workers today seem to have a an affordable dental plan. Insurance on the other hand has made bumper cars something you have to convince young people ever existed while the “Tunnel Of Love,” the “Freak Show” and “House Of Horrors” are now mostly seen in movies just before the acute loss of some slow moving teenager’s blood.

I tripped once getting off of the Octopus, other than that no lingering scars. Looking back I’ve fared much better in the big scheme of things than Martin Sloan (Gig Young) did in the Twilight Zone episode “Walking Distance.” But, I digress as I think back to those summer days and nights of colored lights, barkers, lead milk bottles, dull tipped darts, stuffed giraffes, holding on tight and foods no parent would let their kid look at today.

If you are from this area and grew up during the dying days of Fairyland Park in the sixties and seventies then you know what it is that I’m eluding to here. No movie set or memory can eclipse the actual experience of wondering those grounds as a youth. Nothing is left today but some photos, ride tickets, faded postcards and fading memories. (This link will take you to a page of photos shot by local photographer Chris Thomas who chronicled it in the days before it took its final breath.) If I could go back in time just once it would be to stand on those grounds again. I wish I could tell you why, but I have no idea. Maybe I think I’ll run into Gig Young or Rod Serling and we‘ll snap a few pictures in front of the Tilt-A-Whirl.

Somewhere along the way these permanent and mobile theme parks became associated with the Fourth of July. Off the top of my head I would guess Disney had something to do with it. I’m sure it didn’t start there but until he gave it his endorsement it probably wasn’t the tie-in it is today. Some people knock Disney, I don’t know, if it has to do with Annette then it’s fine with me.

This fourth of July will also provide no shortage of songs about the holiday for us to endure, if not occasionally sing along with. Most of them overwrought and devoid of any real meaning in today’s world. We will hear countless butchering’s of the national anthem or “America” and in the end be reminded of what a treasure Ray Charles was. Lee Greenwood will be dusted off while “Boy” George W. will take up valuable air, and airtime, telling us how great we all are on this particular day. Flags of all sizes and “These Colors Don’t Run” bumper stickers will outsell iPods for a day or two and then it will be business as usual again for us working stiffs.

For me though when it comes to accompanying soundtracks, the holiday always recalls Bruce Springsteen’s masterpiece “4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy).” Using a boardwalk carnival as its backdrop and metaphor, this song never fails to conjure up a steamy summer night of salty sea air blowing down a dilapidated stretch of beach on that vaunted Jersey shore. Two luckless lovers ponder their fate in a world that uses concrete instead of sand for its foundation. Time is passing them by and at their young age they feel life is like one of those rides that just keeps spinning faster and faster. They passed on the chance to grow up the first couple of times the ride stopped for them. Now they feel like it just won’t slow down long enough for them to jump on.

This song and its sentiment would eventually give birth to the album “Born To Run.” Most of the themes of that album are on display here in and behind the lyrics of this song. After that album it would be a mixed bag but nothing can erase the first time I heard that song. I’ll catch up with it sometime over the holiday and all will be as it should in my corner of the world. Maybe while watching a Ferris Wheel against the night sky.

To bring this ramble to its eventual close I guess this is what America means to me.
(If you’re still reading, this link will take you to my photo blog entry of a roadside carnival from 2006 that I shot)

Have a safe holiday everyone.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fairyland Park. I loved the cup and saucer ride as a child!
Corky, didn't you, Willie, Janet Homberg and who can remember who else went to a concert in '72 or'73 there? Was it Blue Cheer?