Jazz Funeral for Coney Island

My good friend A has returned home after staying an all-too-short week in NYC. While he was here, we went on a number of wee jaunts, the most strange of which was probably the Jazz Funeral for Coney Island. A Jazz funeral is a traditional ceremony originating in New Orleans – from what I understand, when someone especially musical dies, their coffin is carried in procession with a jazz band and mourners with highly decorated umbrellas. At first the music is solemn, as you would expect. Then, at a certain seemingly random point, the tempo changes drastically, and the music starts blaring out joyfully, and everyone dances and waves handkerchiefs around. Sort of a musical walking wake, without the booze – a celebration of the life.

Coney Island Boardwalk - worn down seaside attractions along a bright sandy beach, Brooklyn

This particular jazz funeral was organised to commemorate the ‘death’ of Coney Island, a now-decrepit destination for New Yorkers looking for a bit of sea air, carnival rides, and corn dogs.  The whole area is being redeveloped – into what I am not sure, but there is definitely a sense that what remains is the body without the soul.

Joey, shack.

We joined the procession as it made its way towards the boardwalk

starting out from an odd little corner, the music playing a dirge

There seemed more observers than mourners/players

Though I didn't capture it, the coffin carried by the mourners was opened, to reveal 'Lady Rebirth' a mermaid-like woman with an enigmatic presence

And the beat of the music became impossible to resist - the crowd all swaying and tapping their feet

Those umbrellas raised to the clear Spring sky

And the mourners danced...

…but the procession started to cluster, becoming stilted. The cameras outgunned the performers, and the procession hugged the edges of the boardwalk, as if reluctant to fill the space. I couldn’t help but think it was as if, despite ‘Lady Rebirth’ and the chants of ‘Jambalaya is on Fire!’, the people really didn’t want Coney Island to be dead. That they were hampered by the urge to reject what they were doing. The redevelopment, involving the shutting down of famous attractions such as ‘Shoot the Freak’ and The Cyclone, has been fiercely contested by business owners, Manhattanite supporters, and locals. What will happen when the work is done? What will remain? Perhaps they are to uncertain to mourn joyfully. When someone is truly dead, you are allowed to remember them for all that they were. The half dead, or half reborn don’t allow for neat summary.

Tickets were still available to the rickety wheel, but no one was buying them - only the children's rides were being used

As we wandered off, the strains of the jazz sounded at odds to the atmosphere of sunny, gentle uncertainty.

Shut for the season, or forever?

And the wind made its own music, through the hole in an old tower-ride.

A hollow, ceaseless whistling moan


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Filed under New York, The Now

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