“Coney Island” by Good Old War

139. Song Nos. 2,071 and 2,072: “Coney Island/Acoustic,” Good Old War
The Only Way to Be Alone, 2008

And here’s a song I discovered with one set of friends but reminds me of another entirely.

I will never get tired of full-throatedly bemoaning what a local loss it was when the annual all-day celebration of music and art that was Appel Farm Fest came to an end. I’m indiscriminately fond of outdoor festivals to begin with, but a lineup regularly featuring a band or two I love with plenty more new favorites waiting to be discovered made a good thing even better.

The personal tradition that arose around it was, of course, the best part: the Wawa meet-up for morning munchies, the not-quite-summer drive that grew more rural and greener the closer we got, the art of staking out an optimal location at the one stage with shade trees, passing around bottles of wine among ourselves (the sixth one was free!), the freedom of roaming some verdant festival grounds for a few hours with friends and in various stages of sobriety. The musicians we weren’t there for either provided a charming soundtrack to however our inebriated group was entertaining ourselves or had us stumbling to their merch table post-set to scoop up fistfuls of new music to love.

Which is exactly how I found Good Old War and promptly snapped up every album they’d released at that point, which I think was exactly two. And I feel like such an asshole when the first track is my favorite track but “Coney Island” was such a treat as a CD opener that I was charmed as hell when it returned as an acoustic bonus track nearly an hour later.

That song had been crashing around my head for a good couples of years by the time I actually made it to Coney Island as an adult and under the best possible circumstances for rediscovering a place almost entirely meant for entertainment and escapism: your best friend’s bachelorette party. In between the mermaid parade and the drinking and the drunk bumper cars and gleeful seaside gallivanting, lyrical snippets broke through to my conscious brain to provide a very meta mental soundtrack to a day dedicated to one of my favorite people in the world.

I finally made an Instagram account during bestie’s bachelorette weekend, and of course the song I couldn’t get out of my head crawled its way there, too:

Life imbued this song with a sunny summertime feeling, despite its decidedly resigned and quietly bitter lyrics. It is a song about making peace with a place you low-key resent, whether it’s familiar geography breeding contempt or a specific locale being the backdrop to/serving as a reminder of one too many disappointments, and life finally handed me the circumstances it’d take to tease out an accompanying feeling better aligned with the song.

“Coney Island” captures the transition between rallying your tepid resolve and launching into begrudging action — like, say, that same best friend who hasn’t been more than a 10-minute drive away in the past decade making the long-haul move she’s been needing, and agreeing to help with as much of it as you can despite dying a little inside over this reality you’d rather pretend isn’t unfolding in double time — because you, like this place that has overseen far too many tough decisions and difficult goodbyes, are part of a story whose direction you don’t get to dictate from your place of obedient obligation to an overarching narrative that is so much more than this one epochal shift pointing to wherever the future will keep taking us for as long as we’re here.