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  • Writer's pictureHesh Meister


Casino Carousel
Turn on all the lights for 1,001 summer nights

In 1986, several friends and I saw a movie called Playing for Keeps, in which several directionless high-school graduates refurbish a dilapidated hotel in the Catskills that one of them received in a deceased relative's will. At the time I was feeling somewhat nostalgic for my old high school years in Jerusalem, and as a result of seeing the movie, my friends and I hatched a cockamamie plan to somehow buy the school's old campus and turn its buildings into a full-fledged music facility, event space, and performance venue. I started writing some lyrics about this, under the title "Buy My Old School."

Fast forward about five years. I was no longer in Jerusalem but now in Asbury Park, via an unsuccessful two-year stint in Boston. I had made good on an old dream of mine to at least try becoming part of the legendary local music scene. At that point in history, the town was struggling to reestablish itself as a destination on the Jersey Shore, but redevelopment dreams were rocked by scandals and corruption, and the people who believed in the city needed something to give them some hope.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the national music scene, the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame did not yet have its physical vessel; all it was at the time was a series of annual dinners and inductions. Much debate was going back and forth through music circles about where the Hall should be located.

I watched these two situations and put two and two together: why shouldn't the Hall of Fame be located in Asbury Park's two historic amusement buildings in the city's south end — the Casino and the Palace? Refurbish the old buildings, place the Hall's exhibits in a permanent location, and bring music tourism to the city! I put forth this proposal in the updated lyrics to the song I had written about my old school; by now the refrain had become "buy that old building."

In 1995, though, the question of where to put the Rock Hall was settled with the opening of its building in Cleveland. Back in Asbury, though, the city's hell years were at their worst. Amidst all the turmoil in the city due to its corrupt leadership, all efforts to move the waterfront redevelopment stalled; the Palace and Casino were falling down by themselves, and no one had stepped in to buy the buildings and restore them to their former glory. When the Palace's roof caved in in 1998, it was decided to demolish the building after a structural analysis deemed it unsound. In stepped an organization called Save Tillie, whose stated goal was to save the Palace building and, barring that, to at least save the iconic face painted on the building's wall.

While these events were happening, I was living in nearby Ocean Grove. I lived in a townhouse at the western end of Wesley Lake, which commanded a view of downtown Asbury Park and the lake as far as the Casino. I was able to convert an extra room I had on the ground floor to a a music rehearsal room and studio, and I practiced by myself, wrote songs, and rehearsed bands there (the great Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez was a neighbor of mine, and one night I had him there, and we played "Rosalita" ... what an experience that was). I also recorded my first album, Soul In Exile, in that room, and included in the album's track list was the completed song about buying those old buildings, with the title "Rock'n'Roll Chamber of Commerce" — my name for a hypothetical organization that could direct musical tourism in the city and area. The album was released in 1999, and this song for me was an expression of hope that the city would dig itself out from the mess it was in.

The album was reviewed positively in a local paper, and the article attracted the attention of a number of local businesspeople who had interests in the city's redevelopment efforts. These people introduced me to the folks from Save Tillie, and I offered them the use of my song for use in their promotional efforts. They were happy to accept the offer, and the song appeared in the opening sequence to their video, which was released in 2001.

Tillie says goodbye to the Pony
Tillie says goodbye to the Pony.

As it happened, Tillie, the iconic Palace face, was saved when the Palace itself was finally demolished, after much wrangling and controversy, in May 2004. It was placed in storage under questionable conditions; as far as I know now, it is still in storage, presumably for use in some future display. The organization that had agitated for saving it kept an eye on it but eventually faded into the background. (The Stone Pony, though, still remains, even though many feared for its demise during that era as well.)

With all this behind me, I repurposed the song back to what had inspired it in the first place — the Casino (well, in the second place, after my old school in Jerusalem). The building itself went through various paroxysms of demolition and refurbishment, and as of now it still stands in a state of barely contained decay at the southern end of the Asbury Park Boardwalk. No organized effort was ever started to save it; I imagine the city did not want a repeat of the Save Tillie business. The song still remains, if not as a rallying cry, at least as a statement of hope for a better future, just as it was for the Palace.

"Rock'n'Roll Chamber of Commerce" had always been envisioned, even before all the goings-on in Asbury Park, as an emotional release in the sequence of songs that made up Soul In Exile, after the intensity of the title track, which immediately precedes it. Musically, it borrows from the Thin Lizzy song "Don't Believe a Word," the Doors song "Love Her Madly," and several songs by U2, from the band's War era. The original 1999 version had been recorded purely with keyboards and vocals; a fully orchestrated version was begging to be made. This finally came to be in 2017, when it was released on Soul In Exile 3: Love Runs Aground.


We’re gonna buy that old building

Make it a national monument

Move the music back in and give the old times a new spin

Let’s get on with it

We’re gonna buy that old building

Plaster posters on the walls

Gonna party past midnight every night all night

We’re gonna have a ball

We’re gonna live out our dreams

‘Cause we must persevere

We’re gonna be everything we couldn’t be

In those years

We’re gonna buy that old building

Put a recording studio inside

Put all our songs on vinyl from first version to final

We’ll have the greatest band of all time

We’re gonna buy that old building

Gonna dig in real deep

Fix the leaks, clean the floors, all the windows and doors

We’ll be playing for keeps

We’re gonna rebuild the glory

‘Cause we can’t let it die

And if anybody tells you it can’t be done

They’re telling you a lie

(Rock’n’roll chamber of commerce)

Just back in time for the renaissance

(Rock’n’roll chamber of commerce)

We’re gonna do it right and get a good response

(Rock’n’roll chamber of commerce)

Put that carousel where its rightful place is

(Rock’n’roll chamber of commerce)

Give this town a reason to live

We’re gonna buy that old building

Make it what it used to be and more

Keep the arcades in place and give the arena a new face

The premier spot on the shore

We’re gonna buy that old building

Shine it up till it gleams

Turn on all the lights for 1,001 summer nights

Pack it tight till it bursts at the seams

We gotta reinstate the crown

And bring back the pride

We can’t let it all fall into the water

There’s too much history inside

(Rock’n’roll chamber of commerce)

Don’t demolish what keeps this town alive

(Rock’n’roll chamber of commerce)

Don’t let some grandiose plan cloud your eyes

(Rock’n’roll chamber of commerce)

Don’t bring it all to an end

(Rock’n’roll—I tell ya)

It’s gonna live, breathe, and jump again.

©2017 The Hesh Inc.


Listen to the song here ...

Then check out the maxi-single ...

... and then hear how the song rounds out the album's song sequence by listening to the album itself.

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