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When I saw that above-mentioned vision, I must have gone blind

When I heard it on the highway I nearly lost my mind

I was knocked out in the first round

Dead before I hit the ground

Knocked out in the first round

And I left what I once was behind

I saw the boardwalk lying empty like an unplowed field

I saw the casino’s doors all shut and sealed

I was knocked out in the first round

When I saw what became of my old town

Something got stolen and I couldn’t live it down

And it burned like a scar unhealed

There was a circle on the floor where the carousel used to be

There was G-d-only-knows-what where dad’s hotel used to be

There was just dirty water where the bumper boats used to be

There were cruisers and dealers where the rollercoaster used to be

The ferris wheel used to be

The pier of steel used to be

The sky ride, the high dive, this town’s appeal used to be

I don’t want to be a Used To Be

The true believers all come by busload and caravan

And it seems like every one of them has got a plan

But they’re all knocked out in the first round

When they see the disparities that still abound

Ready once again to burn it all to the ground

They don’t care, just as long as they see their man

Everybody holds out hope for some improvement

But nobody holds out any hope for any new amusement

It’s all knocked out in the first round

They bulldozed the Palace down

All they saved was the Tillie grin from the silly old clown

Now it’s all history but hey, at least there’s movement

There are upscale condos where the Monterey used to be

There are upscale condos where Net Lane’s used to be

There are upscale condos in what the Berkeley used to be

There are upscale condos where the St. James used to be

There’s upscale where everything we knew used to be

There’s upscale and more upscale as far as the eye can see

Maybe what’s better is what Used To Be

So here I am, still in my position as a rock’n’roll singer

A piano player in the place where my soul still stubbornly lingers

I wanna make sure my glory days don’t fade away

I wanna make sure my glory days are here to stay

I wanna make sure my glory days keep on being glory days

‘Cause they’re slipping right through my fingers

C-8 meets C-4 and then—implosion

Another piece of a broken dream falls into the ocean

We’re all knocked out in the first round

Dead before we hit the ground

Knocked out in the first round

Flat out cold still on the way down

Knocked out in the first round

Fall like bricks but without a sound

Knocked out in the first round

What I saw when I finally came back to this town

Knocked out in the first round

So much happened since then but I still can’t live it down

Knocked out in the first round

Oh … knocked out!

©2017, 2022 The Hesh Inc.
Heshy in front of the Pony, 1988
When I saw that above-mentioned vision, I must have gone blind ...

In November 1978, I had the epiphany that changed my life. I had come down to the Asbury Park area with my family for Thanksgiving weekend, and I knew right then that I wanted my place to be at the Shore, not in Long Island where I had been spending my time growing up until that point.

But then, at the end of that school year, I graduated junior high school and moved with my family to Israel. My hopes of spending any more time at the Shore, let alone moving there, were put on hold until further notice. I came back to visit four years later, in the summer of 1983, after graduating high school; the big amusement parks were gone, but the music scene was still rocking and people still came to Asbury Park on a Saturday night. So there was hope.

But that glorious summer ended and I went back to Israel—something that, in retrospect, was one of the biggest mistakes I made in my life—and I spent the next two years attempting to learn in yeshiva and the three years after that serving in the army. Through that entire five-year stretch I held on to the hopes that I would finally make good on my dream to go back to the Shore and become a local, a musician in the legendary local rock scene there.

In the meantime, in June 1988, I finished my stint in the service and got married. My first wife hailed from Colorado, and she regaled me with all sorts of tales about such fairytale locales as Aspen and Vail. I reciprocated with "you think THAT'S something? Just WAIT until you see Asbury Park!"

A month later, after our honeymoon in Aspen, we came back east and I showed her Asbury Park. It was a Saturday night, and I was expecting cars cruising the Circuit, a live band in every corner bar, and people out strutting their stuff on the boardwalk, the way it had been five years earlier, when I had been there last. But now the beachfront was a ghost town, with virtually no one there. The only signs of life were the block between First and Second Avenues, where a handful of reggae fans came out to see Jah Love open for Andrew Tosh at the Stone Pony, which was only half full. Here I had been promising my new bride a whole scene of rock'n'roll heaven on earth, but the only angels in sight were the members of the huge biker gang that milled about outside Mrs. Jay's Beer Garden, held in check by the presence of several police cars, an ambulance, and a fire engine. I sure ate a big dish of crow when she did in fact first see the place, and it did not taste good. Not one bit.

See, as I had bided my time during my years in Israel, the Shore became for me a mythical place where rock'n'roll dreams come true—a mental image conjured up by my brief experiences there previously and cemented by everything I heard on the records I loved by Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny. Unfortunately very little of that had anything to do with the reality of the place, and the myth and reality collided with the force of two runaway 18-wheelers crashing head-on on the New Jersey Turnpike.

I tried to make the best of it, putting on a happy face and all, but inside I was far beyond embarrassed—I was stunned, mortified, as if I had really taken a knockout blow to the jaw when I saw the devastation that had overtaken one of my favorite beach towns. I was so haunted by it that it took me YEARS to process it. And, true to singer-songwriterly form, I began processing it by writing and singing about it.

The song began to take shape as I noodled on the piano in the empty Boston University Hillel House auditorium in mid-1989. Somehow I started with The Smithereens' "Only a Memory" and I began mixing in the melody from the London Pirchei Boys' Choir's "Ani Maamin" from the 1970s—itself glommed from Dusty Springfield's "Summer Is Over." To open the song I added a bit of the intro to Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto and then rocked it up with a bit of Velvet Underground-via-David Bowie rhythm. The lyrics were built around the phrase "knocked out in the first round," and the verses went through several permutations as I observed each new twist that the city of Asbury Park made on the downward spiral toward the slag heap of oblivion.

Ten years later I recorded the first version of the song, piano and voice only, for what became the first Soul In Exile record, but I always imagined that it would be recorded properly with a full band. The lyrics kept on going through adjustments over the years until, finally, I recorded it for the third Soul In Exile record, Soul In Exile 3: Love Runs Aground, which was released in 2017. The city by then had begun its path upward toward redemption, but nothing that has happened since can cover up the sense of stunned devastation that I felt when I first returned after my time abroad.

ShoreWorld columnist John Pfeiffer, in his review for The Aquarian Weekly, described the song thus:

The next song up is called “Knocked Out In The First Round.” Pianos set the tone before [rhythm guitarist Lane Sparber] and [drummer Izzy] Kieffer come in to carry things away. Once the band is completely in, Hesh stretches out for a vocal exercise in quality lyrics and tone. Once again his subject is the Shore, but he tells the story of what was and what is left over now. Lots of “used to be” but it’s all necessary and vital. Between holding out for improvement over “Amusement” Hesh tells the real story of what goes on in that little “City by the Sea.” [Lead guitarist PK] Lavengood’s middle-eight lead break is all him, combining single-string breaks with bends and melodic voicings before [saxophonist Steve] Peckman comes in to take things into his direction. Hesh comes back to finish things off as only he can do and it’s a great song.

Here it is, remixed and remastered, on Soul In Exile Redux, released on January 28, 2022.

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