Monday, March 06, 2006

The Hesh, Inc.: “Soul in Exile”—a CD review, and a lament for a lost way of life

Okay, so I’m more than a little late to the party—according to the copywright, this CD was recorded in 1999. But I just picked it up at the Ruby Harris CD-release party on February 11, at which The Hesh was the pianist, so it’s new to me.

There’s a simple pleasure in listening to a singer/songwriter going solo, accompanied only by himself or herself. The Hesh sings along with his own piano-playing, occasionally dubbing in a harmony or an extra keyboard (presumably also sung or played by him), only occasionally bringing in a drummer and bass player. My only major complain is against the Hesh’s (and/or his sound engineer’s) all-too-frequent attempts to “do something interesting” by electronically altering his voice. The words are half the point of a song. What’s the point in deliberately making them difficult to understand? Heshy, just sing!

The songs on this album deal with two themes. One is the Hesh’s apparently then-recent break-up with a girlfriend, from which he was still in considerable emotional distress when he wrote these songs. The other theme is that of the destruction of the old way of life of a town on the Jersey shore (the Hesh having, apparently, spent many years living on New Jersey’s Atlantic coast) by greedy land developers.

I know that story all too well.

Several times, every summer of my childhood, we would pile into the family car and head east to our dream town. We’d throw our towels down on the sandy beach and head into the ocean, splashing one another, swimming, and turning somersaults underwater, eyes closed tight against the salty sea. When our lips turned blue from cold, we’d lie down to bake in the sun, snoozing or reading the books we’d brought. Or we’d build sand castles, or bury Dad up to his neck in the sand.

After a few hours, tired of swimming and fearful that, if we “baked” any longer, we’d be “french fried,” we’d change clothes and head for the boardwalk. The boardwalk! Miles upon miles, or so it seemed (and probably was) of wide wooden walkway, with tacky touristy shops selling souvenirs that our parents wouldn’t let us buy (too expensive—we had to stick to postcards), fast-food and junk-food stands, amusement rides . . .

Rides! Yes, of course we had to go on the rides before we ate, so that we wouldn’t get sick to our stomachs. The ride that I remember the best was the bumping cars. These were small, one-person vehicles completely surrounded by fat rubber bumpers. They weren’t designed to be safe for small children, so one had to pass a minimum height test, indicated by a line painted on the entrance, in order to ride. Eventually, all four of us kids reached that magical height. In we scrabbled, hopping into the cars and waiting for the ride operator to flip the switch. Then away we’d drive, yelling and laughing in delight as we deliberately crashed into everyone in sight. The bumping-car ride must have been the only place on earth in which a head-on collision was the ultimate goal.

After the rides, we’d head back to the boardwalk to continue our stroll, noshing all the way. (My parents hadn’t gone kosher yet, so we ate just about everything.) As we walked, we were passed by the local version of slow-moving vehicles. I think we called them “rolling chairs.” If memory serves me correctly, a rolling chair consisted of (from the ground up) three wheels, a platform, and a bench wide enough for three. But the crowning glory of a traditional rolling chair was the beautiful wicker basketry in back of the bench. Woven in the shape of a seashell, the wicker was as wide as the bench, and curved over the top of it to serve as a sunshade for the riders. In back of the wicker was a horizontal bar, and in back of the bar, the power source—a man. The traditional “rolling chair” was strictly a leisure vehicle, designed not for speed but to allow the riders to take a load off their feet and enjoy the scenery. Who cared that the “driver” couldn’t see where he was going? The chairs moved so slowly that pedestrians had no trouble staying out of their way. Not so with the modern motorized version of the “rolling chairs” with drivers up front, their constant “beep, beep,” shooing pedestrians out of the way, adding to the general cacaphony.

There were two places on the boardwalk of which I have particularly fond memories. One was the Planter’s Peanut store. With a “life-sized” Mr. Peanuts statue out front, the Planter’s Peanut store was a nut-lover’s heaven, containing row after row of peanut products. Almost invariably, we left the store carrying pounds of peanut brittle and other goodies.

The other place that I remember was the Freilinger’s Saltwater Taffee store. Sure, there was another saltwater taffee store, but everyone knew that Freilinger’s was the best. We would stand in the store for several minutes, watching the machines pull the taffee, memorized. Then we’d buy enough to, well, stock a store. :) (To this day, I have absolutely no idea whether Freilinger’s was/is kosher. Not knowing anything about hechsherim [rabbinical symbols indicating that a product is kosher] at the time, I was like the fourth child of the Haggadah—I didn’t even know to ask.)

Finally, tired, happy, and stuffed to within an inch of tummyaches, we’d pile back into the car for the drive back across the state, virtually coast to coast, going from the Atlantic Ocean to a mere twenty-minute drive from the Delaware River. Home.

After we got old enough to stay home alone—or, more likely, after my older sister was old enough to babysit me and our two younger brothers—my parents took to making a day-trip to the ocean a romantic outing for two—in the dead of winter. They insisted that they preferred the boardwalk when there was less of a crowd and they could really enjoy the sight and sound of the ocean. Bundled up to here, they’d walk the boards until they got too cold, then stop off at a seaside restaurant, split a fish dinner, and head home.

Years later, my husband, son, sister and I used to take the bus there, occasionally. We had no desire to see what was left of the town. It was just a convenient place for our aunt and uncle, who then owned a home nearby, to pick us up. The trip itself was depressing. The dream town of our childhood was gone, swallowed by greed. The entire town had turned its back on the ocean. Dominated by tawdry gambling palaces, the beach and boardwalk were shadows of their former selves, all the innocent entertainments gone, replaced by roulette and gaudy spectacles. There was even a rumor that the casino owners had persuaded the local government to ban the “rolling cars,” lest people should, heaven forbid, be tempted to venture outside. No more walking the boards, soaking up the sun and taking deep breaths of the salty ocean air. No place, either, for those with little money for gambling, the city slums starting, if memories of those bus rides serve me correctly, a mere 20 blocks or so beyond the glitzy glamour palaces.

The dream town of my youth is long gone, but it lives on in blessèd childhood memory.

I’ve never forgotten the real Atlantic City.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, what a pleasant surprise! Thanks for the review, and for picking up the CD in the first place! Next time I'll actually pay attention to who's in the crowd when I'm playing ...

I'm currently working on a "sequel" to Soul In Exile, which will hopefully be out during the summer. Bad news and good news: "Bad," in that this will be a full production, band and all. Good, in that there won't be any sound processing to obscure the lyrics.

BTW, she wasn't a girlfriend - she was my wife, and it was a divorce. {sigh] Nor uf simchas.

Mon Mar 13, 11:53:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

My pleasure.

"Next time I'll actually pay attention . . ." Well, if you spot a middle-aged "dancing fool" in the back of the room at a future concert, that'll probably be me. :)

Looking forward to hearing the sequel.

I don't suppose there's anything I say that won't sound trite. Sometimes sad things happen to good people. May there be only simchas in your future.

Wed Mar 15, 12:46:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Hesh Meister said...

The sequel is out! (I suppose a Shehecheyanu is in order ...)
Check it out at ... please feel free to write it up and let me know how you like it.
All the best!

Wed Jun 20, 11:07:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Oh, swift! Mazal tov!

Thu Jun 21, 06:03:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

Ten years burning down the road ...

The third album is now out, a fully electrified and orchestrated version of the CD you originally reviewed.

Hope you are well!

The Hesh Inc./Soul In Exile 3: Love Runs Aground

Thu Jul 20, 03:58:00 PM 2017  

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