The Money Jungle Revisited

In 2008’s Money Jungle: Imagining the New Times Square, Benjamin Chesluk examines the transformation of one of the most popular pieces of real estate in the world. “Visible Signs of a City Out of Control,” and “It Doesn’t Exist But They’re Selling It” are two particularly poignant chapter titles.

Recorded on September 17, 1962 in New York City, the seminal and swingin’ Money Jungle features Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Max Roach duking it out, if you will, in a glorious musical fisticuffs of old meets new, a synergy not unlike the one that goes on every day in the center of the city from which the album derives its name.

Money Jungle was, perhaps, the first CD I borrowed from my then-girlfriend-and-now-partner’s library when I visited her place in the East Village. I listened to it going to and from Long Island. Its highs seemed to mirror the flashing lights and pixilated glitter of 42nd Street while its lows sang sweetly the hymns of the downtrodden and overlooked, the city stories and dreams that don’t come true but need a place to exist anyway.

I think of it now—listen to it, actually—while I peruse Chesluk’s book online and think about money in New York City, what it means, how it works and why it resonates so. We humans need to play, no doubt about that. But the thing is how we need to play needs to be re-examined from time to time. And how we are being played, well, that sounds like a good subject for close examination as well.
When was the last time you were in Times Square? Was it Y2K? After a new play? Were you showing some visitors from out of town how the brightest spot on the planet spends its Saturday night?
It’s been a while for me too, so I think I’m going to head up to the New York Marriott Marquis when I’m done writing this. I think I’ll make my way over to the glass elevators and float 37 stories above the memories of our collective youth—a free ride, mind you, one of the very few in this ever-changing money jungle called life.

alan semerdjian

Alan Semerdjian is a writer, musician, English teacher, and occasional visual artist. Besides LI Pulse, his work has appeared in Newsday, Adbusters, Chain, The Lyric Review and numerous other print and online publications, anthologies, and chapbooks. His first full-length book of poetry is In the Architecture of Bone (Genpop Books 2009). You can visit him digitally at and find out about his music at