If the EP were released 17 years ago it would have made a great soundtrack for the movie Fight Club. In the chaotic river of modern punk music, Get Fired has made a distinct ripple in which one could dip one's toe and find oneself in youthful rebellion for the entire 11 minutes and 44 seconds of music.
“Personally, I just think it's more exciting to see a band that plugs in, tears through a dozen songs, and then it's exit stage left thirty minutes later.” says songwriter and guitarist Jeremy Hall. “I mean, really, we're mainly writing songs about doughnuts and sanitation workers. We're not exactly in Rime Of The Ancient Mariner territory.”
In a time of heated elections, violence, and the apparent re-emergence of sectarian division, our country needs more songs about pastries, garbage men, and mail-order brides, but to say the EP is shallow could be a misrepresentation. The song "Mistakes" is an introspective exploration of personal mistakes. The lyrics “There are times when I can't press rewind / When mistakes made are mine / But this life could be better than it is / Given time” are capable of conjuring stirring feelings that are far from "rocket science".
The EP certainly conjures some reflection at points but never ceases to return to simple and delightful themes. In the song "Sweet Love" (my personal favorite), the listener is stuck in lyrical ambiguity trying to decide if the song is about the prospect of the romance or a hunger for a literal pastry behind the vending machine glass. This flavor of ambiguity is not so easy to achieve and indicates a mastery of songwriting.
In many instances, the only thing simple about punk rock is its rebellion. What's with the mohawks? Is that blood on your pant leg? Indeed, certain elements of the punk culture are, in essence, the manifestation of a chaotic counter-culture. But over the years, some of these elements may have become cliche. While speaking with Hall about his experience as a punk rocker, I learned that if spikes and combat boots are popular trends then wearing a collared shirt and khakis is as punk rock as it gets. Simple, right?
Sure, heading to a punk venue behind the liquor store while still in office garb is keeping it simple. But, if one were to refine the simplistic nature of clothing, it gets stripped down to the underwear. And, occasionally, so does Mr. Hall.
While scrolling through my Facebook feed one day I came across a picture of Get Fired playing a show at a venue ironically named the Unkempt Beaver. At stage left, was a chipper Jeremy Hall wearing nothing but boxer briefs and a Stratocaster. I certainly understand the simplistic nature of underwear. I also understand certain implicit social guidelines, and other more formal legalities could prove a hindrance if the alleged perpetrator were to be held accountable in a court of law. Under such circumstances, it may not be so simple to explain such an act.
Nevertheless, the deed was done. I asked Hall: “What is it about punk rock that makes you want to take your pants off?” I expected a response about the rebellious nature, or the aforementioned chaotic counter-culture that is conducive to punk music. Hall then reeled me back to simplicity- “There is nothing about playing punk rock that makes me want to take my pants off. There is plenty about playing in a room with no air conditioning in the summertime that makes me want to strip down. I'd like to say it's some rebellious don't-give-a-damn attitude, but it's really just heat stroke avoidance.” No rocket science here!
I've touched on rocket science in a metaphorical sense, but the song titled “Alien Invasion” contains an implicit element that suggests that rocket science, in a literal sense, could be used for the invasion and subsequent demise of the human race by looming extra terrestrial invaders. “Impregnate the human race / we'll have a human baby with an alien face...people of earth time to run away / or you won't live to fight another day” This fun song, on the surface, seems like a classic science fiction tale. Sure, you can overlook the fact that the aliens more than likely used rocket science to plot out their attacks on the human race, but that would only scratch the surface of the song's meaning. Have you been on any social media websites lately? If you have, then you may have noticed the modern frenzy over existential threats. The song "Alien Invasion" could be a satirical illustration of this modernist philosophy. But, probably not.
“As much as I would sometimes like our songs to have a deeper meaning,” Hall says “I can almost guarantee that the lyrics are entirely literal.” He had shut down my insight once again.
The new EP isn't rocket science. It's raw, high energy, in your face, in-and-out punk rock. Delving into mystical meanings is like asking a French wine steward to describe the palatability of cheap rum and coke in a Styrofoam cup. Likewise, the new EP isn't meant for deep analysis, just taken for what it is--fun and simple.
The 7-track EP takes off with the biting "The Only Thing That Matters Is Whatever's After the Hashtag". That title, which also serves as the song's chorus. cleverly turns the semantics of #blacklivesmatter / #bluelivesmatter / #alllivesmatter in on itself to criticize passive social media activism. In this framework, the band seems to lambast the shallow, trendy, and noncommittal nature of sociopolitical bandwagonism.
Despite its clear opinion on the subject, though, "Hashtag" offers a willingness to understand different perspectives, as the opening line itself indicates with "You can't be direct / I get it, I get it". For as full-throttle a genre as punk rock, it is especially noteworthy that Too Old to Dream would open an album like this.
The political opinions make up less than half of the EP, but they set the tone for a no holds barred approach that Get Fired takes here. Rocket Science, for instance, starts off with "Garbage Man", which on the surface is just an ode to the guy who does dirty, thankless work for civilization. It's told in the third person, and it lets the listener decide whether or not to read into what this says about society.
Too Old to Dream similarly has a song about a profession with "Thank You For Calling". It presents a guy stuck working a dead-end job at a call center, but this time around, the displeasure is more up front. This is told in the first person, and the narrator laments the banality of his work, which is similar to the garbage man's in its thanklessness but different in its lack of practicality. There's no intrinsic silver lining to this one. Call centers suck, everyone knows it, and the idea of spending eight hours a day working at one for an indefinite time is enough to make anyone stir crazy.
In the end, this is the song that may best sum up what Get Fired did with punk rock music. While "Flag Boy" captures the band's skewering of the times and "Nobody Cares" sums up its cynicism by jeering at itself for being a punk band in the first place (see also: the album title), it's "Thank You For Calling" that zeroes in on the idea of release. It doesn't have a point to make, really. It's just a sarcastic, minute-long fume session that uses music to exhaust the pent up energy of daily American life. Get Fired's band name itself is a moonlit fist to the establishment, knowing it'll still be in to work the next morning. The band wasn't called "Quit Work", after all.
This isn't to say that Get Fired was somehow less genuine. In fact, it's quite the opposite. From the band's songs to its presentation, Get Fired was firmly grounded in reality, and that reality is that you have to make money, which means you have to have a job, which in turn means you probably are wearing a uniform for a third of your entire life. The guys in Get Fired had no pretense. Even when the jeans and t-shirts came off in live performances, it was only because of the heat and not for show. Audience members who happened to catch a show on a cool day could verify that.
Too Old to Dream ends in a number called "Star Map" that even rebels against the formula of the punk sound that the band mostly adheres to up to this point. On the closing track, Get Fired throws in some fun, fast-paced, and carefree doo-wop/surf influences. It's a song about trying to find one's purpose in the world but has a shade of optimism by assuming that such a purpose can indeed be found, even if it's the wrong one. The final refrain of the album repeats, "I will find a way", and it offers a sliver of hope as the members of Get Fired part ways and move on to their next musical ventures.