From In the New Old-Fashioned Way
This song was the first song that I really obsessed over after discovering this band. The first show I attended ended with Seth Timbs doing an encore of the song solo on piano. The crowd began singing along, and the words resonated with me in a new way that would soon become all too familiar as I listened more to the band’s music. For the next two weeks, as I waited to get my mail-order copy of In the New Old-Fashioned Way, I would stream Spongebath radio while working as a college computer lab assistant just because it would play “Have Fun” once about every hour or so.
On the surface, the song is simply an invitation. The speaker paints a scene of any college or sports bar in America as men and women check each other out and make moves to seduce one another while keeping their cool and playing carefully-acted roles to keep the other side in check.
The deeper subtext of this song is why someone would even want to have fun in the first place. We live in a culture that glorifies having fun and deifies those who are best at having it, whatever the fun may be, as if twenty-somethings living it up in bars every night of the week have achieved some higher plane of existence than the rest of the working world who dedicates itself to careers and/or our families. The final verse shows this when the speaker exclaims, “Don’t you wanna have fun? I thought it might be what I needed, and it turned out to be a gimmick!” Once identified as simply a gimmick, if you watch closely when people, your friends included, are out on the town, how deeply they are trying to find this fleeting thing called “fun,” something to hearken back to their childhood when it came so naturally, something they have to work so hard for now, thus strangely extinguishing this thing they want so badly. And somehow you know that they know that none of you will ever find it, not there anyway, but we keep coming back because this elusive thing called fun is the closest we can come to feeling alive and free. Normally we’re the sad clowns, but when we go out to play, troubles are pushed away. There’s nothing to worry about.
Musically, this song has been mentioned by many band members as being one of the most difficult to play on any instrument, rocketing through chord changes, throwing in “ha ha ha”’s to tell the story. It’s short solos are quick, first a guitar, then a piano solo that’s ragtime in the first half and Thelonious Monk in the second. It’s ending is equally memorable, with a shouting match between Brian and Seth (or is it Seth and Seth on the record? I can’t tell) ending on an almost whispered breath, still reaching for the fun with the last and dying breath.
If you could ever somehow get a copy of Spike and Mallets’ CD, Peep, Jr., it features a song called, “The Fun,” which is a wonderful companion to this song, thematically at least, lamenting how “the fun never lasts” in its waltzing refrain.
I don’t think any top-five list of Fluid Ounces songs would be complete without this one in it (though I’m sure the comments section will produce a chorus of dissenters…). It was never the screamed-about casual-fan-fave like “Record Stack,” but instead was and is the song in which everyone can see themselves, if only in a line or a couplet, desiring a little something more out of life, finding something amazing within a pop song, and this, my final song entry (but check back Monday), is the other song I would argue to be Seth Timbs’ crowning achievement in songwriting.
The video here is from October 10, 1997.