Yes, that’s what the British call it when you get fired from a job. I don’t remember anyone ever telling me, “You’re fired!” But I was “let go” several times in my teenage years. As far as my music career goes, the phone simply stopped ringing. Even a normal ego would have to scratch its head a little, wondering why it was put out to pasture when it had never actually been terminated. Wasn’t that the American way? Relieved of your duties, or moved out of your corner office and into the basement, or perhaps being asked to take a lower position “and for less compensation, of course. Sorry.”

But it wasn’t like that, wasn’t anything like I might have imagined. It just got quiet, when the phone stopped ringing. So quiet I didn’t believe what was happening right away, mostly because music work always slowed during the summer in Atlanta. Finally I began calling clients and friends, just checking in, just touching base. Some weren’t in, some said it was quiet on their end as well, and a few told me they had things in the works, and they would call me when they came through. But they didn’t.

There are thousands, perhaps millions of self-employed folk in this country and around the world. If they are successful and live a long life, they will have to, at one point or another, deal with “closing up shop” and retiring. I’m sure there are as many varied responses to retirement for these people as there are retirees. I’ve known a few who didn’t/couldn’t handle it well. It’s not a pretty thing to see.

I commiserated with a few music friends about retirement… what it meant to each of us, and how there were no books to read about retiring gracefully. Ha! There were books about it then, and there are a ton of them out there now. I just didn’t know it.

Guess I never really understood “closure” until my phone stopped ringing. No final party, no one to shake my hand and tell me “I had a good ride…” no gold watch, no speech, nothing. After a time I found myself wondering if I had done anything right, or for that matter, everything wrong. There was no way in hell I could receive any indication that I’d done good work over the years, that it was all worth it, that my career made any sort of difference in the world. And it didn’t help that I had the best little recording studio I’d ever had, able to do entire album projects for people in almost any format.

Ultimately, I would’ve felt better if someone had told me to my face that my run was done, I was through, I could hang up my spikes. That was a concept that most of us could probably accept, even if we didn’t like it or want to believe it. The lack of any tangible sign that my career had ended was missing… a foreboding silence that did nothing to ease the eventual pain of a career un-acknowledged. Truly, the silence was deafening.

Being self-employed all those years, I had no marketing department to re-brand me and get me back out there with a new image, a new catch phrase, a new persona. I had already tried that, with several new company names – Aria, Music For Pictures. I had no board members with a better overview of my product, telling me it was time to diversify and acknowledge the changing times. Nope. None of that. So I got a haircut, trimmed my beard, bought a few new shirts and practiced saying “awesome” for awhile. But nothing worked, the phone simply would not ring.

In desperation I decided to try something I’d done years and years ago, without any success whatsoever. Why would I try something that didn’t work the first time?? Like I said, I was desperate! So what did I do? I decided to talk this whole thing over with God.

It was, as i could have guessed, fairly unsatisfactory. But at least I learned a few things, and through it somehow devised my own ceremony of closure. Whether God helped me or not, I’ll let you decide.

“Hi, God. It’s me again. I’m the kid who used to believe in you.”

“I remember you.”

“Good. As you probably know, I’m in the middle of a problem I can’t seem to resolve.”

“Funny… that’s when most of you decide you need to talk to me.”

“Yeah, I can see that. But my problem is a little different. I can’t find a solution, an ‘either-or…’ anything that would provide me with a choice in the matter. My dilemma is just hanging out there in the air of silence, and it’s starting to get to me.”

“So it appears. You do know why you’ve been left hanging here, without closure, don’t you?”

“No! No I don’t! That’s why I’m here talking to you now!”

“My son, you’ve been a jingle writer. What did you expect? Accolades, a show of respect from your peers, an acknowledgment of achievement of some sort?”

“Well, actually, yes! I have hoped to get some sort of positive acknowledgement for a job well done… a party, something…”

“Ah, my boy, that’s where you have failed. Number one, you’ve had expectations. Not good. Number two, you’ve been laboring under the perception that what you’ve done with your life is a good thing.”

Now that was hard to hear, especially from God. “But wait… are you saying that perhaps I haven’t lived a good life?”

“Think about it, my son. You’ve been a jingle writer for 30 years, correct? You’ve been doing music for radio and TV commercials. What does that tell you?”

“God, i don’t know… oh, sorry.”

God probably smiled. I don’t know, I couldn’t see Him.

“You see, those radio and TV commercials were not all good. Yes, they used music, a known art form, to try to sell their products, their ideas, but in many cases those ideas and products could be potentially harmful to the people hearing and seeing those commercials. In truth, your work might have been as harmful and negative as you’ve perceived it to be positive.”

I was stunned. “Damn! I never thought of it like that…”

“That’s obvious. All those years, you never once thought about whether the things you were advertising might be helpful or hurtful to others. And that is why you are now suspended.”

“Suspended where?”

“Between heaven and hell.”

Suspended between heaven and hell?? Good god!! “Why have you done this to me?” I was getting angry now. Being messed with by God was not to be taken lightly.

“I didn’t do anything to you, lad. You’ve done this to yourself. Yes, I work in mysterious ways, but you people have outdone me for centuries! I gave you freedom of choice and you have taken that to weird places that even I could never have imagined!”

I was dumfounded. The idea that I might be evil, a sinner, simply because I wrote music for commercials was far beyond anything I was expecting. And, it was strangely threatening in its potential for the truth of the matter. True, I had never refused to do a Coke commercial, and had helped glorify the questionable qualities of department stores, grocery store chains, chemical and fossil fuel corporations, laundry soaps and restaurants. Hmm, many of those were obviously not good products, but should I be labeled a sinner, an evil person if I did all that music with the best intentions?

God, reading my thoughts, said, “It is actions, not intentions, that define the sin. You, my son, are a sinner, albeit an ignorant one.”

“Yeah? Well, I know a bunch of Christians and politicians who fall into that category… and they’re not ignorant, either! I hope you’re not trying to tell me that being a jingle writer is as evil as being, say, a politician?”

I waited. But God had suddenly gone silent, just as he had so many years ago. Okay, at least I tried. Time to figure out this dilemma on my own.

Sitting down in my favorite chair with my favorite beverage, a Jameson’s on the rocks, I dove into this dilemma that seemed to be nagging at me for a resolution of some sort. I began breaking it down… trying to get as objective as I could about the whole thing.

“First of all, Mr. Hulse, were you working for a corporation of any kind?”
“All right. That rules out the gold watch. Now, did you do anything during your career that would have received national attention?”
“Very well. Anything of regional importance? Local importance?”
“Well, I won a regional award for composer of the year one year. Does that count?”
“Not really. We need something important, something people remember. It appears to us that you have had the kind of career that is similar to a computer droid in a cubicle except that you were in a recording studio.”
I had to think about that one. Another sip of my Jameson’s. “Well, shit, I suppose that’s basically true.”
“So in essence, Mr. Hulse, you are, if you’ll pardon my interpretation of your perceived ‘problem,’ agonizing over the lack of a ‘goodbye party’ or some sort of closure that you somehow feel you deserve.”
Wait, I wasn’t seeing it like that at all. I mean, what was wrong with a little acknowledgement for a 30-year career well done?? Well, remember now, God doesn’t think it was necessarily “well done.” Okay, then why did no organization, or even one single person, neither congratulate me nor tell me I was finally sacked?

The answer, suddenly, was clear. It’s because you were never an employee, per se. Your whole life you were a free lance supplier of music, hired on a per-job basis. It’s just as Pete Caldwell used to always say with a slight smile while standing in the lounge with a beer after another completed job… “Well, Hulse, you’re fired again.”

So, thinking this through, if I were an independent composer/piano player, then I worked for my own “company” and was therefor “the boss.” So if anyone was going to sack me or throw me a retirement party, it was going to be… me!

Well damn! What an unsatisfactory conclusion! Not at all what I had in mind, but that was the truth of it. If I demanded any kind of a final “do,” then I’d have to do it myself! All right… I’m a big boy, my delicate ego can get the handle on this. And I don’t need a parting gift or a gold watch… I’ve never even worn a watch!

I fired only one person my whole career… a drummer named Al Nicholson. He had wanted to use a metronome that sounded like a bass drum on my recording session, That in itself was somewhat ironic, as Al’s time was already so metronomic that we had nicknamed him “Click Track Nick!” I didn’t want him using his new toy to experiment on my session. Maybe I was over-protective, but come on! Recording studio time was $125-$150 and hour, and I wasn’t about to try Al’s toy on my client’s clock. I told him “no,” and he turned away, saying, “Ah, you’re just a fuddy duddy.” And at that, I fired him. I’m a lot of things, but not a “Fuddy Duddy.” So I sacked Al. And now, weirdly, it was time to sack myself!

I got up, refilled my Jameson’s and sat back down. This was the moment! “Well, Hulse,” I told myself, “You’re fired again! No, actually, fired and retired! That’s right, you’re done, son. I say so, your clients say so, the silent phone says so! But I raise my glass to you, sir, for a job well done, for a life-long career completed, for a long list of happy clients, many of whom took the time to call you and thank you. You made a fine contribution to Atlanta’s advertising world for many years, regardless of what God might think! You will be fondly remembered by a select few, and that’s all that matters now. Well done, Hulse!” And at that, I was finally, and duly sacked.

I tipped my glass, taking a healthy swig. Ahhh, tastes great, feels great! And finally, I am properly retired, even if I did have to do it myself! This “being your own boss” thing is a bitch, ain’t it?

Steve Hulse

2 Replies to “Sacked!”

  1. I’ll raise my glass from the east coast to toast your retirement party, my friend. You contributed to putting Atlanta and all the creative talent we offer on the map in a very large and respectful way, Mr. Hulse! Cheers!

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