Thursday, June 18, 2020

Open/Close: Closing Time

Semisonic: Closing Time

One reason that people love listening to music, particularly older music, is that songs, like smells, can evoke past memories. My wife, for example, regularly talks about how specific songs remind her of camp, or high school, or college, and I’ve written before about this phenomenon. I’ve also written about how certain songs remind me of specific people, often my friend Chris, with whom I explored music in high school and attended many memorable shows. And there are songs that make me think about my kids, which I have also written about. Today’s song, Semisonic’s "Closing Time," is another that reminds me of my son, who introduced me to this song back in 1998, when he was about 8 years old.

Semisonic was a band out of Minneapolis, fronted by Dan Wilson, and featuring John Munson and Jacob Slichter that formed out of the ashes of the band Trip Shakespeare, which included Wilson, Munson and Wilson’s brother Matt, among others. Both Wilsons and Slichter attended Harvard, but despite being a proud Tiger, I won’t hold that against them. I sort of group Semisonic in my mind with bands like Toad the Wet Sprocket and Gin Blossoms, who made melodic, power-poppy albums in the 90s, which were radio friendly (for a slice of radio that still existed back then), although I was a bigger fan of those other two bands. Other reviews compare Semisonic (generally unfavorably) to Ben Folds Five, or even Matthew Sweet.

“Closing Time” is a catchy track that, on its surface, seems to be about the end of the night at a bar, a/k/a last call, and the patrons are being forced to decide whether to go home, and if not, where, and with whom, if anyone. It’s a time of both possibility and disappointment, and the song considers both options. Interestingly, Dan Wilson has said that the song is also about his impending fatherhood. He said:

The guys wanted a new song to close our sets with. I thought 'Closing Time' would be a good title. We had spent seven years of our lives at that point, four nights a week entertaining people. That was our life. Some bouncers yelling things, closing time coming, all that imagery, literally, that's how the song started and then when I was halfway done, I started realizing the whole thing was a pun about being born, so I just made sure that the rest of the thing could ride with that double meaning, but nobody got the joke and I didn't bother to explain. I thought everyone would get it. 

The song reached number one on the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart, did well internationally, and got a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Song, losing to Alanis Morissette’s “Uninvited.” It’s been used in TV shows and movies, usually when there’s a scene at bar at closing time. Of course. Although two other singles from the album did OK, the followup album, which wasn’t released until 2001 (and even included a contribution from Carole King), was not successful, and the band went on hiatus, reuniting a few times in recent years for shows in the Twin Cities.

Dan Wilson, who is also apparently an accomplished visual artist, has released a bunch of solo albums, and also has written or co-written songs for others, including the Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready to Make Nice,” and “Someone Like You,” with Adele. Munson continues to play with bands in the Minneapolis area and teaches, and Slichter wrote a book about being a rock musician and teaches, including in the MFA writing program at Sarah Lawrence College, where my daughter-in-law got her degree. She said she knew Slichter, but never took a course from him. To bring this piece to a satisfying "close," she’s married to the son I wrote about in the "open."

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