Song of the Week: Semisonic “Closing Time”

Lately, I’ve been thinking about Adele.

Maybe it was the recent Oscar appearance, or maybe it’s the staying power of her 2011 smash 21, but Adele once again owns my Facebook feed.  Her fans don’t simply “like”; they comment.  They don’t enjoy one song; they’re invested in her.

I hear that Adele inspires people.  I hear she’s one of the most gifted young singers since Whitney.  I hear her catalog will one day be what we hoped Amy Winehouse’s would.  I hear that Adele’s music makes folks fall in love, or want to fall in love, or fall out of love, or break up spectacularly, or sing about everything or nothing at the top of their lungs in the echoplex of their shower. And that’s all great.

Adele makes me want to listen to Semisonic.

Song of the Week: Semisonic, “Closing Time

Dan Wilson co-wrote “Someone Like You,” along with two other songs for Adele’s 21 (“One and Only” and “Don’t You Remember”).  Additionally, he’s co-written award-winning, chart-topping songs for Josh Groban and the Dixie Chicks.  But, like any child of the 90’s, I know Dan Wilson as The Guy From Semisonic, which means he’s the guy who wrote and sang “Closing Time.”

When I heard that Adele collaborated with Dan Wilson of Semisonic for her breakout hit “Someone Like You,” I was a little surprised.  I’ll admit it: I was ignorant of his other successful co-writing endeavors since Semisonic.  I was ignorant of everything in Dan Wilson’s life and career except “Closing Time.”  In my mind, Dan Wilson gave us four-minutes-and-one-second of glistening pop glory in 1999 and promptly retired to Vermont.

Obviously, that didn’t happen.

It didn’t happen for Fountains of Wayne, either.  Their 96X staple “Sink To the Bottom” might’ve been their one wondrous hit…except they kept writing hits.  Adam Schlesinger co-wrote the title song to That Thing You Do.  He’s written chart-toppers for Katy Perry and the Jonas Brothers.  He formed the power-pop group Tinted Windows with a Hanson and a Pumpkin.  And, of course, Fountains of Wayne had their own resurgence with their biggest hit of all, 2003’s “Stacy’s Mom.”

Clearly, there is some precedent for late-90’s pop-rockers becoming songwriting juggernauts in a new era and within new genres.  But, as I wrote before, we might’ve seen Fountains of Wayne’s resurgence coming.  Their major and minor hits weren’t adherent to any one aesthetic, and they didn’t seem dependent on lightning-in-a-bottle flashes of inspiration.  Their best music in 1997 is like their best music in 2003 and 2013: deliberate, fun, and unabashedly pop.

As for Semisonic, I simultaneously cherished “Closing Time” for what it was (a likable, unifying bar song) and dismissed it for what I thought it was (a lightning-in-a-bottle song by future one-hit wonder).  When this song hit in 1999, my brother’s friends were all home for summer vacation from college.  I remember a few of them–all from the same sorority–squealing when it came on the radio.  They sung along with Off Broadway fervor and gesticulation.  And I will never forget their collective adulation for the song’s de facto refrain: “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”  If Facebook existed then, all of them would’ve made that a status update, if not their entire “About Me” section.  Minutes after the song was over, they were still talking about that line, how it summed up their life and worldview that summer, etc.  That song–specifically, that lyric–resonated with them in a very real way.

And because I was a teenager and desperate for a higher-ground of coolness, I laughed at them.

Pictured: Dan Wilson, not in Vermont.

It should go without saying that I was wrong.  I was wrong for insincerely hating that song (I liked it).  I was also wrong for sincerely dismissing it.  I thought Semisonic’s “Closing Time” was something I would pretend to dislike in 1999 and never hear–or think about–in the Next Millennium, when everything would be Better, Smarter, and Not Resembling James Van Der Beek.  I was wrong.  And when it comes to music, I love being wrong.

Adam Schlesinger’s music resonates with urban singles with a past suburban adolescence, present office jobs, romantic entanglements, habitual drinking that never seems sad, and a penchant for fun-loving pop.  That is perhaps his greatest and most unique gift: he knows that audience, and he knows (perhaps better than anyone) how to write for them.  And whether it’s a country song, or a jukebox rock staple, or a Groban-crooner, Dan Wilson knows co-eds on the brink of adulthood who are both reactive and reflective, simultaneously open to anything and “over” everything.

Somewhere, there’s an XTerra full of girls.  “Someone Like You” blasts through their radio, and it won’t go any louder.  They’re singing along at the top of their lungs.  They’re updating their Facebook status.  They hear Adele and they love her voice, and they love her song, and they’re inspired by her.

And somewhere, right this second, there’s a teenage boy in the back feeling stalked and consumed by this song.  He’s squirming in his seat.  He cannot get out from underneath it.  He can’t escape it, and he doesn’t try to.

And somewhere other than Vermont, Dan Wilson is smiling.


Holler Here!

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