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Update 18/01/15: this past weekend, this post was inexplicably barraged by comments, which I thought was a bit strange, given that I posted it on Music in Notes a year ago. A woman with a science background (doubly weird, considering my main vocation) wrote a post a couple days ago, reminiscing about the birth of one of her children, tying this event in with Dan Wilson explaining in 2008 what the song is about. (Google it, and you’ll find said video.)

Personally, I think it’s strange anyone would use anything related to a bar and drinking as a metaphor for the birth of a baby, but that’s artistic license. Also, seeing that the writer has already explained the meaning of his song, this post is now closed to comments.

Title: ‘Closing Time’
Where to find it: ‘Feeling Strangely Fine’ (1998, MCA)
Performed by: Semisonic
Words by: Dan Wilson

There is a small group of songs, definitely numbering less than 10, that I would say I recall sitting in the back of one of our friends’ cars, with the radio turned way up, and everyone knew all the words too. And knew when to break out the air guitar during the solo. To say that ‘Closing Time’ by Semisonic was a song that defined my and my friends’ lives in school would be an understatement. The song spoke to me instrumentally first, with the lyrics feeling right for the music, but its meaning didn’t really come to me until I started thinking about what songs I might want to analyse on Music in Notes in 2014.

I pick up song lyrics quickly, and in a world where we generally only listened to regular radio on boomboxes and the internet had barely become a thing, ‘Semisonic’ quickly became one of those tunes that I had on repeat not only on my pathetic sound system at school, but also in my head. It became so large in my ‘mythology’ (I’m being sarcastic; that’s why mythology has single quotes around it) that my girlfriends all knew how much I loved that song. So much that one of them tried to set me up with a guy they knew who boasted he could play the song on guitar and he knew all the words too. (See? Even back then I was hopelessly drawn to musician types.) I turned up for a friend’s birthday party where I was supposed to meet this guy, but he only had eyes for another one of our friends. At the time, I was a little mad. We had the music thing in common, surely he’d be interested in me. What the heck happened?

Turned out he was better suited for our friend anyway, and they ended up getting married, which I am so thankful for because they are one of the few couples I know who support each other through everything. Even when 2 years ago, when they had to say their final goodbyes to their young daughter who had been born with a birth defect, they were each other’s rock as I sat there at the funeral, feeling dumbstruck by grief, wondering how they would continue. And yet they have, because their marriage is one built with so much strength.

Like many of the song analyses I’ve done for this site, I don’t think ‘Closing Time’ is as simple as most people think. Yes, it means ‘time for last orders’, but closing time can also indicate closing of a chapter in your life, and while the two words taken by themselves are ambiguous whether or not that closing is positive or negative, I think without a doubt in Dan Wilson’s world, it’s overwhelming positive.

First, the words:

Verse 1
Closing time
Open all the doors and let you out into the world
Closing time
Turn all of the lights on over every boy and every girl
Closing time
One last call for alcohol so finish your whiskey or beer
Closing time
You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here

Chorus
I know who I want to take me home
I know who I want to take me home
I know who I want to take me home
Take me home

Verse 2
Closing time
Time for you to go out to the places you will be from
Closing time
This room won’t be open ’til your brothers or your sisters come
So gather up your jackets, move it to the exits
I hope you have found a friend
Closing time
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end

Chorus
I know who I want to take me home
I know who I want to take me home
I know who I want to take me home
Take me home

Bridge
Closing time
Time for you to go out to the places you will be from

Chorus / Outro
I know who I want to take me home
I know who I want to take me home*
I know who I want to take me home
Take me home

Closing time
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end

Now, the analysis:

If you look straight at the words without thinking about what they mean, ‘Closing Time’ is a pretty repetitive and simple song, isn’t it? I mean, look. “Closing time” gets sung. A lot. Again and again. Even the bridge is stolen from the second verse. It’s important to note that there’s no pretentiousness whatsoever in word choice here, which suits the theory that it’s really a song about a bartender saying “last call!” and taking the last alcohol orders before the lights get turned on and everyone gets kicked out of the joint. But…let’s look for a bit more meaning, shall we?

When a bar closes, people stop drinking because they can’t buy any more booze, and the lights go on. I am more familiar with this concept in the gig setting, where the lights go on after the headline band has left the stage for good. Dan Wilson sings in verse 1, “open all the doors and let you out into the world”. I think this is an amazing setup for something that transcends the end of the night at your local watering hole. Open, close. Open, close. Open, close. (That just made me think of my dentist.) Okay, so the bar closes, which forces everyone in that bar out on the street, “to be let out into the world”. There is something very freeing about that line, which might strike you as odd and contradictory, seeing that “closing time” sounds very final, a conclusion.

“Turn all of the lights on over every boy and every girl”: the lights have turned on, and now everyone can see each other for what they are, warts and all. “You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here”: if you take this literally, it could mean you have the option to go home with someone else, which is what often happens at bars at the conclusion of the night anyway, right? But I’m thinking “home” in this instance was the life you had before you entered this place: not literally the bar, but that moment in time where you found yourself, examining what you were doing with your life. There’s a moment on the Beatles Anthology where Paul McCartney admits that the thought of taking drugs scared him because it would affect his mind and how “you could never go home…again”. When you come to a turning point in your life, often you can’t go back. Choices have been made, and you have no choice but to keep moving, and to keep moving forward.

The choruses are the repeated lines, “I know who I want to take me home”. When I was younger, I remember thinking this was the oddest words to string together for a chorus. But if you think about the line in isolation, without the song, what Wilson is saying is there is a person for everyone. I think I can safely say that we all have (or had) ideas of what our perfect match would look like, what colour his/her hair and eyes would be, and what kind of person he/she would be. Whether or not in this song this person exists in the protagonist’s life already is irrelevant: this image of perfection lives on his mind and his heart. The repetition serves to drive home this point, that he’s adamant it’s this one person. In the outro version of the chorus, I have put an asterisk where Wilson takes the liberty of adding a bit of flair by changing the notes up a bit.

Verse 2 is more confusing. “Time for you to go out to the places you will be from”: is he talking about past and future lives? “This room won’t be open ’til your brothers or your sisters come”: I honestly don’t know what this means. What room? Whose brothers and sisters? I doubt he means literally someone’s siblings, so I’m guessing he’s referring to the brotherhood (sisterhood?) of man. Maybe these are the ghosts of his loved ones, maybe that’s why he specifies “brothers or sisters”? Now I’m starting to think this verse might be about death. If yes, “So gather up your jackets, move it to the exits / I hope you have found a friend” makes more sense. It is time to go, so take all of your worldly possessions, because you need to leave this astral plane.

And then we come to the most important line of ‘Closing Time’, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” Kind of self-explanatory, but it’s useful to tie back into the theme of death, with a subsequent rebirth. But I also really like this line, especially how Wilson sings it so emphatically. It’s not sung sadly or angrily. It isn’t melancholic or regretful, even at the end of the song. It just is. And I like that a lot. We’re not twanging any heartstrings in this song. No-one is hunched over with bloodshot eyes because they’re at their wit’s end and can cry no more. No, this is a song about accepting what has happened and having the strength to move on. And here’s another nice ‘coincidence’. Look at the title of the album where it came from: ‘Feeling Strangely Fine’. Nice one, boys from Minneapolis.

For me, the ending of 2013 was tumultuous, yet oddly cathartic and freeing. Clear as day, like someone had someone taken off my rose-coloured glasses, I saw who really cared about me and who didn’t. In a span of 24 hours, I went from being the unhappiest woman in town to one feeling gratitude for friends who might live far away but have hearts of gold. Now I can go forward into this new year embracing the friends who matter and forgetting the ones who don’t.

Lastly, the song, in its stirring promo form that had my eyes glued to the tv screen. This was before YouTube, you know! There is also a payphone in this video because yes kids, there was a time when we didn’t have mobile phones. Imagine that.

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