Closing Time is a song by American alternative rock band Semisonic. It was released in March 1998 as the lead single from their album Feeling Strangely Fine. One of the band’s most popular songs, it was written by Dan Wilson and produced by Nick Launay. The song was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Rock Song in 1999. It reached # 1 on the Modern Rock Tracks.
The book So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star by Semisonic’s drummerJacob Slichter indicates that the song was written partly in response to the anxious, and at times precarious, state of the band during the opening of Wilson’s new bar, The Rehab Lounge, which closed in late 2008; however, Slichter has also indicated that the song was written by Wilson “in anticipation of fatherhood“, and that it is about “being sent forth from the womb as if by a bouncer clearing out a bar”.
Closing Time remains a popular song at bars when they are ready to pack it up. There no mistaking the message: “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” Semisonic vocalist and songwriter Dan Wilson told The Hollywood Reporter in a 2010 interview: “I really thought that that was the greatest destiny for ‘Closing Time,’ that it would be used by all the bartenders, and it was actually. It still is. I run into people all the time who tell me, Oh I worked in this one bar for four years and I heard your song every single night.”
Wilson explained in an interview with American Songwriter that he wasn’t consciously trying to write a song about the birth of his first born child, but it became obvious as he was writing the tune. Said Wilson: “I was initially trying to write a song to end the Semisonic shows with. We had always ended with a song called ‘If I Run,’ and I really liked it a lot. John and Jake, the other two members of the band, were always impatient with ending the show with the same song. So I set out to write a new closer for the set, and I just thought, ‘Oh, closing time.’ Because all the bars that I would frequent in Minneapolis, they would yell out ‘closing time.’ There was one bar where a guy always would scream really loud, ‘You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here,’ and I guess that always stuck in my mind.”
It has been stated that the repeated phrase “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” to the Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger.
So I started writing this song and it’s just, ‘Okay, you’ve got to go out into the light, make your way home, or wherever you’re going to be.’ Part way into the writing of the song, I realized it was also about being born. My wife and I were expecting our first kid very soon after I wrote that song. I had birth on the brain, I was struck by what a funny pun it was to be bounced from the womb.”
The music video (see above) features two continuous shots, running side by side on the screen. One side shows the band playing the song in a rehearsal space. The other side features a woman (played by Denise Franco), who is playing the part of the singer Dan Wilson’s girlfriend. As the video progresses, Dan and his girlfriend switch sides of screen, as they attempt to meet up. At the end of the video, they both wind up at the same nightclub. However, they still end up missing each other by mere seconds and never meet up. The “trick” of the video is that each shot was done as one long, continuous shot, with no cuts or editing, and therefore relies on proper timing during the filming to get the two sides of the video lined up properly.
Editor’s Note: The sentiment of the song reminds me of my days (and nights) working in retail record stores and that overarching tension and impatient energy that fills everyone on a shift when it is closing time, and you are still waiting for the last ones to leave. It is a combination feeling of deliciousness and agony, that wait, knowing that a temporary “freedom” has almost arrived.