From '90s Hit to Justin Timberlake Joke, Revisiting Semisonic's 'Closing Time'
by Shirley Halperin
12/6/2010 6:24pm PST
Thanks to the racy red band trailer for the forthcoming Justin Timberlake-Mila Kunis rom-com Friends with Benefits (not to be confused with the Ashton Kutcher-Natalie Portman vehicle No Strings Attached, which promises a similar plot), where a mid-coitus Kunis implores Timberlake to distract her with, what she calls, a Third Eye Blind song, Semisonic's 1998 hit "Closing Time" is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. Long used to shoo out bar patrons who had overstayed their welcome, it’s now officially entered the realm of pop culture punchline, which, for singer Dan Wilson, is both a huge compliment and cause for pause. Fortunately, not he nor the rest of the band, which includes drummer Jacob Slichter who wrote the 2004 book So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star, define their lives by this one radio moment that never went away. THR got in touch with Wilson, now a successful songwriter for hire (Josh Groban, Keith Urban), who recently moved to Los Angeles, to talk about the song’s legacy.
THR: As the person who wrote and sang “Closing Time,” how does it feel to see the song used as a gag?
Dan Wilson: I haven't seen the film yet, but the trailer just made me laugh. It is kind of funny to be looking at it from another perspective. And while I really like Justin Timberlake's music and singing, when he's doing a Dan Wilson impression, I'm not sure I like that. But it's very cute. I enjoyed that slight mockery. And the thing about Third Eye Blind is really funny.
THR: Is that a band Semisonic would often get mistaken for?
Wilson: Being from Minneapolis, we got mistaken for The Replacements, which was for us, quite an honor. But our drummer Jacob Slichter wrote a book called So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star and the first story in it is about some fans coming up to him very excitedly and kind of daring each other to talk to him. Finally, one of them says, "Are you the drummer from Everclear?" But I think being mistaken for your peers, like Third Eye Blind, makes total sense. I wonder who Third Eye Blind gets mistaken for.
THR: Do you feel a '90s resurgence coming on?
Wilson: There must be one because they pretty much sucked the '80s dry in the last couple of years. Silversun Pickups sound shockingly Smashing Pumpkins-esque at times. And pleasingly, it's not a bummer at all.
THR: Is that how you explain the comeback of “Closing Time?”
Wilson: I used to have this theory -- I called it the 11-year rule – where, after 11 years, a song gets a second life. It has to do with the fact that if your song is being heard by 13-year-olds at their most music-crazed period in life, then they get spit out into the world, and when they're 24, it somehow feels like that's the right time for their teenage obsession to return.
THR: So it’s about nostalgia?
Wilson: Somewhat, but also Semisonic was not really a Top 40 hit band. We thought of ourselves as an indie band and things just kind of got out of hand. Because of that, it was surprising to us when "Closing Time" became a giant single and really enjoyed by young teenagers. But when you're 19, 20 or 21, you're very concerned about what's credible. I don't know... It's all theorizing. But as far as the song, one thing about it is that it hasn’t really been turned into an ad campaign, it doesn't have a product attached to it. It's just its own thing. It's also very lyric-heavy for a rock song. A lot of people seem to know the words. And I've actually seen some incredible a cappella versions of it online.
THR: How did the song originally come together?
Wilson: It was written in 20 minutes. My bandmates were tired of ending our sets with the same song, so there was kind of an uprising where they demanded something different to end our nights with. So I thought, “OK, I'll write a song to close out the set,” and then boom, I wrote “Closing Time” really fast. There was one little adjustment later, which I credit to our A&R guy, Hans Haedelt. He said, "It's too simple. You need to break up the rhythm of the verses." So that line, "Gather up your jackets, move it to the exits, I hope you have found a friend" is the first time it deviates from the rhythmic pattern. He was right -- it's a great moment in the song.
THR: Hans was responsible for another iconic song from that decade, Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me.” What’s he doing now?
Wilson: He lives in Florida and zooms around on really fast boats.
THR: Not to sound crass, but are you living off of “Closing Time?”
Wilson: Not really. Other things I do have eclipsed it. The right song can be like an annuity but as it is, I can't just sip daiquiris and sit in the sun on "Closing Time." Sadly.
THR: But it must be used as the soundtrack to last call in bars all over the country…
Wilson: 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."
THR: Have you had the experience of hearing your song at the end of a night?
Wilson: Yes, I have been rousted out to the doors with my own song. [laughs]
THR: But I’ll bet you never imagined it playing as Justin Timberlake is going downtown on Mila Kunis, a scene that reportedly took two weeks of shooting to capture.
Wilson: It’s goofy and great. It's like pop culture — silly and profoundly awesome at the same time.
THR: And you’re not alone. From Will Ferell singing Andrea Bocelli’s “Por Ti Volare” in Stepbrothers, David Spade and the late Chris Farley rocking the Carpenters’ “Superstar” in Tommy Boy, and most recently, Natasha Bedingfield’s “Pocketful of Sunshine,” which was mocked in the movie Easy A, there’s a long history of using songs as punchlines…
Wilson: When the song hit the charts in early 1999, if there was any sort of mockery, I got really defensive about it. It would really bug me. But now I just see it as a tribute and an honor even to be made fun of. In a certain way, it just means people are infected with your idea.
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