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The Meaning of Semisonic’s “Closing Time”

When you hear the opening chords to Semisonic’s 1998 hit “Closing Time”, you know what it means. The bar’s getting ready to close, and if you want another drink you better scoot your butt over to the bar and place an order because it’s about to be too late.

Dan Wilson of Semisonic couldn’t have known that the song, which was released as the lead single off their 1998 album Feeling Strangely Fine, would go on to be so widely-recognized (though some falsely credit it to Third Eye Blind), even more than two decades since its release, as the universal bar closing anthem.

However, according to a 2010 interview with Hollywood Reporter, Wilson did write the song to be played as the final song at Semisonic’s shows.

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.

Dan Wilson on the creation of “Closing Time” by Semisonic.

Wilson dug his own grave by writing “Closing Time”, because while it does work great as the last song on a setlist, it became a massive success, topping the Billboard Modern Rock chart in the U.S. and reaching number 8 overall.

Thus, Semisonic were doomed to play “Closing Time” last until the end of time.

Let’s take a look at these lyrics, which I’m sure many of you know by heart:

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

First verse to “Closing Time” by Semisonic.

The meaning in this first verse is pretty straightforward, with Wilson describing what happens at every bar just before closing time, when the bartenders shout last call and people gather with their partners to prepare for the journey to… wherever their hearts may lead them. As long as it’s not this bar, because they’re closing ’til tomorrow.

In the chorus, we hear the drunken cries of desire as Wilson croons about knowing who he wants to take him home:

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

Chorus to “Closing Time” by Semisonic.

Things are pretty obvious until we get to the second verse, which injects a deeper layer of meaning to the song that is often overlooked by drunken bar-going listeners:

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, yeah

Second verse to “Closing Time” by Semisonic.

In this verse, Wilson puts a twist on things that brings into the song something that he was been experiencing in his life at the time. While he was writing “Closing Time”, his wife was pregnant with his daughter, Coco, and he drew a parallel in his mind between childbirth and the closing of a bar, when patrons enter the world outside.

Here’s what he said about it to American Songwriter in 2019:

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.

Dan Wilson on the meaning of “Closing Time”, 2019.

Specifically, there are two lines in the second verse that relate to this, with the first being “Time for you to go out to the places you will be from”. This line has a double meaning, because the bar patrons are going out to return to their lives, but his daughter was entering the world, and would soon be growing up and establishing herself.

Next, is the lyric that goes, “this room won’t be open ’til your brothers or your sisters come”, by which he means that he has reserved another room in the house for future children to be born.

After the second verse, Semisonic rock out for another chorus, followed by the bridge and two more choruses. This is the part where the bartender prepares to say, “sorry, we’re closed” to the next person who walks up.

Because it’s half past “Closing Time”, and that bartender is ready to call it a night. You should be, too, but you could also go down the street to your buddy’s apartment and stay up ’til the break of day.

Watch the music video for “Closing Time” by Semisonic below.