Friday, October 4, 2013

Coffee is for Closers - Closing Time by Semisonic

Yesterday we looked at a classic '80's power ballad. It had all the themes that were important in the '80's. Power. Ballads. Scarves. Cowboys. Today I want to talk about a song from the '90's. The band would probably not admit it, but it is definitely also a power ballad.

"Closing Time" by Semisonic:

It has quiet, sensitive verses and a rockin' chorus. I'm pretty sure that's what Dr. Johnson included as the definition of a power ballad in his original dictionary. Of course, later scholars edited out that entry along with those for Oldsmobile, internet cafe, and Craisins. That guy was really ahead of his time.

This video is a live without an audience video that includes a subplot. This is usually a good choice for a video because you get to see the band up close and personal but you don't get bored because they only make two different faces while playing. Semisonic's twist on this format is pretty smart. They do a split screen where half the screen is the rocking and the other half is the subplot.

Here the woman goes about her tasks closing up a restaurant or coffee shop or something while the bass player plays a piano sensitively.

The band goes about setting up as an inverse of the woman's putting away. The woman makes a phone call.

I feel like this shot is some sort of cultural artifact. The woman is on a pay phone. The phone she is calling is a rotary telephone (when you are talking about a rotary you can't just say phone, it is always telephone). The telephone is attached to an answering machine and that answering machine takes cassette tapes. One day we'll have to explain all of this to our kids.

The singer misses the call. Luckily he has the answering machine so he gets still gets the message that they should meet at 10 PM. Based on the clock in the background that should be in 15 minutes.

The chorus comes around and it is time to rock out. Since Semisonic is pretty white bread they don't rock out too hard, but this is the power part of the power ballad.

In the second verse it is closing time. Hey, that's the name of the song!

It's a little subtle, so let me break that down for you. Closing:


Guys, we can all hear the words to the song. There's no need to beat our heads in with it. Closing time. Closing time. Closing time.

At this point the singer puts down his guitar.

I love that he removed the "hall" from his Marshall amp so it just says "Mars". I don't know if that's like a thing, but if it isn't then it's definitely cool. Probably the coolest thing about the dorky singer in this video.

Now that the singer has left the performance, he appears on the left side of the screen in the subplot. Man, they really are having fun with this concept!

The singer walks over to the restaurant or coffee shop or whatever to meet the woman.

But it is closed! Because it was closing time! Didn't he look at his watch earlier and see that it was time to close? This is a major continuity error in this video.

Meanwhile, the woman traveled to the performance to meet the singer, but he is not there.

During the bridge the music is just strings, piano, and drums (possibly a drum machine). They decide to represent this in the performance section of the screen as a record playing. That is pretty cool! It keeps the video small scale rather than all of the sudden having a quartet there, playing their hearts out.

Having missed each other at their respective workplaces, both the singer and the woman just decide to go to the party.

They search for each other.

All of the sudden the singer appears on the left side of the screen. The woman was just there!

After approximately 15 seconds of searching the singer just gives up. "I don't know, dudes," he says. "I don't see her anywhere."

On the face of it, this seems like a failed date. You have to remember, though, that Semisonic is from Minnesota. And while I was not born in Minnesota and do not live there currently, I am also from Minnesota so I can interpret this video correctly.

Minnesotans don't look people in the eye. They don't like talking about how they feel. Ideally, they have essentially no interaction with other human beings. Every time a Minnesotan sees someone they recognize they are filled with anxiety because they know they have to say something to that person. Minnesotans don't have anything to say to anyone, so they hope the person is satisfied with a vague reference to the weather. "Some weather we're having!" the Minnesotan will say, trying to walk briskly past the person they're addressing. If the other person is also a Minnesotan they will say, "You betcha!" That will be the end of it. But what if the other person doesn't understand Minnesotan social rules? What if they talk at length about how the weather is affecting them personally? Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat imagining just that situation. It's best to never see anyone.

As a result, this video depicts the perfect Minnesotan date. The singer and the woman communicate via a recorded message and then never see each other, yet they can say that they were at the party together. They don't have to look at each other or speak to each other and that's just about perfect. Later, their moms might ask, "How was that date?" They will say, "Pretty good. We went to a party." And that will be the end of it.



  1. You should check out their video for "Singing in my Sleep". The singer has these killer "scissor leg" dance moves when he's rocking out. It has a nice subplot as well including anti-authoritarian themes.

  2. But what's the deal with his t-shirts? The writing on it keeps changing. I think it's too deep for me.