Wednesday, November 27, 2013

TMFW 12 - Closing Time for Billy Sverkerson

The first verse of the Minneapolis band Semisonic's unavoidable hit song Closing Time features the memorable line "you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here." The song was inspired by the experiences that Semisonic's lead singer Dan Wilson had getting kicked out of the 400 Bar in the West Bank of Minneapolis.  In this long appreciation from MPR of the now-defunct bar, where Bonnie Raitt hung out and The Jayhawks played in their nascent days, Wilson describes it this way: "when I was writing ‘Closing Time,’ I was definitely in my mind picturing—you know when it says ‘Open all the doors and let you out into the world’? I was definitely imagining leaving the 400 Bar, you know, to that intersection, to those streets late at night."
The line "you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here" was a sort of end-of-shift catchphrase of Billy Sverkerson, who was a bartender and longtime manager at the 400 Bar.  On Sunday morning, Sverkerson died of cancer.  He was 60 years old.  As you can see in the link, he was a well-loved part of the rich Minneapolis local music scene.  Since news of his passing spread, several musicians - including Ike Reilly and The Hold Steady's Craig Finn - have tweeted their affection and condolences.
May we all make such a contribution to our little worlds.
BONUS FACT:  Semisonic's drummer Jacob Slichter is a Harvard graduate, and is now a faculty member in the writing program at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.  Shortly after Semisonic's demise, he wrote a book about the band's rocket to stardom (and short trajectory back to Earth).  I read it when it first came out and it's really good.  He also wrote this fun piece for the New York Times about what it's like to attend the Grammy Awards, and this NYT opinion piece about radio pay-for-play.
BONUS FACT 2:  After his time in Semisonic, Dan Wilson continued in the music industry and has had big success as a solo performer, producer, and songwriter.  He contributed six songs to the Dixie Chicks' record Taking the Long Way, including co-writing the Grammy-winning "Not Ready to Make Nice," and he co-wrote, co-produced, and played the piano on Adele's Grammy-winning "Someone Like You," one of three songs he contributed to her album 21.  Not too shabby.
BONUS FACT 3:  There are probably versions of the 400 Bar - an unimposing, dingy bar that somehow felt just right and where the best acts came through - in most big cities around the country.  For me (and many St. Louisans) it was the late, great Mississippi Nights, where Beatle Bob danced and where I saw some of my favorite bands - including They Might Be Giants, Matthew Sweet, Material Issue, and Freedy Johnston - in my younger days.

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