The 1998 number-one hit song “Closing Time” by the alternative rock band Semisonic seemed like just another feel-good, 1990s-style ballad about closing down a bar and looking for someone to go home with. It turns out it was writer Dan Wilson’s cryptic love song to his unborn daughter Coco.
“They think it’s about being bounced from a bar, but it’s about being bounced from the womb,” he said.
Coco, who is now 17, suffered complications from a premature birth and has cognitive disabilities. “She recovers every day from her shaky beginnings,” Wilson said in 2007. “She’s incredibly upbeat and creative.”
“Closing Time” was released in March 1998 as the lead single from Semisonic’s album Feeling Strangely Fine. The song, subtitled “Cut the Cord,” received a nomination for the Grammy Award for Best Rock Song in 1999 and reached number one on the Modern Rock Tracks.
Dan Wilson, the band’s lead singer and songwriter, revealed the song’s meaning at his 25th college reunion at Harvard. Wilson explained to his fellow alumni that when expecting their daughter, he didn’t want to write a cliché song like so many others do to commemorate the occasion:
Bandmates, he said,
instinctively know that as soon as junior arrives on the scene, the next thing that’s going to come is a song about junior, written by the singer, guaranteed to be that singer’s favorite song he or she ever wrote…
It gets personal because when my wife Diane and I were expecting our one and only child, I knew this. I knew that my bandmates… were feeling that dread. So I did what any good sneak would do, and I hid my junior song, and I did it in plain view, which is where a good sneak knows is the best place to hide something. And I hid it so well in plain view that millions and millions of people heard the song and bought the song and didn’t get it.
They think it’s about being bounced from a bar, but it’s about being bounced from the womb.
But writing the song was not the end. No sooner did Semisonic begin producing the album, than Dan Wilson’s wife delivered their baby girl Coco three months premature and weighing only 11 ounces. For months they were not certain that little Coco would survive and Wilson would leave the studio several times a day to visit his struggling daughter in the neonatal intensive care unit.
And then, in an extraordinary coincidence, the very day that the single “Closing Time” hit the airwaves, Coco was finally released from the hospital and allowed to go home after almost a year.
As Dan accompanied Coco home in an ambulance, the driver looked up into the rearview mirror and asked, “Hey, aren’t you in Semisonic?”
“Wow. I just heard your new song on the radio.”
And the song’s lyrics suddenly took on a whole new meaning:
“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!”
Wilson has had a stellar career both as writer and producer, writing hit songs for Brooke Fraser, Jason Mraz, Dixie Chicks, KT Tunstall, P!nk, Adele and LeAnn Rimes, and producing for Taylor Swift, Adele, Dixie Chicks, Birdy and Nas.
More than ten years later Dan and his wife decided to adopt a second child, named Lily. “It was pretty funny how many people told me before Lily came that having two kids is ‘ten times harder’ than having one,” wrote Wilson. “Really? Maybe it’s twice as hard, twice as expensive, etc… But ten times? Why is everyone so eager to complain about children?”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome