The other day I was out with some friends enjoying good conversation at a laid-back bar that provided some very competitive drink specials.
To give you the sort of scene, one of the people criticized Jack Kerouac and I told him to finish his whiskey and step outside, and when he said Allen Ginsberg was a hack, his girlfriend almost slapped him.
So I hope we weren’t “that” annoying group at the other table, but I’m fairly confident we were.
In any case, we were the youngest assemblage at this particular establishment and the emcee coerced us all into singing karaoke. One by one we sang The Beatles’ “All My Loving,” Sublime’s “Santeria” and Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”
Then it was getting to be the end of the night, and we managed to get a member of the group who hadn’t yet sung to go do Semisonic’s “Closing Time.”
Much has been written about this peculiar late-90s product of post-grunge; its ubiquity and role in the cultural landscape for a certain cohort of people turning the right age just before the new millennium can obscure the fact that it really is a pretty good, catchy song.
You’re sort of shocked at anyone younger than 40 who doesn’t know the three notes of “Clo-sing time” followed by at least a mumbled remembrance of the rest of the verse.
It’s a song particularly appropriate to the end of a night at a bar (“One last call for alcohol, so finish your whiskey or beer”) but actually about the songwriter’s newborn kids (“Open all the doors, and let you out into the world”; “I know who I want to take me home”). And it’s really cliche and used often for comedy.
But there’s one line that I’d heard many times and only listened to for the first time that night, ably sung and with sincerity as only a grown young man at the end of night fueled by ethanol can manage.
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”
It’s a phrase pregnant with meaning, broadly applicable and capable of sending one pondering.
I thought, “Hmm,” and the introspection started.
But the idea stopped rolling around in my head while I slept, and by the time I woke up I thought, “Wait a second, that’s a lyric from ‘Closing Time.’ I can’t think that’s anything but trite nonsense.”
Because it is, but then again, who cares?
Somehow we’ve gotten to a point of sophistication where it’s plebeian to honestly consider anything that’s popular to lots of people.
For anything you like at face-value, there’s a chance it will become popular some day, and you’ll be left saying, “I liked it before it was cool.” The more common danger is you’ll meet someone with even more obscure tastes than your own.
The only safe thing is to appreciate things ironically, which has left us at the sentimentally bankrupt moment in cultural time known as “Hipsterdom,” strip-mining all eras of the past for their earnestness because none can be produced now.
It’s a non-sustainable model for an aesthetic movement, and a day will come not soon enough when the most original thing to do will be to like things not because they’re popular, or because they’re not, but because you truly do like the thing on its own merits — with no meta-awareness and with tongue far away from cheek.
We certainly can’t stay here.