Songs and ceremonies: Semisonic, “Closing Time” (1998)

Quickly, now – think of the last wedding that you attended.  What was the song that the bride and groom danced their first dance to?

Now, think again – can you name a song that was referenced in the ceremony itself?

I’m guessing that the first question was a lot easier than the second one.  The traditional marriage rite often leaves little room for substitution or creativity.  As one who was raised Catholic, there is a sameness to the wedding ceremony (and often the Mass itself) that signals a predictability.  As a child I worked out quickly that 45 minutes = church.  You wouldn’t get out any earlier, but you rarely would be there any longer than that.

This past weekend I attended a family wedding.  (Congrats again to cousin Dave and new-cousin Lindsey.)  The ceremony was on the campus of Carroll University near Milwaukee, and the service was non-traditional in a few ways.  First, the officiant gave a fantastically customized talk about the path that the couple took to get to that day.  Rarely have I sat through a sermon that was so personal and compelling. Often, the sermon sounds thrown together in an attempt to appear contemporary, and it misses the mark.  (Case in point: I will never forget a Christmas eve service I attended in high school.  Our elderly pastor tried to cash in on the popular Christmas gifts that year. “Many of the young people here will be getting computers for Christmas.  And, in many ways, Christ is like a computer.”  A sudden case of the church giggles prevented me from remembering anything after that.)

The music in the ceremony caught my attention. As a processional for the wedding party, the musicians performed an instrumental version of “H.O.L.Y.” by the Florida-Georgia Line, and it worked.  At the portion of the ceremony where the unity candle is lit, a female vocalist gave a moving rendition of Keith Urban’s “Making Memories of Us.”  The ceremony had customization all over it, and it stood out.

My own wedding ceremony had a bit of customization that we did not expect.  Everything about the ceremony carried the hallmarks of a traditional Catholic rite. That is to say until we got to the ceremony.  Our officiant, Fr. Mark Przybysz, dropped a pop culture reference that the younger half of the room appreciated.  (Father Mark isn’t one to just drop such references for attention: each year he challenges radio legend Kevin Matthews to a cooking contest as a fundraiser for his parish.  The two are fast friends.) As the sermon unfolded, Father Mark drew on what he observed in his first job working in his family’s bar and restaurant. He explained that you get to a point in your life when you stop looking for the temporary and seek the permanent.  Put another way, you know who you want to take you home when the bar closes.  A smirk went up through the church among everyone under about 35.  Did Father Mark just work Semisonic lyrics into the sermon?  Yes.  Yes, he did. Well played, Padre.

“Closing Time” made #25 on the Billboard charts, #1 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart, and won the Grammy for Best Rock Song in 1999. If you ever get to Miller Park to see a Brewers game – which I recommend that you do – it’s usually the last song you hear as they “close the bar” and send everyone home for the night.

Through the course of our lives, we attend numerous weddings and funerals.  There is a sameness to them that causes them to blur.  When you couple this with the emotionally-charged state we’re in when we attend them, it’s easy to forget the details. But sometimes, there’s a component that veers just askew of the norm that gives us the occasion to remember one detail, and popular music serves well as that component.

You can hear the song, separated from sermon, here.

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