“…though I will defend Semisonic,” I said, watching as she rolled her eyes and feigned a desire to leave. “I mean, that one song wasn’t good enough to deserve the success they had, but they had several other songs that were actually really good.”
I am a sucker for all things meta, especially music about loving music. Strand of Oaks’ “Goshen ’97,” Harvey Danger’s “Little Round Mirrors,” and Jimmy Eat World’s “A Praise Chorus” have all been in personal high rotation over the years for that very reason. But Semisonic’s “Singing in my Sleep,” a mixtape-worthy song about mixtapes, came before any of the rest.
Ignore the excessively-’90s video above—What was it about that blue-green hue in 1998, anyway?—and listen to the sentiment. A song about songs from a different era, which now feels like one itself, “Singing In My Sleep” was about mixtapes at the dawn of the mix CD, which is now a relic far gone itself. The last mix CD anyone made me was in 2012, and that was a special occasion. Sadly, there’s no point anymore.
Like so many one-hit wonders, it was that one hit that crushed them. “Closing Time” turned the band into Icarus, rising too high, and falling fast from there. I’ve been at too many karaoke nights where two of their songs appeared in the book—”Secret Smile” was a hit in Europe—and people wondered aloud when Semisonic released a second song.
But since then, their skills have been rewarded. Dan Wilson’s talent for churning out intriguing lyrics, such as “I’ve been living in your cassette/It’s the modern equivalent/Singing up to a Capulet/On a balcony in your mind,” went unappreciated in the band’s days, but he’s since become one of the most respected songwriters in the industry, winning multiple Grammys for working with artists like the Dixie Chicks and Adele. Drummer/keyboardist (at the same time!) Jacob Slichter wrote a tremendous memoir about the band’s brief success, revealing how a smart, literate band wound up in a video as half-baked as the one above. And, well, John Munson’s doing something.
“Singing In My Sleep” wasn’t ever what it should have been, for the band or for me. I held on to it too close for too long, planning on including it in a mixtape for someone I really loved, someone who understand that its presence was meant as a wink, never expecting that the CD era would come and go before she ever arrived. But that’s life. Not every band is remembered the way they should be, and not every girl arrives when you want.