Closing Time


I stopped blogging for a week, and a number of people asked if I was all right. The second-best answer I can give – at least here on the blog – is “Yes…considering the circumstances.”

As for the best answer, it’s a dream that I had Thursday night, after returning to my hotel room after a healthy dose of rye-and-cokes at a post-conference cocktail party in London, Ontario, and lying awake, having one of those long dark nights of the soul where you ask yourself so what do I do now? 

For the purposes of a public forum like this one, I think it does a pretty good job of capturing my state of mind without violating any confidences.

In the dream, I’ve got my accordion strapped on, and for some reason, I’m wearing the stereotypical mariachi band outfit – the kind that’s black with lots of gold trim. Around me are two dozen other guys and a couple of women. The guys vary in age from boys in their teens to men in their 60s and are dressed like I am, while for some reason the women are wearing old-school Swiss Chalet waitress uniforms, the type that had “beaucoup décolletage”.

mariachi band

One of the guys looks familiar, and it turns out to be Paco Ortega. I played accordion with his daughter Lindi, in an earlier incarnation of her band back in 2001, when she was doing shows in support of her first album. For the first few gigs, Paco was our band’s bassist, and in this dream, he had a big Rickenbacker bass slung over his shoulder.

“Paco," I ask him after shaking his hand, “What are you doing here? What’s going on?”

“I have no idea,” he replies, “I was at home, and suddenly, I’m here in this ridiculous costume.”

A quick glance around the room reveals that everyone else is in the same situation: no idea of how they got here or why they’re dressed that way. Upon closer inspection, I realize that everyone has an instrument in their hands: each of the men is holding some kind of instrument suitable for a mariachi band member, while the women have glockenspiels.

“Where are we?” asks one of the younger guys, craning his neck towards the high ceiling as he looks around. To my left is a brick wall with circuit breakers, big electrical switches and pegs securing ropes leading to the ceiling. To the right is a red velvet curtain about two storeys high. Above us are bright lights. I recognize our surroundings: we’re backstage at some kind of theatre.

My curiosity gets the better of me and I try to take a peek onstage to see where we are. As soon as I touch the curtain to move it aside, the backstage vanishes. The rear wall is now an acoustic “clamshell” four storeys tall, the ceiling is now a starless night sky with a distant airliner flying overhead and where there once was a curtain, there’s now an audience waiting patiently for a performance. The venue looks familiar, but I can’t place it. Luckily, Paco knows where we are.

“Holy shit,” he says with a hushed voice. “This is the Hollywood Bowl.”

hollywood bowl

We’re all trying to make sense of our surroundings when we hear an ostinato piano riff start. The audience is leaning forward, in anticipation of a performance. Onstage, we mariachi/Swiss Chalet players are giving each other very confused looks. The piano part sounds familiar, but I can’t place it. Where have I heard it before?

That’s when I notice a little cubbyhole upstage, dead centre. In it is a musical director, whose face and gestures clearly say will you idiots start already, the audience is waiting!

The piano riff stops, and moments later, starts again. It’s a second attempt at the performance. The musical director is clearly agitated and the audience is beginning to look concerned and annoyed.

We do nothing except stare upstage, all of us with a “deer caught in the headlights” expression on our faces.

The riff stops again, then starts over again: it’s the third attempt. In the audience, a couple of people start making their way to the exits, while the rest of them whisper amongst themselves. A couple of the mariachi players are slinking offstage, trying desperately not to be noticed. It’s like one of those “Play me off, Johnny!” moments from Family Guy.

play me off johnny

The musical director is pointing at his temple with his index and middle finger, with his thumb raised, pantomiming the act of blowing his brains out with a gun.

I’m deep in the middle of every performer’s worst nightmare.

microphone audience

For a brief moment, I contemplate getting offstage, but then it hits me: I recognize the piano riff. It’s the vamp for Semisonic’s pub anthem, Closing Time – a pop song that I remember for the line “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end“ (The Wikipedia entry for the song says that this line is a direct quote from Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger). Recognizing the song inspires me, and at that point I decide that rather than retreat, we should perform the number.

I unstrap my accordion’s bellows and started testing out notes on the keyboard in order to identify the chords (I do this at karaoke all the time). In the dream, I identify them as C – G – Dm – F.

(When I woke up and did a search for the chords, it turned out that the actual chords are G – D – Am – C, which is the same chord progression, just in a different key.)

The younger guys in the group recognize the song, and start to play. I yell out the chords to the older guys. I don’t have to tell Paco; he’s already picked out the chords and is playing a suitable bassline.

“Someone take out their phone!” I yell to my newfound bandmates. “Look up the lyrics!”

The song takes shape, and by the second verse, we’ve hit our stride. When the song hits its climax, with the repeated lines of “I know who I want to take me home”, it’s a glorious crescendo of accordions, Spanish guitars, trumpets, castanets, maracas and glockenspiels, bringing it to a perfect, if completely unorthodox, finish. The audience roars with approving applause and gives us a “Standing O”. As we bow, one of the glockenspiel-playing, low-cut Swiss Chalet uniform-wearing girls runs across the stage and puts her arms around me.

“You’re such a glocktease,” I tell her, and the dream ends.

I think my subconscious is trying to tell me something.

6 replies on “Closing Time”

I think I know where this is headed. It’s obviously sad. You have become an iconic presence. Sort of the Sam The Record Man of Toronto cyberspace. But times have changed and, if I read your dream right, it’s a “bottle rocket” time we all must learn to embrace.

[…] Closing Time: Yes, as in the pop song by Semisonic. It’s the story of a weird dream I had, and it’s one in which I drop a hint or two. A tale of unexpected situations, Mariachi bands, pressure and the low-cut uniforms the waitresses at Swiss Chalet used to wear. […]

Leave a Reply