dan wilson – a song can be about anything

Dan Wilson

I love Dan Wilson’s songs.

“Who’s that?” Why, he’s one of my generation’s greatest songwriters. “Really, never heard of him.” Well, I don’t blame you. Neither had I until recently. However, when I listened to his music and lyrics and became aware of his contribution to popular music, I realized Dan Wilson deserves to be well-known and acclaimed not only by music industry insiders.

Dan was in a band called Trip Shakespeare in the 1980s and then the power trio Semisonic in the 1990s. “Who’s that?” Well, I still don’t blame you. Both bands were doomed by shifting commercial music trends. Trip Shakespeare was making the scene in the late 1980s. Very poetic, poppy and, well, trippy – as per the neo-psychedelic alternative rock of that time (e.g. Rain Parade, The Church). When Nirvana’s punk/grunge rage exploded onto the music scene in 1991, Trip Shakespeare and other arty, cheerful bands were vaporized.

You probably don’t know who Semisonic is either, but I know with 99% certainty you are familiar with their music. Ever hear a little ditty called “Closing Time“? Well, if you haven’t, everyone else who was around in 1998 has, over and over. It was a massive chart-topping hit. Unfortunately for Semisonic, their record label didn’t know what to do with them as the music industry and MTV were enticing consumers with the harder, angrier rap-rock sound of bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit. Semisonic had more great songs, but without support from the record label they didn’t get much airplay, and the band was eventually dropped.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Dan Wilson is an utterly brilliant songwriter. Besides the aforementioned number one smash hit (for which he was nominated for a Grammy in 1999), Dan has co-written number one hits for Adele and Dierks Bentley. He’s won Grammy Awards, in 2012 for Adele’s “Someone Like You” (which he not only co-wrote, but also produced and played the piano part), and in 2007 for  the Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready to Make Nice”.  He’s co-written numerous songs for artists including  Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Carole King, Jason Mraz,  Pink, and Weezer, to name a few.

Even so, I’ll wager you’ve never heard of Dan Wilson, and that’s why I wrote this. Now you have.

I discovered Dan (and rediscovered Semisonic) thanks to the book So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star: How I Machine-Gunned a Roomful Of Record Executives and Other True Tales from a Drummer’s Life by Semisonic drummer Jacob Slichter. An incredibly entertaining book, it tells the story of the rise and fall of Semisonic from the sensitive drummer’s journals. The book is a primer on the music industry and is a must-read for aspiring music artists.

It also exposes what an exceptional human being Dan Wilson is.  He comes off as kind, thoughtful, and generous, with no evidence of ego. Not what you’d expect from a rock star.  I was surprised to learn that “Closing Time“, which was written off by many (including me) as a dumb drinking and hook-up anthem with a dash of dime-store philosophy, was actually written by Dan about childbirth and becoming a father. He’s one of those songwriters who has the ability to smuggle deep, personal meaning inside an apparently meaningless (but very catchy) tune.  He can also write devastatingly honest songs.

Like his songwriting collaborations, Dan Wilson’s's solo works are fantastic. His latest album, Love Without Fear, comes out April 2014, and I can’t stop playing the single “A Song Can Be About Anything”. It’s one of those songs that works magically, like love. At first you think she’s interesting and pretty, and then you can’t get her out of your head. 

No, it’s not edgy, hard and laced with EDM.  It’s raw, intelligent, sensitive, sad, and beautiful. 

It’s just another perfectly crafted pop-rock song by Dan Wilson.