I wanted to be the one who wrote thoughts about Adam Schlesinger, who was part of the beautiful group Fountains Of Wayne as well as a man who dipped his toes into songs for television, movies, and the stage. Schlesinger died on Wednesday due to complications from coronavirus at the age of 52.
So, why can’t I fucking think of anything to say?
I’ve often said, and this is in no way an original thought, that there are two types of bands: the kind of band that makes music that no one else can, and the type of band that makes music that it feels like everyone else can. That first type includes bands like Radiohead, Pink Floyd, The Flaming Lips, and late-era Wilco. The second type, which I find much more interesting, includes bands like Fountains Of Wayne.
Saying that they made music that it felt like everyone could make isn’t an insult; it’s an order of the highest compliment. This is the kind of music which we usually love to sing along to in the car or listen to when we need to be picked up after a hard day. It’s universal and everyman, and that’s important. Because, whether we all want to admit it or not, we all want to feel like we’re connected with people. Thom Yorke is one of the five best songwriters who has ever lived, but no one wants to feel like a paranoid android.
Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood wrote songs about growing up in the suburbs; falling in love and wasting your days and figuring out what you want to be when you get older. Their lyrics are simple and universal; they knew that if you only needed to say, “I wanna sink to the bottom with you,” then that’s all you should say, because that’s all you need to say. The chorus of “She’s Got A Problem”, from 1996’s self-titled album is simply, “She’s got a problem and she’s gonna do something dumb”. And, yeah… it’s not Shakespeare. But, you know what? Fuck Shakespeare. Who understands half of the things that bozo is saying, anyways?
Fountains Of Wayne’s first three albums (the self-titled, 1999’s Utopia Parkway, and 2003’s Welcome Interstate Managers) are all near-perfect classic exercises in power-pop, with Collingswood and Schlesinger taking co-writing credits on every song (though, both would admit that they never co-wrote a song). In fact, their worst song on any of these albums is probably their most popular. This isn’t to say that “Stacy’s Mom” is a bad song; but it’s their most obvious and cloying number. Riding the success of this song, the band would receive a Best New Artist nomination for the 2004 Grammys, which is just continued proof of how fucking stupid that nominating committee is.
The band would release two more albums before going on a hiatus that they would never return from. How will the history of this band be written? Honestly, it probably depends on who is doing the writing. I think it would be easy for some to write this band off as a one-hit wonder act that got lucky with a dumb hit and a great video that was never able to repeat that success. But to those, like me, who loved the band, Fountains Of Wayne helped write some of the best sing-along anthems for only a decade.
Much like the characters in one of his songs, Adam Schlesinger was a guy doing a lot of things that he would never get credit for.
Dude was an absolute workhorse who got nominated for every branch of the EGOT (winning three Emmys and a Grammy, while losing his Oscar and two Tony nominations). He wrote songs for the reunited Monkees, and helped shape songs for My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. He worked with comedians because his lyrics could be stingingly funny and he worked with major television awards shows because he knew how to make something sound important and impressive.
It’s so easy to understand why Tom Hanks tapped Schelsinger to compose the theme to That Thing You Do! It’s a simple, straight-forward love song that is perfect for that time… and our time… and, really, any and every time. It’s why I don’t think the history book will ever be closed on Fountains of Wayne or Schlesinger. People will keep finding these songs. People will keep seeing the meaning in them and falling in love with them.
And it’s so sad we won’t be able to get more.