Last night a number of friends e-mailed or texted me to share the news of Adam Schlesinger’s death. Schlesinger (as I’m sure you all know by now) was the co-founder of Fountains of Wayne with fellow Williams graduate Chris Collingwood. Named after a lawn ornament store in New Jersey, Fountains of Wayne also featured Jody Porter on lead guitar and Brian Young on drums. Together the foursome produced five exceptional albums of clever, infectious pop music between 1996-2011. Schlesinger’s talents and influence extended well beyond his own band to other projects including Ivy, Tinted Windows, and a multitude of songwriting projects for movie soundtracks like That Thing You Do, There’s Something About Mary, and Josie and the Pussycats, to name a few. Adam died yesterday at the age of 52, taking with him many years of music we will never get to hear.
One of my fondest memories of Fountains of Wayne is from 2013. The US was in the midst of a government shutdown and I was experiencing my first furlough as a USG employee along with several friends in the neighborhood. Word got around that Evan Dando from The Lemonheads, Soul Asylum and Fountains of Wayne were offering a special buy-one-get-one free ticket deal to their show at the 9:30 Club. It had been a while since I’d last seen the band perform, probably in support of their 2007 album Traffic and Weather. My good friend and long-time musical mentor Steve—who had the keen ear to sign the band twice(!); once to Atlantic Records in 1996 and a second time in 2002 to S-Curve Records where he was executive vice-president—had kindly finagled me onto the guest list at the 9:30 that night, even though the band was no longer on his label. In 2013, the two bands spent the tour alternating back and forth over time slots, and on October 9, Fountains of Wayne headlined the show. It would be the last time they ever played the 9:30 Club. Despite the enthusiastic, sold-out crowd, the band seemed a little tired and somewhat daunted following a surprisingly blistering set by Soul Asylum. They leaned heavily on Welcome Interstate Managers and only performed three songs from their latest, under appreciated release, Sky Full of Holes. Throughout the show, Collingwood kept teasing the audience with the opening chords to their mega-hit, “Stacy’s Mom,” and then stop and play something else. When they finally did give the audience what they wanted, it was an odd rendition of the song that didn’t sound much like the original recording or match its hit-song intensity. There was a tinge of reluctance to the performance, as if to say “We have so many other great songs and this is the one you clamor for incessantly? C’mon!” Don’t get me wrong. It was Fountains of Wayne, so even with a haze of malaise hanging in the air, the show was brilliant and fun. The perfect antidote to troubling times that added to a memorable evening, which stretched late into the night with many “furlough beers” consumed afterwards in several Columbia Heights watering holes; graciously chaperoned by my son, Andy.
I am glad I got to see Fountains of Wayne that night, and I am sad I will never get to see them again. I am also downhearted and angry that we have lost a very talented musician at such a young age. That said, even though I have done it in the past, and I’m sure I will do it again in the future, I hate using this post to memorialize the dead. Did you know you can google “musicians who have died from the coronavirus?” That query, as of now, will serve up a long (growing) list that includes Adam Schlessinger; jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis Jr.; new wave pop singer Cristina; jazz trumpeter Wallace Rooney; and guitarist Alan Merrill (best known for writing “I Love Rock n’ Roll,” which Joan Jett covered and made a hit), to name a few. Do you know what you can’t google? “Fathers who have died from coronavirus.” “Mothers who have died from coronavirus.” “Teachers who have died from coronavirus.” “Nurse’s who have died from coronavirus.” “Best friends who have died from coronavirus.” Trust me, I don’t mean to belittle or dismiss any deaths this pandemic has perpetrated, but I do think it’s important to keep things in perspective as this terrible toll rises. Yes, by all means, honor the dead. Mourn their passing and celebrate their lives. I’m sure I will not be the only one working my way through their Fountains of Wayne catalog today. But I’m pretty sure Adam Schlesinger himself wouldn’t want anyone to make a bigger deal of his demise than any of his fellow human beings who have suffered the same cruel fate. This pandemic is indifferent to “celebrity status.” I think at the end of the day, we should be too. We are all in this thing together. And together most of us will see better days. I hope I haven’t offended. I only mean to offer some balanced perspective, and, of course, the Happy Medium Song of the Day which is Fountains of Wayne and an unexpected and apropos cover of the Kinks 1981 song “Better Things” from the 2002 release, This Is Where I Belong - The Songs of Ray Davies & The Kinks. You don’t need me to play you “Stacy’s Mom.” C’mon! (Please use the comments box to share your thoughts.)
1967 - 2020
1967 - 2020