Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Late Great Adam Schlesinger

Those who know me well know that quite possibly my favourite subgenre of rock music is power pop. Among my favourite latter day power pop bands numbers Fountains of Wayne. From 1996 to 2011 Fountains of Wayne recorded a series of albums filled with hook-laden power pop songs written by Adam Schesinger and Chris Collingwood. I have been a fan of Fountains of Wayne ever since that first album. Of course, Adam Schlesinger had a career that when well beyond Fountains of Wayne. Prior to Fountains of Wayne he had recorded with indie pop Ivy. He was later part of the supergroup Tinted Windows. Adam Schlesinger wrote the song "That Thing You Do!" for the 1996 movie of the same name, as well as "Pretend to Be Nice" for Josie and the Pussycats and yet other songs for other movies. Sadly, Adam Schlesinger died yesterday, April 1 2020, from complications caused by COVID-19. He was 52 years old.

Adam Schlesinger was born in New York City on October 31 1967. He grew up in Montclair, New Jersey. From when he was a young child he played music and wrote songs. It was also as a young child that he took notice of a lawn ornament shop in Wayne, New Jersey called Fountains of Wayne. He told his mother that Fountains of Wayne would be a great band name. Adam Schlesinger attended Montclair High School. After high school he studied philosophy at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. It was there that he met Chris Collingwood.

After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from Williams College, Adam Schlesinger moved to New York City. It was there that he answered an ad placed by Andy Chase. Together the two formed Ivy with Dominique Durand. In 1994 Seed Records signed Ivy. Their first single, "Get Enough," was released that same year. Their debut album, Realistic, followed in 1995. Ivy made five more albums: Apartment Life (1997); Long Distance (2000); Guestroom (2002); In the Clear (2005); and All Hours (2011).

It was after Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood reconnected that the two of them formed a band. Chris Collingwood had played with the band The Mercy Buckets. The band went through such names as Woolly Mammoth and Are You My Mother? before settling on Fountains of Wayne. Fountains of Wayne was signed to Atlantic Records and their self-titled, debut album was released in 1996. While the album did not chart, their debut single "Radiation Vibe," met some success, reaching no. 14 on the Billboard alternative chart. Their debut album was followed by the album Utopia Parkway in 1999. Utopia Parkway also did not chart. Their single, "Denise," did respectively well, reaching no. 34 on the Billboard alternative chart. Unfortunately, it would be later in 1999 that Atlantic Records dropped Fountains of Wayne.

Fountains of Wayne would be inactive for a time before the release of their next album, Welcome Interstate Managers on S-Curve Records.  The album produced the hit "Stacy's Mom," which peaked at no. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100. Welcome Interstate Managers went to no. 115 on the Billboard album chart. It was followed by Traffic and Weather in 2007, which went to no. 97 on the Billboard album chart. Their final album, Sky Full of Holes, was released in 2011. It charted higher than any of their previous albums, peaking at no. 37 on the Billboard album chart, no. 4 on the Billboard alternative album chart, no. 3 on the Billboard indie chart, and no. 6 on the Billboard rock chart. Unfortunately, tensions between Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood would lead to the band never recording again.

Adam Schlesinger was also a part of the supergroup Tinted Windows. In addition to Adam Schlesinger, Tinted Windows also consisted of singer Taylor Hanson of Hanson and Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick. The band recorded one, self-titled album released in 2009.

In addition to his work with Ivy and Fountains of Wayne, Adam Schlesinger also served as a producer for several acts over the years. Over the years he produced such artists as Dan Bryk, They Might Be Giants, America, Bowling for Soup, The Sounds, and The Monkees. Adam Schlesinger served as the producer for synth pop duo Fever High. He produced both their 2015 EP All Work and their 2017 album FHNY.

Adam Schlesinger also wrote songs for motion pictures. He wrote the title song for the movie That Thing You Do! (1996), for which he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song. He wrote the songs "Pretend to Be Nice" and "Come On" for Josie and the Pussycats. Over the years he provided songs for such movies as There's Something About Mary (1998), Me, Myself & Irene (2001), Insomnia (2002), Robots (2005), and Music and Lyrics (2007).

Mr. Schlesinger worked extensively in television. He wrote theme music for the TV shows The Dana Carvey Show, The Howard Stern Radio Show, My Kind of Town, Too Late with Adam Carolla, Crank Yankers, Kathy, Wedding Band, The Haunted Hathaways. and Supernoobs. He served as executive music producer for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and contributed several songs to the show. He received several Emmy nominations for his work on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and in 2019 he won the Emmy Awards for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics for "Antidepressants Are So Not a Big Deal" for the show.

Adam Schlesinger also worked in theatre. With David Javerbaum, he co-wrote the songs for the 2007 musical theatre adaptation of the John Waters film Cry-Baby. He wrote the closing song "I Have Faith in You" for David Javerbaum's 2015 play An Act of God. He had been collaborating with Sara Silverman on a musical based on her memoir The Bedwetter and with Rachel Bloom of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on a musical adaptation of the TV show The Nanny.

Fountains of Wayne has always been one of my favourite latter day power pop bands, and Adam Schlesinger is one of my favourite songwriters. He had a talent for writing catchy, hook-laden pop songs that get stuck in one's head. What is more, the songs were always so good that one didn't mind them replaying in one's mind over and over. Mr. Schlesinger also addressed an audience largely ignored by rock music, those members of the middle class who longed for something more. The subject matter of Fountains of Wayne covered everything from despondent businessmen to adolescent boys fantasising about their friends' mothers. Adam Schlesinger was capable of both humour and pathos in his songs. Often they would be present in the same song.

While Adam Schlesinger was a songwriting genius, he was one who was more than willing to collaborate with others. The songs of Fountains of Wayne were always credited to Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood.  On Crazy Ex-Girlfriend he worked with Rachel Bloom and music supervisor Jack Dolgen. Adam Schlesinger may have had considerable talent, but he was not afraid to share that talent with others.

Adam Schlesinger was never a superstar. It was only as part of Fountains of Wayne that he was a front man and even then he shared that position with Chris Collingwood. Despite this, one could not dismiss Adam Schlesinger as just another composer of hook-laden pop songs. Quite simply, he was a master craftsman, perfectly aware of the emotional impact of a combination of lyrics, the progression of certain chords, and even changes in volume. As a master craftsman of power pop, Adam Schlesinger ranks along such greats as Ray Davies, Pete Townshend, Rick Nielsen, John Auer, and Ken Stringfellow. He may never have been a superstar, but he will never be forgotten.

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