The coronavirus is taking its toll on the arts world. In the last 10 days, the disease has claimed the lives of jazz trumpeter Walace Roney and pianist Ellis Marsalis Jr. (father of Wynton and Bradford), country singer Joe Diffie, playwright Terrence McNally (Ragtime, Kiss of the Spider Woman), and many others. On April 1, my feeds were flooded with tributes to Adam Schlesinger, who died at 52.
You might not know his name but you've probably heard Schlesinger's work. The exceptionally prolific songwriter/producer/musician made scores of contributions to TV, film, and theater, most notably the title song “That Thing You Do!,” the one hit by the Wonders that powered the 1996 film directed by Tom Hanks, and 157 (!) songs co-written for the four-season run of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (series creator Rachel Bloom simply stated: “He was a genius”).
But Schlesinger is best-known for Fountains of Wayne, the power-pop-rock group he co-founded with Chris Collingwood in 1995. Their 1996 self-titled debut showcased the duo's knack for seared-in-your-brain melodies fused to offbeat narratives crammed with witty and exacting wordplay. They mined a rich musical tradition and put their own stamp on it; writer Glenn Kenny called it “pure pop that wears its multiform influences with all the modesty of a prom queen showing off her tiara.” Their career peak arrived in 2003 with Welcome Interstate Managers. It spawned the breakout hit “Stacy's Mom” (she's got it goin' on) and is packed with wry rockers and compelling ballads, including “Hackensack,” “Valley Winter Song,” “Bright Future In Sales,” and the now-haunting “All Kinds of Time.” The band's last disc, Sky Full of Holes, was released in 2011.
The best and most beloved music forges deep personal connections—its associations evolve and deepen through the years. The reason Adam Schlesinger's death made such an impact on me is linked to sharing the love for Fountains of Wayne with my sons. “That whole Interstate album is all about you and me driving around on those Saturday/Sunday afternoons,” my younger son, Jesse, wrote. “I often picture the coming-over-the-hill view of Apponaug, heading home from the Route 2 area when I hear 'Hackensack.' Not sure why there specifically, but it's burned into me.”
Adam Schlesinger's music enhanced our lives—a priceless gift. He'll be missed.
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