R.I.P.: Adam Schlesinger

By now, I’m sure everyone has heard about the passing of this great pop songwriter from COVID-19. At the young age of 52, I suspect that this stunned a lot of us and brought more of a somber sense of reality to this current crisis. However, I could just not let his death pass without paying tribute to this man I so greatly admired.

I first became aware of his band, Fountains of Wayne, when I heard Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook perform one of their songs, “Red Dragon Tattoo,” at one of Glenn’s “free-for-all” solo shows. The songs’ bouncy pop beat and clever lyrics, let alone a reference to Brooklyn’s Coney Island, just had my name all over it. Living in a musical cave I guess, I soon picked FOW’s pop masterpiece LP, Utopia Parkway, and the bands’ eponymous debut LP that I had both previously overlooked.

Man, not only did I love these records, but I took kinship to this band from my home state of Jersey. I even knew where the garden store that they took their name from was! I followed through with all their subsequent records with passion also discovering Schlesinger’s other band, Ivy, along the way. I was also thrilled to see his movie and television soundtrack success and loved to proudly tell everyone that I was a big fan of the guy who wrote those songs. And while you likely already know Adam’s work in That Thing You Do! I highly recommend a movie that you may have missed, Music and Lyrics, for which he wrote songs for a fictional fading pop star played by Hugh Grant.

For FOW, its two co-founders, Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood took a Lennon/McCartney approach with shared songwriting credits although it is said that they often worked alone. I’m sure that with some effort I could learn who did what, but that never mattered much to me.

FOW’s mastery of clever pop songs was unparalleled. Many may know their biggest hit, “Stacey’s Mom,” but, if you need a further intro, in addition to the song I previously mentioned, listen to “I-95,” “Hackensack,” and “Leave the Biker” for starters.

Unfortunately, I only got to see FOW live once, here in Nashville back in 2009. For whatever stupid reason, there wasn’t more than 50 people in attendance and despite the empty room, they gave an amazing performance. While Collingwood was always the face of the band as its lead singer, I gave as much of my attention that night to Schlesinger on bass and backing vocals. I’m not sure if everyone else knew that he was more than just that to the band, but I knew that he had much to do with whatever Chris was singing.

Something that Adam said that night has always stuck with me. It was not so much what he said, but the sincerity with which he said it. Looking out over the small audience, instead of being disappointed with the turnout, he uncynically said “Thanks for coming to the concert.” I wished I could have had the chance to thank him in return.

Here’s Adam playing with Fountains of Wayne at the Exit/In on September 17, 2009.

Adam Schlesinger

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