Remembering Adam Schlesinger

In the late spring of 2002, I abandoned Missouri and the problems I was facing in the state of misery (Missery) for Nashville, Tennessee. I stayed with my Aunt and Uncle, the same Uncle David this blog is dedicated to. While trying to clear my head and figure out my next move, I spent my days eating ice cream sandwiches, reading Harry Potter books, and listening to the 1996 self-titled debut album from Fountains of Wayne. I found the band reading CD reviews on Amazon and downloaded a few tracks on Limewire (remember those days?). Promptly falling in love, me and Uncle David went down to Nashville’s Tower Records, where I picked up the album on shiny compact disc.

When we got back to his house, we put the album on and sat there smiling like idiots. I distinctly remember saying I thought my Oasis-loving sister would probably dig the record, too. “Oh yeah,” David said, grinning. “She’s gonna love this shit.” And when I got home and played it for her, my sister did like it. For a few months, Fountains of Wayne was our little secret, and then one day, “Stacey’s Mom” exploded on the radio.

I bought WELCOME INTERSTATE MANAGERS, the album that spawned “Stacey’s Mom,” and enjoyed the hell out of that record, too. But after that, I kind of dropped off the Fountains of Wayne bandwagon. Sadly, I was entering my indie rock phase, and the band had grown too popular. This was one of many dumbshit moves I’ve made in my career appreciating music. The lead singer/songwriter of Fountains of Wayne, Adam Schlesinger, was a master power-pop craftsman. His worst songs are all still worth listening to and are frankly better than the output of average bands.

Adam was more than just the dude from Fountains of Wayne, however. He was also in the criminally underrated supergroup Tinted Windows. Tinted Windows was Adam, Taylor Hanson, James Iha (The Smashing Pumpkins), and the legendary Bun E. Carlos. If you have never heard the Tinted Windows album, I implore you to stop reading this and go listen to it. Top to bottom, that record is 100% pure power-pop bliss. It made me change my mind about Hanson: that’s how good it is. Adam also wrote music for films and television shows too. He wrote “That Thing You Do!” for the Tom Hanks film of the same name. That song is without a doubt the greatest Beatles song the Beatles did not write. It’s perfect and made a really good film fucking great. Seriously, that movie only works because Adam’s song is so damn catchy. More recently, Adam had written music for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

On April 1st of last year, Adam died from COVID-19. He was only 52 and still had decades’ worth of catchy-as-hell music to write. I didn’t know Adam, but I did know (and love) his music. As I write this, I’m listening to “Valley Winter Song,” and I’m still blown away by how it’s so heartbreakingly good. Power pop, like pop music in general, is often seen as so disposable. Like the bubblegum it’s so often compared to, we consume its sugary goodness and then throw it away. Adam’s music was sugary but also, at times, biting, satirical, and heartfelt. He wrote about being stuck in boring office jobs, being filled with self-doubt, and having a hard time telling the girl you loved her. I appreciated how cool Adam was because he wrote about being so uncool.

Adam Schlesinger was a titan. Sure, he was a titan in a relatively niche subgenre of rock music, but nonetheless, he was a titan. Lots of people can churn out hit songs, but few craft pop masterpieces like Adam could. Rest in Power(pop).

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