Adam Schlesinger, co-founder of the New Jersey power-pop group Fountains of Wayne, has died on Wednesday (April 1st) from complications related to COVID-19. Schlesinger's lawyer, Josh Grier, confirmed the sad news following an announcement just days ago that the 52-year-old musician had been hospitalised and was in a critical condition.
The Emmy-and Grammy-winning songwriter, who also composed extensively for film and TV, has been remembered fondly by fans and peers, admiring his brilliant talent and humour.
There would be no Playtone without Adam Schlesinger, without his That Thing You Do! He was a One-der. Lost him to Covid-19. Terribly sad today. Hanx… Tom Hanks (@tomhanks) April 2, 2020
Schlesinger had a unique career in pop, centred around his endlessly witty and sharp-eyed take on the world around him. With Fountains of Wayne, he and songwriting partner, Chris Collingwood blended indie and alt-rock sensibilities into pure power-pop … inspired by the Kinks’ knack for making melody and location central elements of their music.
The band was signed by Atlantic Records and released their first album, Fountains of Wayne in 1996. Jagged guitars and sneering vocals made songs like “Radiation Vibe” a perfect fit for the post-grunge alternative rock revolution that came with the late 90s.
Fountains of Wayne | “Radiation Vibe”
In the five albums Fountains of Wayne released between 1996 and 2011, they were most well-known for the Grammy-nominated earworm, “Stacey’s Mom” which arrived on their 2003 album Welcome Interstate Managers and came with this unforgettably racy, suburban fantasy film clip staring supermodel, Rachel Hunter.
Fountains of Wayne | “Stacy's Mom”
In a 2003 interview with MTV, Schlesinger explained that the track was indeed inspired by a very particular incident: “One of my best friends, when we were maybe 11 or 12, came to me and announced that he thought my grandmother was hot,” he recalled. “And I said, ‘Hey, you’re stepping over the line,’ but at that point in life, I wouldn’t put it past anyone.”
During the same period, Schlesinger also released six albums with his other group, Ivy, while somehow finding time to build a portfolio of music for film and TV; a portfolio that proved him a budding prolific pop writer. In 1996, he wrote the theme song for the Tom Hanks-directed film That Thing You Do! – the sixties-styled single served as the sole hit for the fake band at the centre of the film called the Wonders – which earned him a nomination for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.
That Thing You Do! | “That Thing You Do”
In 2008, Schlesinger penned the music for the Broadway hit Cry-Baby, alongside David Javerbaum, based on the John Water’s film of the same name. His work on the musical earned him a Tony nomination for best original score.
In 2016, when 60’s teen pop sensations, The Monkees were looking to celebrate their 50th anniversary by recording a new album, their first since they’d called it quits in 1971, they decided to give Adam Schlesinger a call. “My eyes lit up when they said his name,” guitarist/singer, Peter Tork told Rolling Stone. “He wrote ‘That Thing You Do,’ which is a perfectly balanced piece of music. It manages to not be derivative, yet completely evocative of the time it’s supposed to represent. It’s one of the few neo-Sixties songs I’ve ever heard that actually worked.”
Schlesinger, who was a Monkees fan as a small child, happily jumped on board the project. “I said I really wanted to make the record sound like a classic Monkees record,” he said. “I didn’t want to update their sound. I just wanted to do it really well. That doesn’t mean making it overtly retro. It just meant making it sound like what I would want to hear a Monkees record sound like.”
In recent years, Adam had devoted himself to his musical contributions to the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend which won him one of his three Emmy Awards, from a massive ten nominations.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend | “Anti-Depressants Are So Not A Big Deal” [feat. Michael Hyatt]
Before his passing, Schlesinger was working with comedian Sarah Silverman on a stage production of her memoir The Bedwetter. The performance was set to hit the Atlantic Theater Company stage this month but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schlesinger’s contemporaries and collaborators have taken to social media to pay tribute to the late musician.
“Adam, you were a brilliant songwriter, musician, collaborator and friend,” shared collaborator, David Javerbaum. “You enriched millions of lives with your boundless creativity, none more than mine.”
“Adam Schlesinger didn’t just understand what made a perfect pop song tick; he could map its genome and replicate it like a mad scientist.” Billboard.
Our thoughts are with Adam Schlesinger’s family, friends, colleagues and contemporaries to whom this news must come as a shock. Remembering the wildly talented satirical songwriter with Fountains of Wayne on Spotify:
Listen to Fountains of Wayne on Apple Music: