I am a mediocre keyboard player. I don't really read music, my right hand is significantly better than my left, and I have to practice a lot to maintain mediocrity.
I've been in a couple cover bands as an adult dad. In the first, we tried hard to cover Stacy's Mom. If you've never truly sung along to Stacy's Mom, try it sometime. Belt that thing out. I don't want to get too technical here, but it goes from really low to really high. It's got a great melody on top of a great chord progression, and to sing the hell out of that song, you don't need to be Mariah Carey, but it's close.
Stacy's Mom is unfairly thought of as a bit of a novelty song, I think. But it is one hell of a song — it tells a story, it uses humor, but it also has a point of view. It expresses a metric ton of meaning and storytelling with an economy of words. And it's a banger! The instrumentation and musicality of the song — it sounds like one of those songs that's always supposed to have been there, and Adam Schlesinger (with cowriter Chris Collingwood) just plucked it out of the ether so we could hear it.
And it's not even Fountains of Wayne's best song.
I loved attempting to cover that song because not only did audiences love it, but it's fundamentally just a great damn song, by any measure.
I'd read earlier this week that Schlesinger was intubated but doing okay as he battled Covid-19. Seeing yesterday that he'd died was a gut punch.
Fountains of Wayne is in my top five bands. And Adam Schlesinger is a musical and lyrical genius. (Which, by the way, is so mindblowingly unfair. You should be epic at one of those things; being epic at both is just showing off.)
Fountains of Wayne only made moving songs. Some moved you emotionally because of their melancholy lyrics, but some moved you because they were just so fucking good. Hat and Feet. Hey Julie, one of the great love songs. Somebody To Love, which goes melodically AND lyrically places you'd never expect. Sky Full of Holes, which is beautiful and poignant and painful.
Seatbacks and Tray Tables, a waltz that makes me feel all the feelings every time, after 1000 flights for work.
When I like a band, I go deep. I rabbit hole. I listen to every song on every album, I read the articles. In the early 90s, I would join the newsgroups; now, I find the wiki articles.
When I first discovered Fountains of Wayne, it was probably because Schlesinger had produced so many tracks for They Might Be Giants. He also wrote literally dozens of amazing songs for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. And the theme for That Thing You Do! And on and on.
But when I discovered Fountains of Wayne, they weren't like the other bands I listened to. This was power pop, a genre I instantly loved, but for literally years, I couldn't shake the feeling that there was an inside joke I wasn't getting with Fountains of Wayne's approach to power pop. These were often songs in major keys, big fat major chords, but unexpected chord progressions that somehow felt obvious, but deceptively so. I'm not a music analyst; I don't how to describe it better.
Really, though, I couldn't ever shake the feeling that there was a wry joke to these songs, that Fountains of Wayne was having a laugh with its lyrics, melodies, and song structures. That the band was thumbing its nose at something. But after a couple years of having this weird theory, I realized that if there's an inside joke, it's that Fountains of Wayne is embracing their sound and lyrics and approach entirely earnestly. The joke is, you're in on it. The joke is... there's no joke.
Schlesinger is incredibly quotable as a lyricist. I read a few remembrances in the past days where people talked about the songs they were listening to when they experienced major life events — deaths, births, etc. With Fountains of Wayne, those life soundtrack moments couple the music and the lyrics, because they mesh so perfectly.
I am sad and angry that Adam Schlesinger is dead, because he was young, incredibly talented, and very much not done.
"The injuries fade/But the memories last a lifetime"