Adam Schlesinger’s songs were brilliant and unassuming. Schlesinger’s work was almost always a patient and courteous collaboration. It was never important for him to be the sole one credited for anything, and he rarely sang his own songs. Which means that his name is not one that you, dear reader, may have remembered or known before we lost him so horribly to coronavirus at age 52 on April 1.
He was a guy who made music, every day, so much incredible music that is catchy and funny and insightful. And that music has touched you, more that once, more than twice, I promise. You may not know it, but Adam Schlesinger’s music has been a part of your life for maybe as long as you remember.
Forget about “Stacy’s Mom,” the Grammy-nominated 2003 smash hit from his band Fountains of Wayne, whose risque music video I dreaded so much at the time I had to change the channel the moment it came on MTV… or actually, don’t forget it, it was brilliant in its own way, and to be fair, no matter how fast I reached for the remote, it was always still stuck in my head. But my point is, “Stacy’s Mom” is just the tip of the iceberg, one entry in the long encyclopedic lists of total bangers, many of which I was not aware Schlesinger was even behind until now.
Did you know, for example, that Schlesinger’s song, “That Thing You Do,” was selected out of more than 300 songs as the theme for the eponymous Tom Hanks 1996 musical comedy?. I will be honest, I do not remember anything about said movie. But you know what I do remember? Every single word of “That Thing You Do.”
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
I also had no idea that Schlesinger wrote what is, without argument, the best song from my favorite 2001 movie Josie and the Pussycats, the underrated, loose, and truly enjoyable adaptation starring Rachael Leigh Cook as Josie and Tara Reid and Rosario Dawson as, well the Pussycats (please, watch this movie). “Pretend to be Nice” is incredible, and may as well have been the theme to every one of my (unrequited, of course) high school crushes, carrying the perfect mix of resentment and head-turning infatuation with its merry-go-round chorus.
I didn’t know that Schlesinger was one of the musicians who worked on A Very Colbert Christmas, the 2010 Grammy-winning holiday album which features my absolutely favorite Hanukkah song of all time, a Colbert and Jon Stewart duet called “May I Interest You In Hanukkah.” The nebbishy, coy way in which Stewart half-heartedly tries to sell the Jewish Festival of Lights during the Christmas special is, honestly, priceless. But still, after I was done listening to it, I was interested in Hanukkah.
I’m so saddened to hear of the death of Adam Schlesinger due to Covid19. From the Dana Carvey show to A Colbert Christmas Special, he was a great (and patient) and talented artist with whom it was my good luck to work. Peace.
— Stephen Colbert (@StephenAtHome) April 2, 2020
Even if you don’t think you knew his bands, Fountains of Wayne and Ivy, you knew them. They were on the soundtracks of every show and movie you grew up on (if you’re a millennial like me, that is) from There’s Something About Mary to Gilmore Girls and Grey’s Anatomy. Don’t believe me? Listen to Ivy’s “Edge of the Ocean” and be transported to literally every romantic teen drama you’ve ever seen… and also feel the wind blowing through your hair as you’re driving down the oceanside because this song gives me so many feelings.
Then there’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. As Aline Brosh-McKenna, the show’s co-creator, wrote in a Twitter in memoriam of sorts, Schlesinger was her husband’s college roommate, and when she saw the musical comedy was going to get picked up, he was the first person she reached out to. He wrote or co-wrote 157 songs for the show’s four seasons. The show was a perfect fit for Schlesinger’s speed and sensibilities. So many of his songs are such a perfect mix of the humor and profound small human truths, about heartbreak and pining and feeling like a loser.
Not so long ago, but also a whole lifetime ago, Schlesinger, along with Rachel Bloom and collaborator Jack Dolgen, won an Emmy for “Antidepressants Are So Not A Big Deal,” an important song that normalizes antidepressants with a joyous, validating La La Land style rendition. So many of the songs from the show did that — helped others feel validated and seen, from Greg’s “I Could If I Wanted To,” to “Sexy French Depression,” to “Remembered that We Suffered.”
A Schlesinger lyric or melody always brought forth a surge of emotion: from laughter to comfort to melancholy (though, never a melancholy that took itself too seriously) to giddy enthrallment. Put simply, Schlesinger’s music was perfect. It’s quite a weird word for a writer to use, but it’s true (seriously, listen to this NPR playlist right now and tell me it’s not perfect).
We have lost and we are going to lose many greats in this pandemic. But Schlesinger’s loss has left us an ageless and living library of music that can be a balm for our loneliness and grief.
Thank you for blessing us with your music, Adam Schlesinger. It will be with us forever.
Header Image of Adam Schlesinger by Mireya Acierto/Getty Images; sheet music “Anti-Depressants Are So Not a Big Deal.”