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April 17, 2020, 1:54 p.m. EDT

Fountains of Wayne co-founder Adam Schlesinger is remembered as a transcendent talent

The 52-year-old, who died April 1 from COVID-19, mastered ‘vivid, detailed songwriting’ about everyday Americans

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By Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore

Getty Images
Adam Schlesinger, left, poses with Rachel Bloom and Jack Dolgen after winning the Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics Award for the musical comedy series “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” at the 2019 Creative Arts Emmy Awards.

In the 1999 song “Prom Theme,” American rock band Fountains of Wayne look back on high school with the regret of hindsight: 

We’ll go our separate ways

We’ll vanish in the haze

We’ll never be the same

We’ll forget each other’s names

Fountains of Wayne co-founder Adam Schlesinger, who died in New York on April 1 from complications from COVID-19 at the age of 52, often wrote songs about run-of-the-mill characters dealing with life’s disappointments. He had no known underlying health conditions.

But while many topics were drawn from Schlesinger’s own experiences and upbringing in suburban New Jersey, in death, at least, it is now certain that Schlesinger will not vanish in the haze. Nor will he be forgotten. 

Instead, the musician is being heralded, belatedly, as a titan in his industry.

“Adam Schlesinger excelled at vivid, detailed songwriting about everyday American schmoes, with sharply observed lyrics and golden melodies,” said Simon Vozick-Levinson, deputy music editor at Rolling Stone. “His best songs could be hilariously funny or sweetly heartfelt, and they were often both at once.” 

Fountains of Wayne has surged back into the Billboard charts, with on-demand streams jumping 400% from April 1 to 4, over the prior four days.

Celebrities, meanwhile, have rushed to celebrate the songwriter: “You’re never just a kid from somewhere when you’re a kid from Jersey,” tweeted Jon Bon Jovi. “The music world lost a good one.” 

Born in Manhattan, Schlesinger was raised in Montclair, N.J. He met his future Fountains of Wayne bandmate, and most important creative collaborator, Chris Collingwood, when both were undergrads at Williams College in Massachusetts.

Fountains of Wayne only had one major hit, “Stacey’s Mom,” which reached number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2003. The song, about a teenage boy consumed with desire for his friend’s mother, starred supermodel Rachel Hunter in the music video. In a performance destined to cause a stir, Hunter does a fantasy strip tease on the kitchen counter and undergoes an all-but-naked massage in the garden.

Critics, however, celebrated their other, less well-known, songs—many of which were filled with witty lyrics about misfortune and setbacks in the suburbs.

As music journalist Rob Tannenbaum put it in the New York Times, their sympathetic songs about Gen X misfits made them feel “like an earthbound Beach Boys serenading the suburbs rather than the sea.” 

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