When Adam Schlesinger died of coronavirus three years ago this week, I was skeptical that he would have received as many tributes if we were living in normal times. With everyone stuck in quarantine staring at their computers, there was an outpouring of tributes. This seems to have continued on, as every year the anniversary brings new articles and remembrances from friends and creative cohorts.
Fountains of Wayne and Ivy were two of my favorite bands for many years. I always seemed to be pointing him out in performance clips – “the guy on the right is Adam Schlesinger….” followed by an overshare of information about his career.
In the press, Adam’s “side project” was whichever band was not promoting a new release. And while Fountains of Wayne was the first to be mentioned in tributes after his death, Ivy is now garnering considerable attention as the band has recently regained control of their back catalogue and increased their social media presence. Their first remastered re-release is Apartment Life (1997) featuring previously unreleased tracks and a vinyl-only reconstruction of the LP using the original demo recordings.
Adam Schlesinger: A Musical Celebration was a two-hour virtual tribute concert helmed by Fountains of Wayne guitarist Jody Porter. Recorded in May 2020 as a pay-per-view streaming event, it is now available for free on YouTube. Highlights include Courtney Love’s take on “Hey Julie,” Sean Lennon performing “Fire Island,” and Butch Walker debuting “Guitar Center,” an unreleased song written by Adam.
The performances are interspersed with commentary from celebs like Drew Carey and Sarah Silverman, who said; “People are so funny how blown away they are at all that he’s done … I don’t think people realized because they know him from one thing or another thing or another thing but the whole picture of what he got done… it’s something. I fucking miss him.”
Here are 15 Adam Schlesinger-related performances to give a more complete picture:
1) Besides his work penning the music to Sarah Silverman’s autobiographical stage musical The Bedwetter, Adam produced this 2013 song co-written with Sarah and featuring Will.i.am:
2) In 2009, Adam was a member of the super group Tinted Windows, which featured Taylor Hanson, James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins and Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick. The surviving members reunited to perform “Back With You” in the tribute concert. Here’s the music video for “Kind Of A Girl,” another single from their sole album.
3) One of the most surprising covers in Adam Schlesinger: A Musical Celebration is by The Minus Five – a band featuring Joe Andragna, Peter Buck (of R.E.M.) and Scott McCaughey (of Young Fresh Fellows). Their song choice was “I’ll Say It” – written by Adam in 2012 as the theme to Kathy Griffin’s TV show:
4) Several Fountains of Wayne performances are interspersed throughout the tribute concert, including their appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien a few days after 9/11, covering The Kinks “Better Things.” Two months later, Adam was back on the show with Ivy to perform their latest single, “Disappointed.”
5) In September of 1997, Adam made a solo radio appearance on XFM In Session. This was after Chris Collingwood was injured in Germany (see sidebar article referring to this as a low point in their career). Besides the interview, Adam does acoustic versions of “Utopia Parkway” and “Carpet King.”
6) In 2006, Adam co-wrote the song “High School Never Ends” with Jaret Riddick, lead singer of the band Bowling For Soup. This was the lead single on that band’s 6th album and a minor hit in the U.S. and U.K.:
7) Mike Viola and Adam Schlesinger perform their Oscar-nominated song “That Thing You Do” on May 4, 2007 at the Tribeca/ASCAP Music Lounge during the Tribeca Film Festival:
8) Also in May 2007, Adam and Chris joined Neil Sedaka onstage at Joe’s Pub in New York City to sing his 1961 hit “Calendar Girl.” Neil flubs his own lyrics. Adam and Chris do not. In April 2020, Neil posted this clip on Twitter as a tribute to Adam. Chris responded “It was an honor and one of the coolest things we ever did.”
9) In October 2011, Fountains Of Wayne performed a Tiny Desk Concert on NPR.
“The Summer Place”
“Valley Winter Song”
“A Dip In The Ocean”
10) One of the Rolling Stone tributes published after Adam’s death was an interview with Chris Collingwood. He remembers trying to talk Adam out of recording “Stacey’s Mom.” He was sure it would be a hit… and also a curse. “He was too good a writer to have that be his calling card, and the success of a novelty song means that’s just what you are to the public, from that moment on – forever. It’s sad to me that people reading his obituary will all know that song, and only a very tiny percentage of them will ever hear ‘I-95’ or ‘The Girl I Can’t Forget.'”
Here’s the latter: an entire rom-com in under four minutes.
11) An unreleased demo of Adam performing a song called “Something Happened” recently popped up on YouTube. I can’t confirm that he wrote it about Chris Collingwood or the end of Fountains of Wayne, but it’s certainly a poignant performance:
12) In November, 2018 Adam joined Wesley Stace & The English UK onstage at City Winery to perform “Hey Julie”:
13) Along with Rachel Bloom & Jack Dolgen, Adam co-wrote the music for the television show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, winning his third Emmy in 2019 for the song “Anti-depressants Are So Not A Big Deal.” At a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Live In Los Angeles show in 2018 he performed “What’ll It Be?” in the style of an obscure Long Island singer named William Joel.
14) One of Adam’s final projects was his work with Fever High, a Brooklyn duo for whom he was the primary producer / songwriter. In 2019 he accompanied them for a three song “tiny desk” concert at Paste Studio.
“Just A Ghost”
“Looks Good On Paper”
“Cast My Spell”
15) In late 2021, Dominique Durand and Andy Chase of Ivy released a 25 minute tribute video on their YouTube page. “We knew Adam Schlesinger for 30 years, and felt we should finally create an official Ivy statement about who he was to us. We wanted to show a more intimate, human side to Adam – the friend, the father, the band mate, the whirlwind force that he was – so we made this short film using exclusive home movies and photos. Hopefully this will help add more weight and color to the extraordinary legacy that Adam left behind.”
In a 2020 Rolling Stone piece, playwright David Bar Katz paid tribute to his lifelong friend: “There are songs we would all have known by heart that we’re never going to hear. There were going to be musicals we’d have waited in line to see that will never be composed.” We will never know just how much we have lost.
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2 thoughts on “Adam Schlesinger: Not Just The Guy On The Right”
Great post Brian!
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