Fountains Of Wayne: Welcome Interstate Managers (2003)

When you're a serious music fan, it's hard not to feel a sense of personal loss when one of your musical heroes passes.  I still remember John Lennon's murder.  I was 14, deep into my submersion into classic rock, and the Beatles in particular, and it was just devastating.  (It also initiated my lifelong dedication to the cause of gun safety.  I sit on the Board of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and encourage you to get involved.)

More recently -- Bowie, Lou Reed, Alex Chilton, Joe Strummer, multiple Ramones -- these were all tough.

Still, for the most part, these are rock stars.  It's a sense of loss, but it's remote, not like losing someone close to you.

Sometimes, though, it does feel like you're losing an actual friend.  Elliott Smith's passing hit me pretty hard.  His music seemed so personal; listening to an Elliott Smith album always felt like he was sitting in the room with you, walking you through the chords of something he'd just written.

And that's how I feel about Adam Schlesinger's passing.  The songs of Fountains of Wayne, intimate character studies that manage to be clever and witty yet still touching, have always made it seem like these were a couple friends sharing songs with you.  And, yeah, there's the added factor that Adam died as a result of a Trump-abetted pandemic that we're all living through at this very moment, making it that much scarier and there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I.  Plus, as those in the tribe know, there's always that added affinity you feel when a fellow nice-Jewish-boy makes it big.

Still, it's his musical legacy that has me most torn up.

Now, I don't want to diminish the role of co-founder Chris Collingwood.  As they always shared songwriting credit (despite writing separately), I have no idea which songs are Adam's and which are Chris's, aside from a few they've talked about in interviews; since Collingwood sings everything, you can't pick them out based on who happens to sing lead (unlike, say, the Beatles, or maybe the Clash).  So let's just say the two of them, as a partnership, have written a stunning array of memorable songs over their 5-album run (plus a double-LP collection of outtakes and b-sides, several of which stand as among their best songs).

I immediately reached for Welcome Interstate Managers yesterday to help get me through the evening.  While I adore the debut (which I've written about previously), one of the finest examples of modern power pop, it was on their third album that they seem to have fully matured into phenomenal songwriters.  The songs retain their cleverness, but the underlying sensitivity, there from the start, is in full bloom; plus, musically and sonically, it just sounds great (though never slick).  Too many favorites to name, but "Bright Future in Sales" is a hopelessly catchy ode to Gen X slackerdom which perfectly bridges humor and pathos; "Stacy's Mom," despite its cultural saturation, remains a stellar piece of pop which manages to single-handedly revive the often overlooked impact of the Cars; "Hackensack" and "Valley Winter Song" are just gorgeous; "All Kinds of Time" is sheer poetry; and "Little Red Light" is a deliriously insistent rocker that intertwines heartbreak and musical catharsis.

But my favorite is probably "No Better Place," a perfect, jangly guitar riff wrapped around a tale of impending loss that kills me every damn time.  One of those guys sat down and came up with the line "It may be the whiskey talking, but the whiskey says I miss you every day," and it will simply never get out of my head.

The album has always had some added poignancy because it's one of last albums I remember buying in a store, before I had completely capitulated to online shopping.  I was on a work trip out east, taking the Acela from DC to NYC (and, yeah, riding the Acela is the topic of another FoW song); and I stopped by the record store, a Tower or Virgin, and picked up the album, which had just come out that week, their first album in 4 years.  I played it repeatedly on my Sony Discman on that train ride (it may very well have been the last trip on which I lugged that long-forgotten Discman, having by then acquired an early iPod); it was one of those rare albums where I got to the end and immediately just wanted to play it again.  And as I've written about in my book, while I rarely step into a record store these days, there was something about the ritual of shopping for an album and unwrapping it and giving it that first spin that made the listening experience so much more special and memorable.

Anyway, R.I.P. Adam Schlesinger. 

Here's that "Stacy's Mom" video, of course:
...and "No Better Place" live: