That Thing He Did

Remembering Adam Schlesinger

by Pete Crigler


For some people, Adam Schlesinger was the guy who wrote the title song for the outstanding, Tom Hanks-directed 1996 powerhouse film That Thing You Do!; for others, he was a songwriter behind the scenes, wracking up nominations for Broadway and television, most notably Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. For me, he was a producer, musician and co-leader of Jersey’s Fountains Of Wayne. The band were most known for 2003’s pop smash “Stacy’s Mom,” but on the album it came from, Welcome Interstate Managers, they crafted some of the best pop songs heard in the last 25 years. This is what Adam Schlesinger means to me.

I was in college from 2004-2008, so “Stacy’s Mom” had already come and gone by the time I began my freshman year. I had grown tired of the song and moved on. By the time my sophomore year arrived, I had made a new friend (Henry) who had a nice collection of newer bands that I really wasn’t following at the time. Fountains Of Wayne was one of them and I ended up borrowing Welcome Interstate Managers and taking it back to my dorm. I had heard of them before “Stacy’s Mom” because of “That Thing You Do” and “Radiation Vibe,” but nothing had really connected with me up to that point.

That all changed when I listened to the album and heard “Mexican Wine,” the album’s opener. With great lyricism, witty, light and fun and great musicianship along with a generally upbeat vibe, I was hooked. It instantly became one of my favorite songs—it’s the type of song that you memorize the lyrics to almost immediately and it just went from there. The other song that stood out at the time was the minute-long closer “Yours and Mine,” which is just a pretty little melody with lyrics about spending a lazy Sunday morning reading the paper and watching Face the Nation. The rest of the record didn’t truly hook me until I picked up my own copy about a year later.

When I had the opportunity to really sit with the album and study it, “Valley Winter Song” and “Fire Island” emerged as two more standouts. “Valley Winter Song” is the perfect song for a small-town Christmas break where things seem a little lonely. It’s become a go-to every holiday season for me. When I worked at a Nike outlet store for a few years, the manager would allow me to make a Christmas holiday CD to play in-store. I would always put on Fishbone, the Bosstones, Ocean Blue and this song. It seemed to go along with the rest of these tracks so damn well.

As I think about my college experience, there are bands that helped soundtrack many different experiences, including Judybats, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and the Chili Peppers. Fountains Of Wayne were certainly one of those important artists that helped mold not just my musical palette but also educational experiences. By the time Fountains Of Wayne’s next album came out after a long break in 2007, I was still in school but I had moved on to hardcore punk and metal like Lamb of God and Killswitch Engage, so Traffic And Weather wasn’t really on my radar. By the time their final album Sky Full of Holes came out in 2011, it wasn’t really on many people’s radars either and the band seemingly disappeared before later confirming their breakup.

Schlesinger went on to a notable production and songwriting career, scoring Tony nominations and a fistful of Emmy nominations for his work on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and winning an Emmy last year for the show’s final season.

When the news came out earlier this week that Schlesinger had contracted COVID-19 and was on a ventilator, everyone held out hope that he would pull through. Unfortunately, the shocking news came April 1 that he had passed due to complications from this cursed virus. I immediately started singing “Mexican Wine” and cranking it on my iPod. Thinking about this song and “That Thing You Do” led to thinking about my friends in college and how music allowed me to get through some difficult first-time experiences. So I thank you, Adam Schlesinger, for writing a perfect pop song that I still enjoy to this day.

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