This Thing Called Life: Prince’s Odyssey, On and Off Record – Neal Karlen (2020)

Reading more like a hybrid of the enigmatic genius Prince Rogers Nelson as well as author and friend, Neal Karlen, This Thing Called Life: Prince’s Odyssey, On and Off Record is nevertheless an important historical perspective for a pop/rock titan bathed in both self and general myth. Karlen and Prince met on a neighborhood basketball court as pre-teens on the tougher north side of Minneapolis. Later, the author would become one of the first to interview the post-Purple Rain monster rock star for Rolling Stone magazine in 1985. Karlen would then go on to conduct several more interviews with the reclusive Prince into 1990, when the two would simply become phone buddies. 

Karlen’s late-night discussions with Prince, whom he describes as sounding like “the loneliness man in the world” are the core of this book. He wrestles with his position of being wooed by Prince’s idiosyncratic emotional manipulations and a sense of true friendship. They play basketball together, take long drives, watch movies and go to clubs, as Prince confides in him about love, loss, his parents, and mostly his fears – significantly, his fear of dying alone, something he would do in an elevator in his sprawling complex, Paisley Park in 2016. 

Yet, as we learn, and Karlen writes, that Prince “offered up multiple versions of who he was. Each correct, each wrong,” the book carves up Yet, as we learn, and Karlen writes, that Prince “offered up multiple versions of who he was. Each correct, each wrong,” the book carves up many accepted lies about Prince’s father’s supposed talents, his mother’s influence on him, and perhaps my favorite sections of the book, beside learning of Prince’s obsession with 1960s into 1970s professional wrestling, cover the paradox of his home town, Minneapolis in race, tradition, economic disparity and what Karlen dubs “Minnesota Meanness”, which both repelled and seduced Prince his entire life.

While Karlen mostly ignores the music – there are plenty of those books out there – we finally get a mostly objective insider view of one of the most important musical talents of the latter half of the Twentieth Century. And since Prince, like most great artists, was a semi-autobiographical creator, This Thing Called Life will get you closer to that amazing music.   

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Let Love Rule – Lenny Kravitz with David Ritz (2020)

Fusion funk-rocker Lenny Kravitz has aptly named his collaborative memoir, Let Love Rule, as it ends with the release of his debut album of the same name and would begin a career that has spanned four decades. But the reason for this truncated look at his life as a boy becoming an artist is that during those years Kravitz had seen and done more and had crazier life-altering experiences than most people could handle in three lives and certainly enough to provide lyrical material for an opening musical statement.

The book opens in a relatable manner for those of us who are not quite Boomers and came early to qualify as Generation X – Kravitz is a Seventies kid, culturally woke by the Jackson 5, KISS, bell-bottoms, Flip Wilson, Richard Pryor, weed, Converse, Blacksplotation films et al. But then having access to a Jewish family (his dad, Sy, a top television news producer) and a Bahamian one, (his famous mom, Roxie Roker, who would star in the hit comedy The Jefferson’s), and even spending time in the burgeoning hip-hop center of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, and eventually Hollywood, provided the young musician a rare cultural foundation and worldly view many never experience.

Meeting the famous, being tutored by musical change makers, and finding his way spiritually, musically, culturally, and sexually, with a heavy emphasis on cool fashion before he even hits high school, Kravitz’s exploits in youth reads like some Dickensian adventure with highlights like stealing the family car at fourteen and rushing off to rescue a child prostitute, appearing in commercials and plays, bouncing homeless from couch to car backseats and on and on.

Kravitz is an inspiration and a cautionary tale. He fucks up and triumphs in the most dramatic ways before you and I could find our elbows. He experiments, learns several instruments, backs up acts twice his age, hangs out in famous studios, stumbles into crossroads that lead him to become the artist he envisioned. One of those eventually led to his mind-bending connection to Lisa Bonet that wrapped all of it in a romantic bow.

Let Love Rule is not just the story of a rocker’s journey to his fans but a symbol of those fans. He is the American Homer; rebellious, erratic, indomitable, and unforgettable.

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Raising Hell: Backstage Tales from the Lives of Metal Legends – Jon Wiederhorn (2020) (Reviewed by Chris Barrera)

As long as rock and roll has existed, musicians have pushed the limits, all in the name of fun. Raising Hell is made up entirely of first-person anecdotes from the world of metal, testimonials of living life in the fast lane. It also deftly recounts the struggles to make it at any cost, while overcoming countless obstacles, some ridiculous or dangerous, others in true absurd Spinal Tap tradition. Self-inflicted wounds are prevalent, of course. Hijinks often come across as simply criminal behavior; sad and pathetic and not as funny in the telling as they may have been in the doing. More than one subject admits that they dodged bullets, literal and figurative, in their pursuit of the next high or extreme thrill. 

Despite clever chapter titles culled from classic tunes such as “Die with Your Boots On”, “Highway to Hell”, and “Girls, Girls, Girls”, the majority of the stories come from next-generation bands like Death Angel, Misery Index, Municipal Waste and Goatwhore. These groups never achieved the super stardom that their forefathers attained, so for these individuals their excesses were in accordance with lifestyle choices, without wealth or massive adulation as fuel for the fire or as excuses for their outrageous activities.

Kudos to author Jon Wiedorhorn for assembling an abundance of fresh material. His earlier book, Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal (with Katherine Turman) was filled with the well-known stories of Ozzy Osbourne, Cliff Burton, Randy Rhoads, and Mötley Crüe. Fans of the lesser-known bands will happily enjoy hearing from their heroes. For others without a “rooting interest,” the stories can best be digested in small bits to avoid redundancy and disinterest, as tales of group sex, throwing up and television smashing can become quickly banal.

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Louie Louie: The History and Mythology of the World’s Most Famous Rock ‘n’ Roll Song – Dave Marsh (1993)

Dave Marsh is simply one of the great rock writers of the past half-century-plus. His work for the Village Voice, Rolling Stone, and his books, specifically on the subjects of Bruce Springsteen and The Who, are required reading in the genre. But what Marsh does with one song, and a song as inane, controversial and important as “Louie Louie” is beyond laudable. There are passages in this book that sing. It is a veritable thesis on the power and purpose of rock music for his, mine, yours, and future generations. The core of the work is the song, but at its core, it is a book about the majesty of what three chords and garbled lyrics can do to those of us discerning enough to heed its call.

In Marsh’s hands the history of “Louie Louie”, originally written by soul singer-songwriter Richard Berry in 1955, which he based on Jamaican rhythms and R&B roots, later made famous by the Kingsmen in 1963 (also recorded at the same time by the much more successful Paul Revere & the Raiders, despite the fact that the Kingsmen stole the day), becomes the philosophy of rock and roll. Stories of the hundreds to thousands of ensuing cover versions are page-turning ecstasy for anyone who loves the incestuous intrigue of the music business, especially in its burgeoning days of mob ties, radio payola scandals and teenage lunacy. Worth the price of the book is the story of Rockin’ Robin Roberts. Who? Exactly.

Marsh brings it home with this book. It is funny, poignant and a masterwork in music and cultural study. And just like “Louie Louie”, damn fun.  

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Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom – Peter Guralnick (1986)

What may well be the finest book on music, at least pop music, and at the very least soul music, Peter Garulnick’s Sweet Soul Music is a rich tapestry of living history and firsthand anecdotes wonderfully researched and told in an enchanting and seminal volume. One cannot stress enough the importance of this document in the realm of American music; from the southern African American experience – the musicians, entrepreneurs, influence – of arguably its most potent period.

Tracking the birth, dreams and evolution of soul music from blues to doo wop to gospel and finally rhythm and blues, along with the incredible talents and visionaries that transformed the lilywhite pop charts into a dynamically diverse, sometimes dangerous and always entertaining landscape, this, indeed, is the story of America – a rags to riches tale of prescience, compromise and determination from Memphis to New York, Mobile to Los Angeles. A complete history of dozens of luminaries, specifically Ray Charles, Solomon Burke, Sam Cooke, Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Otis Redding, and many more, along with the men and women behind Atlantic Records, Stax Records and Muscle Shoals are covered from top to bottom.

Working on the volume from the late seventies into the eighties, Guralnick was able to conduct interviews with the main contributors to this groundbreaking art, many of them long gone now; putting you on the road, in the studio, and inside the boardroom for the successes, failures, infighting, and overcoming of incredible odds, including racism, territorial battles and the toppling of social and cultural barriers.    

Got my copy of Sweet Soul Music from my podcast partner (Underwater Sunshine), lead singer and main songwriter for Counting Crows, Adam Duritz, whom I met during several interviews for this very publication years ago. He calls it “the finest book on music I have ever read.” And I thank him for the gift and find myself hardly in a position to argue with him. It is an incredible piece of work and should be on the shelves of every modern music lover.

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Objects in the Mirror – Thoughts on a Perfect Life from an Imperfect Person – Stephen Kellogg (2020)

Full disclosure: I met the author, veteran singer-songwriter, Stephen Kellogg when he was conjuring this project. The first thing he asked me; “How do you write a book?” The query wasn’t from the usual place of intrigue writers get from young would-be authors or even a rhetorical jab at the craft from someone who cannot fathom such an arduous waste of time. Kellogg was genuinely curious. He’s a great songwriter. He’d led a fairly successful band called The Sixers in the early aughts and when we first spoke he was well into a solo career. There would soon be a film produced on his maddening touring schedule mixed with the time he makes for his family – wife and four girls – that you can catch on Amazon streaming. I was charmed enough by Stephen’s story to pen two features on him in this paper. I should also point out a blurb I sent Stephen upon perusing the manuscript prior to publishing appears on its back cover.

Nevertheless, I read about forty of these music books a year and only a dozen make it into Rock Reads in the late-spring and the holiday season, so I shan’t waste your time or mine on a book I don’t think is truly a great read and adds to the pantheon of so many wonderful tomes on the subject of music and musicians.

Kellogg doesn’t just fill the pages with tour and studio stories, although they’re here, but instead offers rare and vulnerable insights into what it means to be a young man, husband, father, and citizen of the world in the dawning decades of the twenty-first century, while also making music. These observations, which are weaved into much of his songs and broached on stage – Stephen is an engaging aural storyteller – make this one of the most unique portraits of an artist out there.  

Objects in the Mirror, like its musical counterpart, is emotionally wrought and intensely relatable. You’ll laugh and cry and learn something about the human experience. Pretty good for someone who was clearly unaware when he started how to write a book. He did. And it’s really good

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Levon: From Down in the Delta to the Birth of The Band and Beyond – Sandra B. Tooze (2020)

Although it pulls no punches, Sandra Tooze’s Levon is a love letter to one of the signature drummers and dynamic vocalists in rock history. Levon Helm is every bit the southern gentleman, hospitable down-to-earth non-nonsense professional as much as he is the emotionally neglecting, grudge-holding, ill-tempered, recalcitrant substance abuser. Tooze’s Helm, though, is not the mercurial sort – from his barely teen years playing the southern blues circuit, first on guitar and mandolin and then his most well-known instrument, the drums, and later as one of the most recognizable voices of an era – he remains oddly, even enviably, unchanged by any circumstance, from tragedy to fame.

Helm’s life unfolds in heroic fashion; traveling North America and then the world, first in Ronnie Hawkins’ Hawks, which would, like almost all of his musical enterprises, become his own, and eventually, historically, blessedly The Band. Having reviewed fellow founder, Robbie Robinson’s memoir, Testimony here in 2016, but thus far not Helm’s 1993 version of the story, This Wheel’s on Fire, it was interesting to learn the well-known disputes – mostly coming from Helm – on songwriting and publishing rights. Helm would never forgive Robertson for, as he sees it, ripping him and the other members of The Band off and for calling it quits in 1978 for all of them. 

Surprisingly, perhaps my favorite parts of the book delve into Helm’s post-Band years, especially the second iteration of the famed quintet, now a quartet with several guitarists, that would continue on until some members became casualties of the road, its excesses and isolations. 

Not forgetting what is important, Tooze fills the book with observations and firsthand accounts of what made Helm worth writing and reading about, pointedly his preternatural musical talents that he never abandoned and continued to celebrate until his last breath.      

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Ted Templeman: A Platinum Producer’s Life in Music – Ted Templeman as told to Greg Renoff (2020)

When one of the most successful producers and executives in the seminal years of the rock generation writes a memoir, you read it. Ted Templeman delivers the goods with A Platinum Producer’s Life in Music, a no-nonsense sprint through the labyrinth of a music business discovering itself.  Finally, here is a book that covers the process of the artist. Templeman takes you into the studio, behind the scenes; working with seminal artists such as Van Morrison, Van Halen, Eric Clapton the Doobie Bros., Aerosmith, Nicolette Larson, Carly Simon and more. We’re privy to their methods, idiosyncrasies, unique talents, fears and aspirations. The producer’s many tasks – father confessor, ship’s captain, musical interpreter, sonic guidepost, and sometimes fellow partier – are unfurled in a very entertaining read. 

Templeman was also a major executive during his decades working at Warner Bros. during the company’s, and especially the label’s halcyon days. The stories of working within the studio system in the wild and crazy 1970s through the eighties into the nineties is covered with a keen eye. There are so many great stories and so much to learn on how the business thrived and imploded, the hits and the misses, the parties, the awards shows, the inner fighting, et al. We get to the bottom of the battles within the Doobies and Van Halen from Templeman’s perspective. which I found here to always be fair and measured.

I was also jazzed to learn that the author was a member of the sixties pop group, Harper’s Bizarre, another angle on the music business that helps frame an extremely fascinating life in the business of music.  

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“LITTLE RICHARD” WAYNE PENNIMAN – 1932 – 2020

Aquarian Weekly
5/20/20
 
Reality Check
 
James Campion
 
 
“LITTLE RICHARD” WAYNE PENNIMAN – 1932 – 2020
 
I could do Little Richard’s voice, which is a wild, hoarse, screaming thing, it’s like an out-of-body experience. You have to leave your current sensibilities and go about a foot above your head to sing it.
– Paul McCartney
 
Surrounded by gospel music and the saccharine crooning of Bing Crosby and early radio-flavored Ella Fitzgerald, young Richard Penniman once remarked that he was looking for the an “edgier” sound of music and a “louder” singer to awake something in him. And then, he decided, that missing ingredient was him. And with this grand awakening, Little Richard was hatched from nothing, like the light that comes at the behest of God in Genesis. Because at his core, in his central being, Penniman was a man of God (his uncles were preachers) who also could not help frantically searching for edgier and louder (his dad was a bootlegger), and in there somewhere is America – the grand dichotomy of feral desire and better angels. At these crossroads lie the origins of rock and roll, also an American original. Only here could a hodge-podge of black blues, Irish jigs, redneck picking, and dance hall hype coagulate into a pristine soundtrack of rebellion.

Black. Gay. Primitive. Showbiz. Inventive. Influential. Penitent.

Little Richard was all of these.

In the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, my first introduction to the timeline of a music that had dazzled me since sentience, and a book I begged my parents to get me for Christmas, and they did, which may or may not have been a mistake, Little Richard comes after Elvis Presley and Fats Domino but before Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, and everything else. When Berry died I remarked in these pages how he invented rock and roll. This is because at its nucleus the art form is rooted in guitar. Even though Johnnie Johnson, Berry’s pianist, built the foundation of Berry’s work, the piano would not define the genre. Yet, before all of that, Fats Domino, a master pianist and composer, was a New Orleans fixture, an original from the town that heeded the swampy crude rhythms that bounced off the bayou and back into the grimy streets of the French Quarter, pulling the jazz licks from its European parameters and slathering its slave hymns into a pure, primal groove. Fats Domino, then, was the smoldering fire. Little Richard came along and poured gasoline on that fire and from its lapping blue-orange tongue let out that primeval bellow from the nether regions of the soul.

“A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!”

It is the most famous of all early rock and roll lyrics. It means nothing and it means everything. It comes out of the speakers, a-cappella, raw and mean, as if the voice of the past and the future. A call of the wild that wipes clean anything before it. It heralds a career and a style, and it made Little Richard famous. “Tutti Frutti” was the song. The year was 1955. It was a paean to anal sex. Its original lyrics were “Tutti Frutti / Good booty / If it don’t fit, don’t force it / You can grease it, make it easy”. It was, it turns out, the most subversive art in the history of popular music, making it to #2 on the charts and entering the lexicon of lily white mid-American as if a virus. Makes the Sex Pistols, Marylyn Manson and every hip hop record blush. It invented the part of rock and roll that counts. It was dirty and loud and ugly and sexy and puerile and fun and infectious and… dangerous.

Black. Gay. Primitive. Showbiz. Inventive. Influential. Penitent. Little Richard was all of these.

Beyond that, Little Richard sang with a smirk that challenged every notion of what music could do and in turn being as soulful and raucous as any young African American man could be on the Chitlin’ Circuit where the music was not meant to integrate but ingratiate. Unlike Fats Domino and Chuck Berry, Little Richard’s sound was black as night, as black as blues, as black as America, inventing things for the white kids who wanted to get out of the suburban dream and into the stark realities of the underworld. Little Richard did not pander, he commanded.

His first album, released by Specialty Records, Here’s Little Richard reads like a template, “Long Tall Sally”, “Rip It Up”, “Ready Teddy”, ‘Slippin’ and Slidin’”, “Jenny Jenny”. Then there would be “Good Golly Miss Molly”, who sure liked to “ball”, another pretty blatant euphemism for unbridled sex, and “Keep a Knockin’”, which may be the first punk rock song; “Keep a knockin’ but you can’t come in!” shouted over and over like a head-banging Ramones mantra.

Later, Little Richard’s shouts from the culture would bring us Sam Cooke, discovered and produced by Robert “Bumps Blackwell”, who worked on “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally” and everything else Penniman recorded for Specialty Records. Cooke then toured with Little Richard, as did Jimi Hendrix, who would be his guitarist and protégé in histrionics and showmanship. The shy Hendrix, like Sam Cooke before him, credits the cool brashness of his mentor with unleashing his true talents, which included obliterating the landscape of electric guitar forevermore. As would the influence of Little Richard on James Brown, Otis Redding, Sly Stone and Prince Rogers Nelson tear pieces from what had come before. The Beatles worked with Little Richard in Hamburg, Germany before anyone knew who they were, as the Rolling Stones first toured with Little Richard as snot-nosed blues worshipers. There is nothing in the first two to three decades of rock and roll that doesn’t have Penniman’s stamp on it.  

In 1957, at the height of his powers, Little Richard famously quit rock and roll to become a preacher, after some spiritual revelation about hellfire on a near-death airplane experience. So, in essence, those two years, wherein he invented the howls later copped by everyone from Paul McCartney (whose first performance in front of anyone was a version of “Long Tall Sally” at fourteen) to every heavy metal screecher ever committed to the craft, was his legacy. When he returned he hid nothing; his sexuality, his annoyance that he was passed over as an originator, his unchecked flamboyance and a penchant for general upheaval. He became the living embodiment of his initial splash on the scene and everyone fed off the genuine article.

It should also be noted that Little Richard appeared in three seminal rock and roll films, not the least of which titillated a young Robert Zimmerman, who at first only wanted to be Little Richard before he wanted to be Woody Guthrie and invented Bob Dylan, and all-but triggered the British invasion. The Girl Can’t Help It, of which Penniman sings the title, along with performing out of his mind on others. The film starred a blonde bombshell named Jayne Mansfield, whose mere presence awoke the animal instincts of every breathing male in attendance and connected this ass-shaking, mind-quaking music to the purpose as well as any youth-film did during the time when that was not yet a thing but soon would be. It would be joined by Blackboard JungleHard Day’s NightSaturday Night FeverPurple Rain and 8 Mile in the roll call of culture-shifting rock cinema.

The most difficult aspect of writing about Little Richard is that one cannot begin to overstate his import and influence on what we understand about modern popular music. His voice was a clarion. His look was an outrage. His songs were a revelation. His kind did not have a mold to break. It came new. That is what you hear and see with Little Richard. In 1955. In 2020. He is always new. He is forever our red-white-and-blue shock to the senses, the thumping of our hearts. His paradox is America’s conundrum. Our most lethal attribute: We want to be good, but man, we can’t help, shit, we love being bad.

And it sounds like…

“A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!”
       

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ADAM SCHLESINGER – 1967-2020

Aquarian Weekly
4/8/20
 
Reality Check
 
James Campion
 
 
ADAM SCHLESINGER – 1967-2020
 
 
When you go out of the blackness
Into the great big sky
Supercollider
Shooting inside your mind

 
 
Adam Schlesinger has died from complications stemming from Covid-19. He was fifty-two. As of this writing there have been 51,809 cases in New York City, including 1,562 deaths. This number rises by the hour. He is just one of those and the 5,316 people who have perished in the past three months from this pandemic. But this one hits close to home, because Adam was a friend. Long before that I admired him for his music, his humor, his insights into the human spirit. He was unique talent, a throwback Brill Building songwriter’s songwriter, who could capture the spirit of a moment, an era, and even the workaday, hum-drum of life in and around his home state of New Jersey. He was a Montclair kid by way of Manhattan who made good, whose band, Fountains of Wayne, one of the finest pop/rock outfits of the new century, was named for a now long-gone relic of a bygone age for New Jersey.


Where do you start to encapsulate an artist who was everywhere and nowhere? Outside of the industry the name Adam Schlesinger is not as well-known as his canon would suggest. He won three Emmy Awards, a Grammy Award, and an ASCAP Pop Music Award, and was nominated for Academy, Tony, and Golden Globe Awards. He penned dozens of themes and songs for television series, movies and worked on Broadway musicals. He wrote and performed with Fountains of Wayne on a Top 25 hit and co-wrote one of the most famous movie songs ever. Of course, that’s what Wikipedia will tell you. What it won’t tell you is what one of my favorite music essayists Tom Breihan wrote about him for Stereogum this week; “Maybe Schlesinger wasn’t doing the mystical personal work that we expect songwriters to do when he was writing all of those things. But the man was working. He was cranking out material at a high level every single day. Those of us paid to do the same at our own professions — those of us who, let’s say, are paid to blog relentlessly five days a week — should regard Adam Schlesinger as a hero, and as a monumental loss.”

Adam Schlesinger loved song. He loved songwriters. He loved talking about songwriting and songwriters. The last time I saw him we talked about Warren Zevon for an hour. It was just before my book on Zevon was released in June of 2018. Adam understood Warren like few did. I told him that night I should have gotten his take for the book it was so spot-on. I was considering picking his brain for an upcoming project I am starting. He understood how hard Zevon worked at his craft and how unique he was as a composer, both musically and lyrically, and how his take on the “everyman” that he and his partner in the by then defunct Fountains of Wayne, Chris Collingwood was derived from artists like Warren, another celebrated industry figure, who had his hand in the scope of songwriting, from jingles to films to pop hits and personal expressions of longing and introspection.

“You can take a lyric that seems really silly and tossed-off but put it against a melancholy ballad, then suddenly it becomes so much more dark or poignant.”

I have spent over two decades interviewing artists for this historical rock weekly, but I always fondly recall my chat with Adam in the spring of 2007. It was just before the release of Fountains of Wayne’s fourth record, Traffic and Weather, another in a series of incredibly infectious and brilliantly crafted pop/rock albums brimming with melody, adorned with supple harmonies and played with innate precision. The band’s pristine effort was 2002’s Welcome Interstate Managers, quite simply a pop/rock masterwork. Every track is a gem, including the band’s biggest hit, “Stacy’s Mom”, a cheeky tale of a suburban teenaged crush on the neighborhood cougar.

Adam couched his method of taking the everyday secretary, salesman, drunken frat boy, abused girlfriend and heartbroken schlep and making them epic tragicomedy figures for song. He told me, “I’ll focus on a phrase that you take for granted or that you don’t really think too much about and see if I can do something literal with it or stretch it out or do something unexpected with it.” Although he accused himself of being sloppy when it came to his immediate memory for such small incidents in the lives of the people around him, he filled in those spaces with mystical charm that lifted something as mundane as being stuck in traffic on the Tappan Zee Bridge into an existential treatise.

Tom Hanks saw this in Adam Schlesinger in 1996, when he tapped his and fellow elastic musical storyteller, Mike Viola’s “That Thing You Do” as the song that reflected the title of his film ode to 1960s one-hit wonders. Barely in the business, the first eponymously-titled Fountains of Wayne album had just been released, Adam used his preternatural ability to tap into a moment, a genre, and an era to perfectly capture the crudity of teenagers from Erie, Pennsylvania, who distilled their rock and roll dreams in a two-and-a-half minute ditty. The song, much to Adam’s chagrin, but to Hanks’s delight, is played on a repeated loop in the movie – much like a pop hit might be in the mid-sixties; “The first time I saw the movie I almost wanted to apologize to everyone in the theater,” he recalled to me.

Tom Hanks, who had also contracted the virus a month earlier with his wife, Rita Wilson, tweeted this upon hearing of Adam’s passing: “There would be no Playtone without Adam Schlesinger, without his ‘That Thing You Do’!  He was a One-der. Terribly sad today.”

Adam used that playwright mentality as musical director for the groundbreaking television series, Crazy Ex Girlfriend, a tuneful dramedy conceived and starring the multi-talented Rachel Bloom that ran from 2015 until last year. A quasi-post-modern musical that dealt with a staggering array of emotional and cultural issues, Adam, along with his team and Bloom, paid homage to every possible musical style and period. Composing for a myriad of character voices, in several and varied settings, moods and genres at that rate with such pinpoint alacrity is stunning. This genius is reflected in what he told me more than once, so much so, that I had to write it down: “You can take a lyric that seems really silly and tossed-off but put it against a melancholy ballad, then suddenly it becomes so much more dark or poignant. Or you could go the other way and just put it against something that’s fast and bouncy and it changes the meaning of it.”

Rachel Bloom tweeted the day he died: “I have so much to say about Adam Schlesinger that I am at a complete loss for words. He is irreplaceable.”

There was never a time that Adam Schlesinger came across as a big shot, but he was, a seminal American songwriting staple, but he was, or a major contributor to the universal songbook of our lives, but he sure as hell was. He was humble, intelligent, with a sense of humor you could carry with you after just ten minutes of his time. He inspired me. I was fortunate to know him, call him friend, but most of all enjoyed and cherished his art, which was immense and filled with a joy for life.

Rachel is right. His kind doesn’t come around often and to lose it has left me staggered. Like all the people he shoehorned so deftly into song after song after song, he is irreplaceable.

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