As you have probably heard by now, earlier this week Adam Schlesinger, songwriter and bassist of Fountains of Wayne, passed away from complications related to COVID-19. It’s tragic and horrible and I feel terribly for my extended music community who are grieving for him. I’ve been familiar with his work, though I wasn’t aware of just how bananas his credits list is. I recommend checking out his Wikipedia Page to see the length of his songwriting resume. You’ve definitely heard a lot of his music. If anything, go listen to Fountains of Wayne. He was a huge talent and I’m bummed that I was never able to see the band live.
In addition to Fountains of Wayne, obviously, the one thing I knew was that he wrote “That Thing You Do”, the title track to the 1996 music comedy starring, written and directed by Tom Hanks. So while this song has been stuck in my head constantly for the past couple days, it hit me that That Thing You Do! was probably my first exposure to the concept of starting a band. I was 12 when the movie came out, a solid year at least before I ever went to a local show, or even knew that “local band” was a thing that existed.
Recently I was interviewed for Dear Young Rocker, an awesome podcast that talks to folks about finding music when they were a kid and the path to becoming a musician as an adult. I mentioned a lot of things that I hadn’t thought about in a long time, but looking back I absolutely should’ve mentioned That Thing You Do!, a film I watched (rented?) constantly, well before I ever picked up a guitar. How did I miss this?
So here’s the rabbit hole I’ve fled down since the reality of “being in a band” has drastically changed for myself and everyone I know. These are the things that made me think I could/should do this, that playing music in front of people is a fun thing, and that wearing an “outfit” on stage should be mandatory.
That Thing You Do!
The story of a fictional small town band called The Wonders who make it big in a very Beatles-esque manner, featuring a title track that is a perfect tune. It was their one hit (get it, one hit wonders?! GET IT?!) I don’t know if it was ever on the radio but I definitely owned the cassingle. That’s short for cassette single, kids. Ethan Embry freaks out, Liv Tyler cries, and Tom Hanks tries to be slightly unlikeable. Your typical mid-90s teen hit and I LOVED it.
Aside from just being quality entertainment, it taught me some important lessons about being in a band.
- Outfits! These guys all have their quirks and at least one of them is just a straight up dork but you wouldn’t know it because they LOOK LIKE THEY KNOW WHAT THEY’RE DOING.
- A truly good song can be played at all different speeds and styles and sometimes “gig-speed” can be a good thing!
- Hearing your song played on terrestrial radio is REALLY FUCKING COOL.
- You can record a #1 hit in one take with the entire band playing within five feet of one another (I’m kidding, I still think that’s insane, but you can never go wrong with your friends adding hand-claps).
Did you know you can save your local record store from being bought out by a big corporation by having your friend’s band play on the store’s marquee with a few hours notice and only passing the hat and selling beer? Well, that’s what the kids in this movie did. Another pretty unrealistic story of DIY ethics but it gave me hope, ok? Ethan Embry freaks out, Liv Tyler cries, and Rex Manning is massively unlikeable. Another classic mid-90s teen hit that explains a lot about me. See our second single “Sinead O’Rebellion” for further proof. Lessons learned: Your heroes are probably weirdos, drastic haircuts are just what you have to do sometimes, and his name isn’t. fucking. Warren.
Josie and the Pussycats
By the time this movie came out I was about to graduate from high school and I definitely went to actual pop punk shows by then, so this was a bit of a guilty pleasure, but the songs are solid ear-worms and, wildly, Adam Schlesinger wrote a couple of them. The band sounds like if someone had dumped purple glitter on The Muffs and made them all wear cat ears. Another somewhat unrealistic look at how bands work, but the main plot line involved a major label conspiring with the US government to put subliminal messages into pop music, so my 17-year-old punkrock self ate that up. Bottom line: don’t trust label execs that look like someone dropped Alan Cumming and Parker Posey into the Hunger Games.
If you need some extra joy today, watch Jabber do an entire Josie and the Pussycats cover set at Fest a couple years ago:
Not a movie but a new-wave band from Portland, OR active in the 2000’s and one of the first touring bands I knew who weren’t kids from New Brunswick, NJ. The first bar show I ever snuck into was to see them at Club Luxx in Brooklyn (later known as Trash Bar) when I was 19 because my best friend Jules knew them and said we were doing their merch.
They toured in an RV, brought their own lights and had to wrap themselves in different color duct tape every night. I remember dancing like maniacs at their shows every chance we got and Roxy Epoxy was the first touring frontwoman I ever knew socially. An amazingly talented singer and performer, she was a true example to me before I was ever in a band.
It’s why I think writing something like this is even mildly interesting or important, to know that there are real stories and real people behind what you might think of as a your pipe dream. Get out there and do whatever weird thing you want to do. Wrap yourself in duct tape on stage every night. Go for it.
The Epoxies’ record Stop The Future is one of my favorites. I dug up this live video of them so you can see what I’m talking about:
A few other things that made me think that being in a band was a thing I should do before I had even turned 21:
- Lillith Fair taking local stage submissions (I sent them a demo and had never played a show before)
- That line in “Don’t Look Back In Anger” by Oasis where he sings “Please don’t put your life in the hands of a rock and roll band who’ll throw it all away.” ::hold my beer::
- The episode of Ghostwriter where one of the girls miraculously gets her demo tape in front of a major label exec and they make a music video
- The VHS copy of Decline of Western Civilization directed by Penelope Spheeris that must’ve been a copy of a copy of a copy. A documentary on the LA punk scene in the 80’s - and now I live there! wild!
I’ll have more songs and covers and things for you soon. If you want to listen to me play some songs and hang out for an hour on Saturday, I’m doing the LA LGBT Center Coffee Hour that goes to benefit their CARE Fund. It’s a $10 suggested donation and will be a zoom call that starts at 2pm EST / 11am PST.
If you’d also like to help support me / the band right now, the best ways to do that are buying our record, picking up some merch, or being a paid subscriber to this newsletter. You can also officially find our record physically in stores today which is very exciting, so please think about ordering directly from your local record shop if they’re not physically open right now. See below for a list of some that have it!
Damn the man, save the empire,