It’s been about 17 years since I sat in the backseat of my mother’s gold minivan screaming the lyrics to Fountains of Wayne’s “Bright Future in Sales.”
Chris Collingwood sang, “I’m gonna get my shit together. Cause I can’t live like this forever.” I kept singing the word “ship” because I didn’t know what swear words were yet.
It’s been almost a year since the band’s co-songwriter and bass player Adam Schlesinger died of complications from COVID-19.
For the past year, I’ve been continuously spinning the band’s records, falling back in love with the witty, heartfelt power pop that overjoyed me as a very small child.
Mostly, I’ve been listening to the band’s 2003 masterpiece “Welcome Interstate Managers.” For the readers that don’t know, this record features the song “Stacy’s Mom.”
It would be practically impossible to write about Fountains of Wayne without mentioning “Stacy’s Mom” as this generation has morphed it into a meme. I think a lot of people assume Fountains of Wayne were a one-hit wonder as “Stacy’s Mom” so easily dominated the rest of their catalogue, managing to remain in the public consciousness long after its release.
“Welcome Interstate Managers” is more than its biggest hit, though. The concept record details the grind of entering the labor force in your early 20s: tedious meetings, incessant phone calls and a seemingly endless list of responsibilities. Growing up is definitely not as exciting as it seemed when you were younger. Sometimes I wish I could be that kid in the backseat again, ripe with potential and not dulled by the world around me.
Life is difficult and capricious. Album-opener “Mexican Wine” relays multiple tragic stories. A man’s cell phone explodes, immediately killing him. A woman leaves her pills in her glove compartment and, of course, that’s the day she truly needs them. Finally, with a dazzling key change, the narrator reveals he was fired from United Airlines for reading a High Times magazine. Like the two characters before him, he did nothing wrong, but bad things still happened.
“Life happens” is such an interesting phrase. It implies that life is cruel and will always be. Sometimes it makes me feel hopeless, that I’ll never have any control over my life, that I’ll be fighting for the wheel forever.
But what happened if you stopped fighting? For just a minute?
“Because the sun still shines in the summertime,” Collingwood sings on the chorus. “I’ll be yours if you’ll be mine. I tried to change but I changed my mind. Think I’ll have another glass of Mexican Wine.”
With vaccination numbers rising and the pandemic potentially nearing a close, it’s almost overwhelming to think about the next six months unfolding. Will things really ever feel normal again? What does normal look like? If we pretend as if nothing happened are we dishonoring the thousands who have died?
Ultimately, I don’t have answers to a majority of these questions. And that’s okay. No one has to have everything figured out or be productive every second of every day. But I think a lot of us still need to come to terms with that. Sometimes we won’t have control. And we need to be okay with that.
The fact that Fountain of Wayne’s music can still resonate with me 17 years later is a testament to their talent. It’s a testament to Adam Schlesinger’s ability as a songwriter. And it’s a testament to our shared humanity. To Adam Schlesinger and the rest of the band, thank you for your help through a particularly difficult time.