Adam Schlesinger’s music belonged on television. One of the Fountains of Wayne songwriter’s most visible composition was 2003’s “Stacy’s Mom,” thanks to its Rachel Hunter-in-a-bikini-led video that dominated MTV. The clip preceded a slew of other Schlesinger-penned pop-rock hits anchored by glossy visual treatments; think The Click Five’s “Just the Girl,” Bowling for Soup’s “High School Never Ends,” and more. Schlesinger, who died on April 1, also spent the latter 2010s working on more than 150 hilarious, often poignant tunes for The CW musical series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, writing that won him an Emmy in 2019.
But before all that, both Schlesinger himself and his music appeared on MTV’s The Real World. He wasn’t a cast member, but at the time of the show’s inaugural season in 1992, he played in a New York City duo called Les Enfant Terribles with Rebecca “Becky” Blasband, one of the show’s original seven stars. “The thing about Adam is that he was very driven,” she told MTV News over the phone this week. “Even though he was sort of a very relaxed and humorous and brilliant songwriter, he was very pragmatic. He knew exactly where he was going and what he was gonna do.”
The pair are seen rehearsing a song together in the show’s very first episode, around 16 minutes in. It was “Half a Woman,” a country-tinged tune that would later appear on a Fountains of Wayne compilation album in 2005. At the time, though Schlesinger had been writing with fellow member Chris Collingwood, that band didn’t officially exist yet. But Les Enfant Terribles was going strong.
“We would play a lot of songs and drink red wine and record into his answering machine, like sketches I had,” she said. After being introduced by a mutual friend, the pair started haunting the city’s music-club scene, though the storied CBGB rejected them because of their cheekily pretentious moniker. They’d stay up all night chain-smoking and making music at Schlesinger’s legendary West Village loft, a “ramshackle fifth-floor walk up,” the New York Times once called it. “In my songs, he’d say, ‘Well, what about this bridge?’ But he would never interfere. He knew I had something to say, but he was such a great collaborator, which was one of the reasons he became so successful. He was really interested in other people’s ideas and opinions.”
That collaboration was documented on The Real World as a way to introduce Blasband and her own musical ambitions. In Episode 1, she sits with Schlesinger as they both strum acoustic guitars and quickly try to lock in the chords for “Half a Woman.” She has a solo showcase later that night at the “super cheesy nouveau riche” club where she worked as a waitress, and she needs to nail her moment onstage. Her songs were too “introspective” for the moment, Blasband thought, so she picked one of Schlesinger’s. “When he played it for me, it was so charming,” she said.”
As the episode shows, her moment comes, and Blasband doesn’t waste it. Clad in all black, she delivers the twangy song with a smile, going throaty for its menacing lyrics: “Well he’d tie her up, set her on fire / Douse her with oil, the crowd would go wild.” Not bad considering she’d only learned to play it a few hours earlier in a single rehearsal. “I could’ve used a few more, ’cause I was actually terrified when I got up there and sang. I had been playing and singing only for like a year and a half,” she said.
In that time, Blasband and Schlesinger had gotten close. They dated, and she said their great friendship had an almost sibling-like quality of mutual understanding. Their Gen X bohemian social circle consisted of fellow songwriters and creatives, all supporting each other as they navigated their early twenties in the city. They’d go watch and perform live music, and Blasband mentioned being at the same hotspots as Jeff Buckley. Occasionally, the crew would take a four-day weekend and stay at Schlesinger’s parents’ home in nearby Montclair, New Jersey, where the pool was gleaming and the fridge was always full. “All of us starving waifs would basically eat everything,” she said.
Blasband’s music career continued on, even as she and Schlesinger went in opposite directions. She pursued a more folk-influenced sound and moved to Los Angeles. She released her debut album, Rapt, in 1997 and opened up for acts like Matchbox Twenty and Jon Bon Jovi. Schlesinger, meanwhile, remained on the East Coast; his big break came after he wrote the title song to Tom Hanks’s 1996 movie That Thing You Do! and saw his career as an in-demand songwriter and producer take off. They’d occasionally catch up in both New York and L.A., driving around and joking about launching a dance band they’d call Fromage.
“Every time I’d see him again, he was just my Adam,” she said, “and that’s the person I’m going to miss terribly.”
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Dedicated to my friend Adam Schlesinger who sadly lost his life today from complications of Covid 19. He was a dear, old friend and a brilliant talent. I will miss you Adam. Terribly. My heart goes out to his family and friends, especially to Chris.#adamschlesinger #fountainsofwayne #songwriter #loveyou #thatthingyoudo #ivy
Like a lot of his admirers and past collaborators, she couldn’t answer right away when asked for a favorite of his compositions. Instead, she emailed back 11 minutes later with a few options, including the dreamy Ivy tune “Edge of the Ocean,” which she said recalled some of what they’d worked on together in the Les Enfant Terribles days. Another pick, one that’s emerged as perhaps the defining tune in a deeply beloved and rightfully adored pop-rock catalog of a lifetime, was “That Thing You Do!” She noted, “It’s entirely Adam and really joyful.”
For her part, Blasband is still closely holding Schlesinger, and that entire era of their mutual artistic adventures. She’d recently revisited those memories for a memoir she’s working on, and she’d planned to show him the chapter during a surprise visit to New York sometime this year. Instead, she’ll keep writing.
“When you’re young and you bond and grow together, that’s an extraordinary kind of bond,” she said. “He let me be who I was.”
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