Remembering Adam Schlesinger, a Friend and Fellow Songwriter Who ‘Wanted Everyone to Win’

"He was a living, breathing victory lap," writes hitmaker Sam Hollander in a guest column.

Adam Schlesinger
The LIFE Images Collection

I first met Adam 14 years ago outside the Juice Bar in Nantucket. I quickly introduced myself because my awkward gawking would’ve made any ordinary person uncomfortable. I’d been a fan for years.

Like most songwriters, I was completely in awe of his power pop songbook. From “That Thing You Do” and “Stacy’s Mom” to Tinted Windows’ “Kind of a Girl” and Click Five’s “Just The Girl” — it was all brilliantly crafted. But on a slightly subversive note, I equally dug the fact that he scribed both The Crank Yankers and Howard Stern themes. Those are some Adam deep cuts, but classics nonetheless. You see, Adam straddled musical worlds like a champion. If he was a seesaw of song, one half was indie cool as f–k, while the other side was hilarious Borscht Belt brilliance — and yet underneath it all were these moments of melancholy that made it all mean something.

No one else could pull off that delicate balance quite like Adam.

Those in the industry recognized his immense talent. On the accomplishment tip, he was nominated for an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a couple of Tonys and Grammys, and he took home a Grammy and three Emmys for “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” He was a living, breathing victory lap.

We first started collaborating together when we were both asked to write “Muppet Movie” songs (ill-fated as most songwriting pitches are). I was giddy about the prospects. That first day, I immediately noticed a dynamic in our friendship that I had never really experienced with a peer before. Adam was totally willing to tolerate my misfires, my wack ideas without any judgements or one-upping. We always ran on parallel musical tracks and yet he never once flexed any sort of competitive nature with me. He was always one of my biggest believers and I obviously was one of his superfans (yes, I do know all the words to the soundtrack of “Music & Lyrics”). I’ve never had any other friendship like it. Morrissey may have sang “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful,” but Adam wanted me to win. Adam wanted everyone to win. He was 100-percent cheerleader.

It’s also worth noting that wherever he roamed, Adam was indeed the epicenter of fun. He loved holding court in every locale. Though his inner circle was tight, he was also a tremendous people collector — not in a showy way, more in in an “I enjoy every single person in this room” way. Every group dinner we ever had, he usually added a few new folks into the mix and they were always stellar grabs.

The subculture of Adam was truly a thing and I loved every bit of it. I have stacks of memories of nights running around together. Japanese wings and Sapporo in the East Village. Piano karaoke madness on both coasts. Our Stephen Bishop fanboying that we embraced like Deadheads singing along to Bob Weir. I learned so much about life from this man. His mantra was “No spec work!” God I loved that. He hipped me to the one spectacular bagel in Los Angeles (Maury’s). He was obsessed with his Zillow app. He’d shoot me New York listings all the time in an attempt to get me to move back. Two weeks ago I told him I was indeed buying a spot back East. Man, I was so excited for bonus Adam time. More tears.

Years ago, when I was hiding in my Manhattan hotel room dealing with the impending loss of my hospice-bound pops, it was Adam who took me out every night to clear my head. Honestly, he was just the funniest, sweetest, most generous and upbeat guy out there.

God, I could go on and on.

His daughters were everything to him. He was so unbelievably proud of both Sadie and Claire, and constantly updated all of us on their amazing developments back in Riverdale. His excitement about the April premiere of his musical “Bedwetter,” that he wrote with Sarah Silverman, and a Broadway musical adaptation of the TV show “The Nanny” that he was developing with Rachel Bloom before this evil virus ruined everything, was palpable.

As our pal Mike Viola pointed out last night, most of our creative careers are akin to Action Park rollercoasters — filled with epic highs and spectacular crashes. Adam’s never crashed. It was just one perfect trajectory up. He was blessed like that. That’s why none of us ever envisioned anything in this life taking him down.

To say I’m in shock would be a massive understatement. God, I really loved this fella. I know I speak for everyone who knew him when I say, I feel completely robbed. This is bullshit. He was one of the best buddies I ever had, and I honestly can’t envision life without him. I want to send my thoughts, love and comfort to his family, extended family and near dear friends, girlfriend Alexis, his musical co-conspirator Stephen Gold, lifelong brothers Jonathan Small and Jeremy Freeman, FOW, Fever High crew, James Iha, Eric Weinberg, Sid Gold’s, WXOU etc.

For those who were blessed to know him, he was simply the King.

Sam Hollander is a veteran songwriter who was named one of Variety‘s 2019 Hitmakers of the Year for his work on Panic! at the Disco’s “High Hopes.” Signed to Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Hollander’s additional credits include Panic’s “Hey Look Ma, I Made It” and Fitz and the Tantrums’ “HandClap.”