Pop songwriter-at-large and Fountains of Wayne bassist Adam Schlesinger died from COVID-19 this week after decades of cranking out hits for films and TV shows alike. Like many of us, Conan O’Brien found himself “sad and devastated” to hear of the musician’s passing. So the late-night host decided to pay tribute to Schlesinger by honoring him with a short monologue and airing a throwback Fountains of Wayne performance from 2001.
Shortly after the September 11th attacks, Conan O’Brien was trying to figure out how to balance the right atmosphere on his show, Late Night. As he recalls, Fountains of Wayne were scheduled to perform the week after and, instead of promoting their own music, decided to play a cover of The Kinks’ song “Better Things”. Apparently Schlesinger “loved and worshipped Ray Davies and The Kinks” and knew the cover song would be a perfect fit for the moment. Now, after his death, O’Brien has found new comfort in that Fountain of Wayne rendition.
“Adam was a brilliant guy who loved music, loved comedy, had been nominated or won almost every award you could conceive of in his career,” said O’Brien. “I have many memories of Adam because he came on my late-night show I think about six times with Fountains of Wayne. I’m thinking of him particularly on one occasion. It was right after 9/11 and I was trying to get my show up and running again — it’s very difficult to get a comedy show going under those circumstances, how do you do it, you’re looking for people to help — and Fountains of Wayne came on the program and performed a cover of The Kinks’ classic song ‘Better Things’.”
“It was such a special moment that, at the time, I couldn’t imagine a better song for the people to be listening to than ‘Better Things’,” said O’Brien. “Now here we are, Adam has just passed, and once again I can’t think of a better song for these times than ‘Better Things’ as performed by Fountains of Wayne.” Watch it in full below.
Musicians and celebrities alike have been paying tribute to Schlesinger this week, including Tom Hanks, Jack Antonoff, and Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis. During one of his recurring livestream concerts, Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard honored Schlesinger with a cover of “Barbara H”.
O’Brien was the first late-night host to find a production model that works in the era of coronavirus and social distancing. Since returning with new episodes on March 30th, he’s been busy delivering jokes from his home and video chatting with various celebrities. By far the best moment, though, came from an unexpected “opera” jam between O’Brien and Adam Sandler which, unsurprisingly, you need to see to believe.