Coronavirus Music: Remembering some of the musical influencers lost to COVID-19

OSTN Staff

The coronavirus plays no favourites. This Easter perhaps it’s worth revisiting some of the musicians who gave so much before the virus took them.

Adam Schlesinger (1967- 2020)

In 1995, Adam Schlesinger started the alternative rock band Fountains of Wayne.

Schlesinger played bass and wrote or co-wrote much of the band’s five albums, which were highly regarded by critics but never reached a wider audience.

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Schlesinger died of COVID-19 complications on April 1. Photo: Getty

The band’s sound was based around jangly guitars underneath stories of quirky middle-class life.

New Jersey is the locus of these songs, many of them from the perspective of sweet losers; kids in love with their girlfriend’s mother, the superstar singer of a suburban cover band, a hapless salesman. The influence of Ray Davies and the Kinks and cult heroes Big Star is strong with Adam.

Schlesinger was more successful in theatre and film, notably the soundtrack for Tom Hanks’ directorial debut, That Thing You Do!.

Other projects included the Stephen Colbert’s Christmas and the sitcom My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

For connoisseurs of classic pop, the key Fountains of Wayne albums are the self-titled debut, Utopia Parkway and Welcome Interstate Managers. They’ll brighten your day.

Hal Willner  (1956 – 2020)

Willner was much more than just a record producer or the music director for Saturday Night Live.

His best works were projects that put unlikely artists together to celebrate something you hadn’t thought of. Those projects ranged from the work of Nino Rota, Walt Disney, Leonard Cohen and Charlie Mingus.

And there were some things such as the collection of pirate songs which was disastrously toured to the Sydney Festival.

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Wilner, who died on April 7, was SNL‘s longtime musical director. Photo: Getty

His most successful project was I’m Your Man, his Leonard Cohen tribute. Willner’s Tim Buckley tribute introduced Buckley’s son Jeff to the New York music community.

Willner also produced albums for Marianne Faithfull, Bill FrisellWilliam S. BurroughsGavin FridayLucinda WilliamsLaurie Anderson and Allen Ginsberg.

He also produced a number of albums for the notoriously irascible Lou Reed. They became best friends.

To comb through Willner’s body of work is like the perfect anthology of hipsterism. I recommend you check out

John Prine (1946- 2020)

Bob Dylan described John Prine’s songs as, “pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mind trips to the nth degree.”

He was discovered in 1970 by Kris Kristofferson and by 1971 his self-titled first album.

That LP contained Sam Stone, with the line “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes” and Angel from Montgomery.

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Prine was remembered as a major musical influence. Photo: Getty

While critically acclaimed, the debut was not a hit and subsequent records earned great praise from critics and fellow songwriters but not commercial radio.

Prine’s songs were full of wry jokes and beautifully rendered characters. Songs like Jesus, the Missing Years, Some Humans Ain’t Human, Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone were sharp satires.

His more serious songs cut to the quick in so many emotional circumstances.

Speed of the Sound of Loneliness is a devastating relationship song, the story of a depressed housewife in Angel from Montgomery and the tribute to old age in Summer’s End.

The latter track is from his 2018 LP, The Tree of Forgiveness, which is, ironically, the highest charting album of his career.

Over recent years Prine battled cancer and lost one lung, but was finally felled by coronavirus in his hometown of Nashville. He was a man of enormous grace and humanity which came through all his work.

Toby Creswell is a music journalist and pop-culture writer, as well as a former editor of Rolling Stone (Australia) and founding editor of Juice.

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