Sunday, September 13, 2015

Ten from Fountains of Wayne: "I-95" and "A Road Song"

#8 and #9

"I-95" / "A Road Song" /
Fountains of Wayne

What?  The only Fountains of Wayne song you know is their one pop hit, "Stacy's Mom"?  Now that's a shame.  Permit me to widen your horizons, with not one but ten FOW tracks that prove their genius...   

You know how rock stars, one they've made it big, love to write self-pitying songs about how hard life is on the road? (Not to mention self-pitying songs about groupies.) 
That's not Fountains of Wayne's turf. But these guys have been touring and making music since the early 90s -- they've done their time on the road.  As you'd expect, though, their take on it is somewhat different. 

From Traffic and Weather (2007)
Take "I-95," for example. Never once in this song do we hear anything about why the singer is driving on this highway.  All we hear is a numbing litany of things he notices at the anonymous rest stops along it.  You know the stuff -- Guns 'n' Rose CDs, Virginia Is For Lovers t-shirts, and (my favorite detail) Barney DVDs. Ah, the detritus of modern culture, "gifts" that nobody wants, in a place nobody wants to stop. The lagging tempo, the chromatic melody line -- it perfectly captures the boredom of a long-distance drive.
In verse two he's back on the road, fiddling with the radio knobs, trying to get a station. (What?  No Sirius/XM?  No iPod port?) For a minute, stars fill the sky and "it feels so cinematic" -- but, you know highway driving: Someone cuts in front of him and the mood is destroyed. 
But the melody lifts in the chorus, as we learn why he's doing it: "It's a nine-hour drive from me to you . . . And I'll do it 'til the day that I die / Just to see you." That's so wistful, so sweet, it gets me every time. And there's the coup de grace, that funny little guitar fill between the two "just to see you's," as if he's imagining her reply.  
Okay, okay, he could be a traveling salesman, or a long-haul trucker. But in this next song, he outs himself as a musician on the road. 
From Sky Full of Holes (2011)
He even calls it "A Road Song," and admits, "it may be a cliché." But not the way FOW tells it.  
They're been on the road so long, he's got no idea where they are (Wisconsin? Chicago?). In one brilliant rhyme -- "In between the stops at Crackerbarrel / And forty movies with Will Ferrell" -- he condenses all the crappy interstate travel tedium. 
In the later verses, though, he gives up the Everyman persona to give us backstage glimpses. "Some kid threw a bottle on stage / He had an arm like a pro" -- it's the little stuff that makes it real. Being a rock star isn't all glamorous -- in fact, he wouldn't even call himself a rock star. "I know it's not what you call necessary / And I know I'm no Steve Perry..." (the lead singer for Journey -- although, I'll admit, I had to Google that, which makes the disclaimer even funnier). 
It's not a lonesome song. The tempo clicks along, the melody skips around brightly.  He's working, it's all routine, it's fine. He just -- well, he just wanted to call her. He was thinking of her. No big deal.
Even when Fountains of Wayne try to act like rock stars, they end up making it about real people. In this case, them.  


Anonymous said...

I love these guys too, Holly. And as someone who always tries to buy band merch t-shirts (to give to girlfriends, wife, and now my kids...ok, I'll admit I wear them too!) the line about the "light blue t-shirt" in Road Song makes me smile. PS: I'm hoping your FoW enthusiasm leads you toward Adam Schlesinger's sometime collaborator, the power pop genius Mike Viola.
$20 Bill

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, both these songs were written by Adam Schlesinger who is one of my musical heroes. He has a way of touching my heart & still making me laugh. FoW has a plethora of songs that will live on in my memory forever & I lament the end of that band tremendously. I think very highly of all the members but know I will follow Adam wherever he goes in his musical endeavors. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on these phenomenal songs.