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The Founders of the Band Fountains of Wayne.

Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood who are co-founders of the band "Fountains of Wayne". Their second album "Utopia Parkway" has just been released. (Atlantic) Anchored by the song writing team of Chris and Adam , the New York-based band released its debut album "Radiation Vibe" in late 1996. Now the Fountains are back with "Utopia Parkway," described as a concept album about teenage life in the "Greater Metropolitan Areas" outside of New York City.


Other segments from the episode on June 10, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 10, 1999: Interview with Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood; Interview with Tom Perrotta.


Date: JUNE 10, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 061001np.217
Head: Fountains of Wayne
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guests are the co-founders of the band Fountains of Wayne, Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger. They have a new CD, their second, called "Utopia Parkway." Here's how rock critic Greg Cott (ph) described it in "Rolling Stone."

"The duo has a blast celebrating and satirizing the rituals of youth, whether sending up the high school prom themes, joining the caravan to the big rock extravaganza or trolling the concrete jungle. They create a 14 song tribute to four glorious decades of pop."

In "Newsweek" critic Karen Schomer (ph) said the band "has a gift for turning low-key tales of office temps and party girls into hummable little masterpieces." Co-founder Adam Schlesinger received an Academy Award nomination for writing the title song for Tom Hanks' movie "That Thing You Do."

Lets hear the title song from the new Fountains of Wayne CD, "Utopia Parkway."


Well I've saving for a custom van
And I've I been playing in a cover band
And my baby doesn't understand
Why I never turn from boy to man

I got it made
I got it down
I am the king of this island town
I'm on my own

Well I'm on my way
To Utopia Parkway

GROSS: Chris Collingwood, Adam Schlesinger, welcome to FRESH AIR. What's the story behind this song?

ADAM SCHLESINGER, MUSICIAN, FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: The song is about a guy who's playing in a cover band, and he's sort of a little bit too old to be playing in a rock band but can't quite give up the dream of it. And it's kind of making myself, you know. The absurdity of what we do in a way.

But, you know, he's just -- he's talking about the idea that he's going to take over the town. He's going to make it into New York and conquer the big city.

GROSS: Before you guys actually succeeded as a band did you think that you were going to be in this perpetual state of adolescence and never quite making it as a band but being stuck in that place?

SCHLESINGER: You know, it's so hard to say, did you ever that think you'd be stuck in perpetual...


It's like being in a rock band, it's almost something we can't help, you know. You try to be an adult about it, but it is sort of a ridiculous thing to be doing. And I think we actually write about a lot of adolescent sort of teenage scenarios and things.

But for us it's almost more because it's -- it's what's traditionally done with the form, and we're really interested in, you know, the form of pop songs. And I'd rather write about a high school prom or something than to write about a midlife crisis, you know, "I pay my taxes."




Well, it's tax time again.


It's that time of year.

GROSS: That song is from your new CD, and I'm wondering if you think that you've headed in a new direction on the new CD from the first one.

SCHLESINGER: For us it's not really a new direction, it's actually more of an direction. Because we played in a series of bands together before we even started Fountains of Wayne. I mean, we've been playing together in one form or another since we were 18.

And the stuff that we did originally was more kind of -- I don't know how to describe it -- I mean, less rock and more pop maybe, you know. And I think that's where this record has gone. So in a weird way it feels like kind of back to our roots.

I mean, when we made our first album we went into a studio with a Marshall Amplifier and just made a lot of noise. And we had never really recorded anything like that before. So to us, you know, it was like this big rock extravaganza.

Although it probably doesn't sound like that to your average teenager, it probably sounds like a wimpy pop band. But on this record we wanted to have, you know, different kinds of textures on the record. Some subtler stuff, some slightly more introspective stuff mixed in with the kind of jokey fun, loud stuff.

GROSS: Oh, don't sell that first album short. I really like it.

SCHLESINGER: Oh, I don't mean it that way. I mean, you know, the first album was just -- it was written in about a week. It was recorded in about another week and it was just this kind of blast of energy.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

SCHLESINGER: And I think it's great, and I think it's, you know, it's the perfect way to approach a first record. Just have a good time and, you know, create this kind of blueprint for yourself. But we wanted to try to expand on that a little bit, not just do the same thing again.

GROSS: When that record came out, when your first record came out, rock critic Robert Christgau said that he thinks, "you sing the kind words every shy guy who didn't get the girl thinks of." And I think a good illustration of that point is the song, "Leave the Biker."

Which is a really catchy -- catchy song. Why don't we play that? This is "Leave the Biker" from the first Fountains of Wayne CD.


Seems the further from town I go
The more I hate this place
He's got leather and big tattoos
Scars all over his face

And I wonder if he ever has cried
Because he couldn't get a date for the prom
He's got his arm around every man's dream
The crumbs in his beard from the seafood special

Oh can't you see my world
Is falling apart
Baby please leave the biker
Leave the biker

Break his heart
Baby please the biker
Leave the biker
Break his heart

Now his friend leans over and says
Looks like we got us a fag
I wonder if that guy's read one word
That wasn't in a porno mag

And I wonder if he ever has cried
Because his kitten got run over and died
He's got his arm around every man's dream
Crumbs in his beard from the seafood special

Oh can't you see my world is falling apart
Baby please leave the biker
Leave the biker
Break his heart

Baby please leave the biker
Leave the biker
Break his heart

GROSS: That's from the first Fountains of Wayne CD. Do you think Robert Christgau was onto something? Do you think of yourselves as former shy guys who didn't get the girl?


CHRIS COLLINGWOOD, MUSICIAN, FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: I think there's a lot made out of that actually. And it's funny because...

GROSS: ... too much, you mean?

COLLINGWOOD: Well, I think that if people are really eager to call you "geek rock" or whatever, it sort of lumps you into this convenient category which ignores the subtler aspects of some of the songwriting. Not that that's the most subtle song that we've ever written.


And, you know, I mean, to some degree it might have been a mistake to put that song on the record, because I'd hate to sort of go down in history as this joke songwriter.

GROSS: Oh, but it's catchy. I don't think -- I think it's a good song.

COLLINGWOOD: No, it is. And, I mean, I think the thing is that obviously that song's supposed to be fun and a lot of them are. But at the same time, you know, people, especially in America I think more so even than in Europe, assume that any voice that you have in a song is you confessing, you know, your inner thoughts.

And the idea of writing from like the perspective of a character or something is a little bit confusing to people.

GROSS: Mmm-hmm.

COLLINGWOOD: So a lot of times there are songs written that are not literally supposed to be us speaking our minds. And that sometimes gets missed.

GROSS: Well, there's nice lines in the song like the line about the guy having crumbs in his beard from the seafood special.


SCHLESINGER: I think the main thing with that whole sort of the "geeky" sort of tag or whatever is that neither of us would be comfortable writing a song that had a really kind of macho aggressive pose to it. It definitely does come more naturally to us to write from like a weaker perspective. It just -- maybe it's just because it makes the song more sympathetic or something.

GROSS: Uh-huh. Well, there's that line, "I wonder if he's ever cried because he couldn't get a date for the prom." And then there's a prom song on your new CD also that I think is kind of mocking that stereotyped emotion you're supposed to have on the prom like this is the crowning moment of my life. And after this I'm going to like have a receding hairline and, you know, just work all the time and life will be over.

It's like the oldest cliche in the book about how you're supposed to feel on prom night.

SCHLESINGER: Yeah, I -- I actually went to two high school proms, I went to my own and then I went to the prom at the high school where my girlfriend at the time went out on Long Island. And they were both pretty much identical, these kind of suburban proms.

And even though I was only whatever, 17, at the time I was already too cynical to enjoy it. So I kind of ruined it for both of us.


And she never really forgave me, you know. I think that was the beginning of the end of our relationship.

GROSS: Did you play a lot of proms?

SCHLESINGER: No, but we actually wanted to do that now. Talking about, you know, trying to get some pros on our tour schedule for this year.

GROSS: You're kidding, right?


SCHLESINGER: No, I'm not kidding.

GROSS: Why would you want to do that?

SCHLESINGER: Because we're a really good cover band, although we don't like to admit it. But we always end up playing a lot of covers. And, you know, I think it would be fun.

GROSS: What do you cover?

SCHLESINGER: Anything people yell out.

COLLINGWOOD: Everything.

SCHLESINGER: We played a show in Seattle, or Portland, Oregon I think it was actually, on our last tour where we ended up doing one Billy Joel song for everyone of our songs. So by the end of the night I think we'd done, you know, 10 or 12 Billy Joel songs; none of which we had ever played before.


COLLINGWOOD: Actually that -- the funny thing about that is like I found out online about six months later it had become this sort of legendary thing like in some newsgroup that was like...

SCHLESINGER: They had the set list. "Then they did `Just A Fantasy,' and then they did `Allentown.' It was great.

GROSS: My guests are the co-founders of the band Fountains of Wayne, Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guests are the co-founders of the band Fountains of Wayne, Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger. Their new CD is called "Utopia Parkway."

How did you first meet? You've been playing together a long time.

COLLINGWOOD: Yeah, we met in college. We were both, I think, about 19 at the time. And we've sort of been playing steadily in bands ever since then. We had about 10 different bands throughout -- since about 19 -- or actually, 1987...

SCHLESINGER: ... '6 or '7, yeah.

COLLINGWOOD: To the present. Most of which were incredibly terrible. And they all had really horrible names. And we actually...

GROSS: Such as, such as?

COLLINGWOOD: We used to change our name, you know, once a week.

COLLINGWOOD: Because if people had saw us once...


If we advertised with the same name they'd never come back. We were called Wooly Mammoth. That was about three people who, when standing side by side, have a wingspan of over 12 feet.


Are You My Mother? (ph) -- Are You My Mother?


GROSS: Why did you call the band that?

SCLESINGER: That's a children's book actually.

COLLINGWOOD: We had Green Light Go, that's another children's book.

SCHLESINGER: The silly thing is that Fountains of Wayne was just one of these, you know, in the pile of names that we would just kind of rotate. And that ended up being the one that we got stuck with. But I kind of prefer Are You My Mother? actually. Maybe we should switch it.

GROSS: How did you come up with Fountains of Wayne, and why is that the name that stuck?

SCHLESINGER: Fountains of Wayne is a store in a town called Wayne, New Jersey, which is near where I grew up. And I think it was something that my mother actually suggested at some point. I mean, she works...

COLLINGWOOD: ... that was about 10 years ago.

SCHLESINGER: Yeah, while we were probably...

COLLINGWOOD: ... while we were tossing around all these bad band names.

SCHLESINGER: And she always full of, you know, really horrible ideas for things we should do to help the band out. So she would suggest these terrible names, and we'd say, "oh, God, that's a horrible band name."

And she would also say things like, "why don't you guys -- why don't you guys play shows where you have two pianos onstage and you can both play piano. And that will be your gimmick."

And I'd just say, "you know, I really don't have the time to explain why that's a bad idea right now. But at some point I will."

COLLINGWOOD: My family was always saying, "you know, why don't you go on that David Letterman show? That seems to do those bands a lot of good."


GROSS: Was she offering to get you own?

COLLINGWOOD: "OK. I'll just call him up." No, she just, you know, that was her idea for promotion.

GROSS: I want to play another recording from your first CD, and this is called "She's Got a Problem." I think this is also a really good song. Would you say thing about writing it? Which of you wrote this one?

SCHLESINGER: I wrote it, although Chris had the title. And I kind of took the title and wrote a song around it. I mean, one thing that we did early on a lot was to just sit down and kind of throw out possible song titles. And then it was almost a game to see, you know, who could turn it into an actual song.

COLLINGWOOD: Yeah, we actually sat in a bar and wrote them on bar napkins. I don't know if you still have those, but...

SCHLESINGER: I have a napkin...

COLLINGWOOD: ... these soggy napkins.

UKNOWN: With like 50 possible titles. And most of the songs on the first album are on there somewhere. And then there's a bunch of really bad ones that we couldn't even bring ourselves to write.

So, yeah, I mean, "She's Got a Problem," funnily enough was a song that I had sort of been working on a little bit. And when Chris suggested that title I kind of grafted onto this idea that I had, you know, rolling around.

COLLINGWOOD: There's a good image, you grafted it.


COLLINGWOOD: As if it was a burn victim.


SCHLESINGER: Grafted it like a burn victim onto my idea.

GROSS: So why don't we hear "She's Got a Problem" from the first Fountains of Wayne CD.


I know a girl
Who should never be alone
I know I girl
Who should never be alone

She's a danger to herself
And I'm worried about her health
She's got a problem
And she's going to do something dumb

GROSS: That's Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger, Fountains of Wayne. And that's from their first CD. They have a new CD, which is called "Utopia Parkway."

SCHLESINGER: We should mention too, by the way, that the band at this point is not just the two of us. Although it pretty much was making that first record. But we're actually a four-piece band now, and we have a drummer named Brian Young who was in The Posies for a long time. And a guitar player named Jody Porter.

And they joined the band right after we finished making that first record, and they toured with us for that whole last year. And on this new record we actually recorded it in a more traditional kind of band style with all of us playing.

GROSS: When you wanted to expand the band did you find the people you wanted to play with in an inorganic way, or did you actually hold auditions and so on?


SCHLESINGER: We actually tried to hold auditions, didn't we?

COLLINGWOOD: Oh, my God. It was the most ludicrous thing you've ever seen.

SCHLESINGER: You know, we put an add in "The Village Voice" or something and just, you know, I think we met every horrible musician in the New York area. And it's just -- I can't even begin to tell you how funny those auditions are.

COLLINGWOOD: I think there are people who just make a career out of going to rock auditions. And you can probably tell, like, the guys who showed up, you know, it's their fifth one that day - can't understand why things aren't going right for them.


GROSS: How did -- did you tell them what you wanted to hear, or would they just come up with like an audition piece and perform it for you?

COLLINGWOOD: Most of the time they had a copy of a demo or something, and we would kind of like learn this song and just wing it, whatever. So they'd show up and plug-in, they'd leave and we'd laugh.


Then the next guy would come in. Yeah, I mean, as it turned out, you know, that proved futile really quickly and so Jody, the guitar player, was someone that I knew because he was the leader of a band for a long time called The Bell Tower (ph). And I had actually played bass for his band briefly.

And then Brian we actually met through a friend of ours who knew Brian from his work with The Posies. And we had never met him, but he just came -- we actually auditioned in Los Angeles. But the audition was really just kind of a free for all...

COLLINGWOOD: ... getting together and playing Blue Oyster Cult songs.

SCHLESINGER: Yeah, and Steve Miller covers and things. I mean, you know, we knew kind of instantly that he was the right guy. And it was just whether he wanted to do it or not. We just had a good time playing.

COLLINGWOOD: Brian's kind of the rock star in the group actually. Everywhere we go in Europe everybody is like they know The Posies really well. He's the touring veteran.

SCHLESINGER: He was kind of showing us the ropes as we went.

COLLINGWOOD: Some people who don't even know that it's Brian in the band will show up and recognize his drum kit.


COLLINGWOOD: And they say, "did you guys by The Posies drum kit?" No.


GROSS: So what's the best advice he gave you on weathering a tour?

SCHLESINGER: Well, you know, the his whole philosophy is whenever you start complaining too much you got to just remember that it beats flipping eggs. That's his expression. You know, you could be sitting in some, you know, train station in Germany for eight hours, and he can say, "well, it beats flipping eggs."

GROSS: That's probably not bad advice.


COLLINGWOOD: Sometimes it doesn't beat flipping eggs.


GROSS: That's right.

COLLINGWOOD: It's the one thing he forgot.

SCHLESINGER: Flipping eggs might be kind of fun right about now.


GROSS: Your knowledge of rock and pop goes back a long way. And I'm wondering do you remember the first records you each bought?

COLLINGWOOD: I think the first full-length LP I was ever allowed to buy was "Bat Out Of Hell" by Meatloaf.


My parents obviously had all those Beatles records sitting around and stuff, but I remember, I think I was in sixth-grade when "Bat Out of Hell" came out. It was that record...

SCHLESINGER: ... you were like, "whoa!"


COLLINGWOOD: He had a really cool motorcycle on the cover. It was just so excellent.

SCHLESINGER: The first record I ever bought was this exercise record that they made us buy in first grade, it was called "Chicken Fat."

GROSS: Oh, you -- oh, God! We had to listen to that too.

SCHLESINGER: Do you know that record?

GROSS: Yeah.

SCHLESINGER: It was like, "push-ups every morning..."

GROSS: "Ten times."

SCHLESINGER: "Not just now and then, ten times."

GROSS: "One, two."

SCHLESINGER: And they'd make you exercise to it, and then they'd also make you buy it.

GROSS: Oh, "give that chicken right back -- give that chicken fight back to the chicken and don't be chicken again."

SCHLESINGER: I can't believe -- you're the only person I've ever mentioned this to that knows what the hell I'm talking about.


COLLINGWOOD: I want to know what kind of fascist elementary schools you two went to.


"Chicken Fight."

SCHLESINGER: "Chicken Fat."

GROSS: "Chicken Fat."

COLLINGWOOD: "Chicken Fat."

GROSS: It was this really funny...

SCHLESINGER: "Kill all the weak students. The strong students will survive."


COLLINGWOOD: "Kill the weak."

GROSS: Oh, it was this military-style workout record, yeah.

COLLINGWOOD: That's just horrible.

GROSS: So you really liked it? This is an influence on your music?

SCHLESINGER: I never said I liked it.


GROSS: Tell me again why you brought up.

SCHLESINGER: You asked us the first record we ever bought.

GROSS: Oh, and they made you buy it.

SCHLESINGER: Oh, yeah, it was a forced purchase.

GROSS: That's right.

SCHLESINGER: I should suggest to our record company that strategy of forcing first graders to buy our album.


Because there's a lot of first graders out there, you know, and they've all got lunch money.

GROSS: That's a good idea.

COLLINGWOOD: We could just go rob them instead of making them buy the record.


SCHLESINGER: Yeah why bring this whole record thing into it.

GROSS: Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood are the co-founders of the band Fountains of Wayne. Their new CD is called "Utopia Parkway." They'll be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with the co-founders of the band Fountains of Wayne, Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger. They have a new CD called "Utopia Parkway.

Adam, I have a question for you. You wrote that song, "That Thing You Do" for the Tom Hanks movie.


GROSS: And I thought that was a surprisingly good movie that had a really kind of knowing and loving sense of '60s pop. How did you come to write the song? Was there like a national audition being held for the song?

SCLESINGER: Not really. I mean, it was just -- somebody in the music business that I work with, who has a music publishing company, heard about the movie and said that, you know, they were looking for a song that kind of sounded like this era and asked me if I wanted to take a stab at it.

So I did a demo recording of it with two friends, and we just sent it in. And, you know, we did it really quickly because we just kind of assumed it was such a long shot it just wasn't worth spending that much time on. But, you know, they actually listened to it and they actually liked it. So, it was a lucky break.

GROSS: Yeah, and the movie is about a band that's a one-hit wonder. And the only hit that they have is this song "That Thing You Do." And it's a really catchy record.

What did you think about when you wrote this song knowing that it needed to be a period song?

SCHLESINGER: Well, the obvious reference for the time period they were talking about was the Beatles, but they actually had, as part of the instructions for it, said that we'd rather sound - have it sound like an American band that's, you know, kind of a cheap imitation of the Beatles.

You know, because there were a lot of bands sprouting up then.

COLLINGWOOD: The Knickerbockers.

SCHLESINGER: Yeah, that kind of stuff. You know, trying to capitalize on what the Beatles had done. So that's what I was going for.

GROSS: OK, well this is your song, "That Thing You Do."


You doing that thing you do
Breaking my heart into
A million pieces
Like you always do

And you don't mean to be cruel
You never even knew
About the heartache
I've been going through

Well try and try to forget you girl
But it's just so hard to do
Every time you do that thing you do

GROSS: That song's from the Tom Hanks movie, "That Thing You Do." And the song was written by my guest Adam Schlesinger, who along with my other guest, Chris Collingwood, co-founded Fountains of Wayne. And they have a new CD called "Utopia Parkway."

Chris, I know you had to cancel a concert recently because you had a sore throat. Has that happened to you a lot, and is it really upsetting when there's something totally out of control -- out of your control that forces you to cancel a concert?

COLLINGWOOD: It is really upsetting but in this case, you know, you just sort of realize there's nothing I can do about it. It's only happened once before, and that was on the West Coast two years ago. And at that time it was because of fatigue.

We had done like five shows in a row, and I just got hoarse. This time around I've just got an infection, and there really was nothing I could do about it. I went to a doctor and he just told me that if I took steroids I would probably make it worse.

GROSS: Mmm-hmm.

SCHLESINGER: Yeah, we did a show before we canceled that show, and I ended up singing about three-quarters of the set, which I never ever do. And then after that we turned it into sort of a karaoke night.


We asked people from the audience to sing different songs, and actually it was really fun. Everyone had a good time, but the final song of the night we did a song called "Please Don't Rock Me Tonight," and anyone named Dan was invited to come up onstage and sing.

So we had about eight guys and two girls who claimed their name was Dan.

GROSS: That's funny. I have to ask you about that song. Do you see that song as a song about somebody who doesn't want to hear a certain kind of heavy rock or somebody who doesn't want to make love?

COLLINGWOOD: See, it's funny that you say that because when I wrote that song I had nothing of that in mind.

GROSS: Either?

COLLINGWOOD: Well, no, I had -- it was just about hearing loud rock.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

SCLESINGER: After the fact.

COLLINGWOOD: It's funny that you "make love" because the English press chose a different word for it. But, yeah, everybody in England -- pretty much the entire press there just assumed it was about sex, and it really had nothing to do with that. But, you know, whatever.

SCHLESINGER: Neither of us has actually ever had sex, so it was more...

COLLINGWOOD: ... I don't any basis to write...

SCHLESINGER: ... too busy with this band.

GROSS: Well, Adam, I should mention you recently got married. And that leads me to ask you whether, you know, it's another step in the rock songwriting career. Now you're going to have to turn from lyrics about proms to lyrics about married life.

SCHLESINGER: Yeah, actually, my wife is constantly berating me for not having written any songs with her name in it. And so, you know, I'm always trying to convince her that every song is actually about her and it's just very subtle.


It's like, "what do you mean `Laser Show,' that's about you. It's a love song."

COLLINGWOOD: I wrote a song about Adam's wife just to make her happy.

GROSS: Yeah?

COLLINGWOOD: Called "Katie Boat (ph)." You remember that?

SCHLESINGER: Yeah, her name is Katie. Sing the song, it's pretty good.



Let's take a ride in our Katie boat

It's not really -- I don't know what it's about really.


GROSS: It's probably not what she had in mind.

SCHLESINGER: No, she suggested that we should put out a song called "Katie Katie Love Song." But I haven't worked on that one yet.

GROSS: Well, let's close with a song from the new CD. I was thinking of playing "Troubled Times," what do you think?

SCHLESINGER: Sounds like a wonderful idea.

GROSS: And who wrote that one?

COLLINGWOOD: That's one of mine.

GROSS: Good. Say something about writing it.

COLLINGWOOD: It's actually an older song. It's been around since before our first record. It's kind of like what our band sounded like before we bought amplifiers. And also before we decided to kind of incorporate that wacky sense of humor.


It's -- and oddly enough it was sort of written about Adam and his ex-girlfriend trying to get them back together.

SCHLESINGER: It didn't work though.

COLLINGWOOD: It didn't work.

GROSS: OK. Well, I want thank you both very much. And Chris, I hope your throat feels better real soon.

COLLINGWOOD: Well, thank you.

GROSS: Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood are the co-founders of the band Fountains of Wayne. Their new CD is called "Utopia Parkway."


When you think you found something worth holding on to
Were you reaching for attention
Hoping she would notice you collecting bottles and thrown away cans
Like she was returnable

One day wouldn't fill your head
So she loved you
All you imagined
It's (unintelligible)

Maybe one day soon it will all come out
While you dream about each other sometimes
With a memory of how you once gave up
But you made it through the troubled times

Pining every hour in your room
Rolling with the motion
Waiting til its opportune
Sitting there watching time

Fly past you
Why do tomorrow's
What you could never do
How she loved you


This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, D.C.
Guest: Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger
High: Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood who are co-founders of the band "Fountains of Wayne". Their second album "Utopia Parkway" has just been released. Anchored by the song writing team of Chris and Adam, the New York-based band released its debut album "Radiation Vibe" in late 1996. Now the Fountains are back with "Utopia Parkway," described as a
concept album about teenage life in the "Greater Metropolitan Areas" outside of New York City.
Spec: Entertainment; Music Industry; Lifestyle; Culture; Chris Collingwood; Adam Schlesinger

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Fountains of Wayne

Date: JUNE 10, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 061002NP.217
Head: Tom Perrotta
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:40

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Tom Perrotta's novel "Election," is the basis of the current film comedy of the same name. That novel has just been published in paperback along with new editions of his first two books, "Bad Haircut: Stories of the '70s" and "The Wishbones," about a musician who wants to be a rock star but is stuck playing weddings.

"Election" is about a high school teacher, Mr. M., played in the film by Matthew Broderick, whose responsibilities include overseeing the high school election. When the story begins only one student is running, Tracy Flick, played in the movie by a Reese Witherspoon (ph).

She gets on Mr. M's nerves. She's too smart, too neat, too perky. Plus, she had an affair with another teacher, Mr. M's best friend, who as a result was fired from the school. So Mr. M. wants to make sure that she has some competition in the election. He convinces one of the school's popular football heroes who has been sidelined by a broken leg to run for office.

Here's the scene in which Tracy's found out he's running.


REESE WITHERSPOON, ACTRESS: Who put you up to this?


WITHERSPOON: Who put you up to this?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: What do you mean?

WITHERSPOON: You just woke up this morning and suddenly decided to run for president?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: No. No. I just thought that...

WITHERSPOON: ... that what?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Well, gross talking to Mr. McAllister about my leg, and I still wanted to something for the school.

WITHERSPOON: So Mr. McAllister -- you to run?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Well, I talk to amend everything, but he just thought it would be a good idea. About how there's all different kinds fruits and -- it's nothing against you Tracy. I mean, you're the best. I just thought...

WITHERSPOON: ... OK. You're on Mr. popular.

GROSS: That scene from "Election," adapted from Tom Perrotta's novel of the same name. Here's Tom Perrotta reading a paragraph from Tracy's point of view.

TOM PERROTTA, AUTHOR, "ELECTION," "THE WISHBONES": "All right, so I slept with my English teacher and ruined his marriage. Crucify me. Send me to bad girl prison with Amy Fisher and make TV movies about my pathetic life.

"If I'd been on better terms with Mr. M I could have explained to him that my punishment for sleeping with Jack was having to sleep with Jack. That pretty much cured me of the old man fantasy, let tell you that.

"Until Paul entered the race I was running unopposed. People understood that I deserved to win. They didn't necessarily like me, but they respected my qualifications: president of the junior class, treasurer of the SGA, assistant editor of the "Watchdog," statistician for the basketball team and star of last years' musical - "Oklahoma!" in case you're wondering.

"And I did all of it while conducting a fairly torrid affair with a married man, even if he did turn out to be as big a baby as any 16 year old."

GROSS: Tom Perrotta reading from his novel, "Election." One of the epigraphs opening the book reads, "the world is the school gone mad."

PERROTTA: (Unintelligible) novel called, "The Old Boys." Which is about these retired elderly men returning to their prep school and sort of remembering from a distance of maybe 50 years that world and how much it had marked their lives later on. Because it...

GROSS: ... go ahead.

PERROTTA: I'm sorry, it just seemed very appropriate for "Election."

GROSS: Well, it seems very appropriate for how we see the world too, because so often the world does look like a bad version of high school, as if high school wasn't strange enough.

PERROTTA: Mmm-hmm.

GROSS: But even in politics too, you can so often look at a congressman or even a president and feel like you know them from high school; you know what type they were in high school.

PERROTTA: Well, that was in fact one of the real starting points I had for "Election." I was kind of obsessed with the 1992 election, particularly the three candidates. And, you know, I watched it in a way I hadn't watched other elections, and I got deeply involved in the political process.

But one nagging thought kept coming to me, which was, you know, I knew those people in high school. I didn't like them in high school, and I liked them even less now that they'll be runny my life.

And also, I had this feeling that the level of oratory didn't improve very much from high school to, you know, grand stages of political conventions.

GROSS: Now, why did you want to set a novel in high school in addition to this idea that the world is the school gone mad? Had you ever taught in high school, I know you've taught college?

PERROTTA: No, I haven't. But I think partly because I did teach college, I've taught at Yale and at Harvard, and I've lived my professional life in a kind of rarified climate. But I went to, you know, a public school in a working class part of New Jersey. And did have some idea in the back of my head high school was the last time I really was part of America in terms of having to mingle with, you know, people who didn't belong to some self-proclaimed elite.

So in my own mind I think, you know, high school exists as a kind of democratic interlude in my own life. So I think it's like partly a feeling, as you say, that -- this world is the school gone mad. There's also this personal mythology that says high school is America, and college is some rarified place where you kind of escape from America.

GROSS: Let me read something that the teacher, Mr. M., is thinking about one of his students who is not mingling very well in school. And he says, "Lisa Flanagan was exactly the kind of kid I was trying to reach. A smart, unhappy girl who wanted nothing more than to be excepted by the jock, cheerleader aristocracy at the school. And had no idea, how could she, of how relieved she was going to be to find a different world in college; more charitable standards of value."

Now, you've taught at college. You've taught at Harvard, do you think the standards are more charitable?

PERROTTA: Yeah, I do. And particularly I think for smart kids. I mean, I think in various ways, you know, college has its own systems of oppression, but I remember feeling, you know, deeply liberated the day I got to college. And it's a feeling that sticks with me.

In fact, I was teaching a class not long ago on elections, and students were asking me, you know, what do I believe. And they had some sense that the book was cynical or nihilistic, you know, you don't believe in democracy. You don't believe that teachers are, you know, good examples. What do you believe in?

And I thought for a spew seconds, and I thought, college.

GROSS: You were teaching when he wrote the novel "Election." And I'm wondering if you saw yourself as a teacher differently after writing "Election" and examining the motives of the teacher in the book.

PERROTTA: It's an interesting thing, because I think, you know, around the same time as I wrote it, you know, I had just gotten married and I think that changed my sense of myself as a teacher. I think -- it's hard know to know if the book did it or if the change in that period of my life did it.

But I do know that I went from being one of those teachers who felt himself sort of in the thick of the class and just another one of the students who in some way was getting paid to lead the class, to really feeling some distance from my students and feeling myself in a slightly more official position.

And part of that was just cultural as well. You know, one of the things "Election" is about is sexual harassment. And around the time I wrote it, it had become, you know, a deeply important issue, you know, on American campuses.

And suddenly things that people had done all the time -- I mean, I remember being in school in the 1980s and knowing people who had affairs with teachers. And, you know, there was some sense that that was risky or interesting or daring or problematic, but no sense that it was, say, illegal, you know.

I mean, suddenly you meet teachers who were saying, "well, you know, I have to keep my door open at all times. I want people around." You know, it was both personal, cultural and related to the book "Election." It's hard for me to separate all those things, but I did feel that, you know, I could no longer be just, you know, one of the kids in the class.

GROSS: How did your Harvard students react when they found out that your novel had been optioned by MTV Films?

PERROTTA: You know, they were totally excited. And this is one of those things that -- another change I can mark between 19 -- the early '80s and now, and that's that when I was in college people who wanted to be writers wanted to be fiction writers and poets. And now people who want to be writers, particularly at Harvard, you know, which is a great feeder for Hollywood. You know, they want to write movies and TV shows.

So there's some way in which I became much more interesting to them when I had this movie. But I remember that I was trying to describe to them what the story was about. And I said, and it's about this election for high school president, you know, what could be more meaningless than to be elected president of your high school. You know, what an empty charade that is.

And I remember, you know, pausing and seeing all these stricken looks.


From the high school presidents who were in my class.

GROSS: That's funny.

PERROTTA: One of whom had written this book about, you know, how to actually improve the world through student government.


GROSS: I take it you never ran yourself.

PERROTTA: Well, my high school career -- no, I had a certain kind of career. I was homeroom representative for four years, and I remember that every year we debated whether or not we were going to get a smoking lounge.

GROSS: My guest is Tom Perrotta. His novel "Election" is the basis of the current film of the same name. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Tom Perrotta. His novel "Election" has been re-published to coincide with the release of its film adaptation. There's also a new edition of his novel "The Wishbones," about a rock band that plays weddings. He's currently writing a movie adaptation of it.

In the acknowledgments for your novel "The Wishbones," the novel about a band that plays weddings, you thank Mike Perrotta and all the members of RSVP, one of New Jersey's finest waiting bands, for letting you watch them in action. Is Mike your brother?

PERROTTA: Mike is my cousin, but he's been a very influential figure for me. He's also a high school teacher, by the way.


PERROTTA: So obviously I'm like following the world that he's in very closely.

GROSS: So he plays in a wedding band?

PERROTTA: Yeah, he plays in the wedding band RSVP. There are a lot of guys who I grew up with and who I think are wonderful musicians. And, you know, there was a point when I tried to (unintelligible) the wedding band where I thought that I don't know how much they would like that because they wanted to the rock stars.

And it seemed like a come down, but when I would go back to town and talk to them about it I got the sense that, you know, they were really happy just to be making music and to be making money at it.

And it led me to a kind of rethinking of what it might mean and how hard it is for people who want to do an art, or have a passion in life, to keep doing it and how that's kind of a triumph in itself.

GROSS: One of the bands that you describe in "The Wishbones" is a band of older musicians, musicians who are veterans of the big band era, and they always open their set with Kool and the Gang's "Celebrate." Because there's a celebration that they're playing for.



GROSS: I thought that was very funny that they opened that way. I'm sure I've seen this band.

PERROTTA: I certainly have.

GROSS: Was there a real band you based it on?

PERROTTA: Yeah, I went to a friend's wedding in New Haven and these old guys in tattered blue uniforms. You know, I think I grew up with rock and roll, I grew up in a youth culture. And, you know, I've seen all these -- I saw Bob Dylan last year, and he's getting up there.

At one point rock-and-roll was a young person's game, and now in some funny way it's becoming an older person game. And I'm so thrilled by these guys, to see how much energy they have and how much fun they were having. And they were working, they were probably in their 60s and 70s and they were working, they were working hard.

And it did give me a glimpse of, you know, a nice life. I mean, how many people who pursue an art get to pursue it all the through to the end of their lives? And how many people get to do it in this particular culture where, you know, youth is so highly valued? And people in lots of fields find that their careers are over when they're in their 30s and 40s.

GROSS: Have you ever had (unintelligible) yourself in which you had a band like that playing?

PERROTTA: You know what? I had to go the DJ route, which is a -- you know, for a cousin of the guy in the wedding band is sort of a letdown. You know, one of the things I have fun with in '"The Wishbones" is the clash between wedding musicians and DJs.

You know, musicians really look down on DJs, and there's a kind of deep-seated grudge, you know. It's expensive to hire a band but they're actually making the music, whereas the DJ is just, you know, taking CDs out of the cases.

GROSS: Actually, let me quote what one of the band members thinks, he hates the DJs because "they were a revolting breed, scam artists who had somehow managed to convince the world that it took talent to remove CDs from a plastic case while simultaneously jabbering into a microphone."


PERROTTA: And the funny thing in "The Wishbones," I think is that the DJ who plays the wedding turns out to be a kind of psychic brother to the main character Dave who is a guitar player. It turns out that this guy "Rockin' Randy" is not so different from a wishbone.

He's a guy who just has this deep passion for music and is trying to find a way to fit it in to his life. You know, he has a day job at an insurance company, but he stays up late to do this, you know, 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. jazz radio show up at a public station in Bridgeport Connecticut.

So that -- and I was really interested in those characters who, as they get older, will do what they have to do to keep their passion for whatever it is, whether it's making music or playing music or writing poetry. There's even a nut who has a right-wing talk show on cable access.

GROSS: What's been the equivalent for you until now as a writer? I mean, what has your ambition been to keep on writing whether you're published or not, you know, whether you're acclaimed or not, whether you make any money at it or not.

PERROTTA: Yeah, well, actually at the time I was writing "The Wishbones" was a real issue in my life. I was unable to find a teaching job for a year, and, you know, had gotten married and was thinking of starting a family. And was really worried that the kind of life I'd led through my 20s where I was able to get by on, you know, a very small amount of money, was about to come to an end.

I mean, for all that time I had some sense that my salvation would be a teaching job, as it is for lots of writers in America. But I was also trying to figure out ways to make money as a writer, and I was ghost writing at that point teen horror novels.

GROSS: No kidding?

PERROTTA: Yeah. I took -- I swore a pledge of secrecy so I can't tell you whose novels I was ghost writing, but they're very popular teen horror novels.

GROSS: Now why would you have to take a pledge of secrecy, because you were protecting the identity of -- you were protecting the fact that you were writing it from, right.

PERROTTA: Under somebody else's name, but because this other person makes a big deal about, you know, being prolific and writing them all himself. So -- and in the course of that I was reading a lot of teen series novels like "Sweet Valley High" and "18 Pine Street."

Some of which, you know, lurk in the back of "Election." I was really writing "Election" in some ways to, you know, fill in the blanks in these young adult books.

GROSS: So was writing teenage horror stories under the name of this other author, was that the equivalent for you of playing in a wedding band?

PERROTTA: In a way it was because even though I could barely read these books that I was ghost writing, I did have this odd sense of pride that, well, at the very least, you know, I've spent my life learning how to write and now I can make a living at it. And it was better to sit home and work for three hours on my computer than to go and, you know, be a temp proofreader for $10 to $12 an hour.

So there was some way in which I began to understand just that sort of small pleasure of being a professional, of having some skill that I could use to make a living. I had also done some advertising copywriting and had a similar feeling.

And I also think you learn a kind of writerly discipline, that some people learn through journalism. But, yeah, I think to practice your art in such a way that you can make a living off of it gives you a certain kind of pride and teaches you lessons about not taking -- not treating it as a sacred task but as work.

You know, there might be something sacred about work, but it's a little different from, you know, I can't work today because the muses aren't here.

GROSS: Well, Tom Perrotta, it's really been a pleasure to talk with you. I want to wish you good luck with the adaptation that you're writing of your novel "The Wishbones." And congratulations on "Election" being made into a movie, and thank you very much for talking with us.

PERROTTA: Well, thanks for having me. It's been a real pleasure.

GROSS: Tom Perrotta. His books "Bad Haircut," "The Wishbones" and "Election" have been republished to coincide with the film adaptation of "Election."

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, D.C.
Guest: Tom Perotta
High: Tom Perrotta is the author of "Election: The Novel" which the new film "Election" is based upon. The book is set in a New Jersey high school amidst a hotbed of political activity: students are voting for their school president. Earlier books, The Wishbones (1997), and, Bad Haircut (1994), were in similar fashion observing the agonies of growing up in
suburban New Jersey.
Spec: Entertainment; Lifestyle; Culture; Tom Perrotta

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Tom Perrotta
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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