In response to our weekly Seven-Day Listen feature, and reactionary to a recent breakup, staff writer Nico Lang decided to spend an entire week listening to only one song: Fountains of Wayne’s one-hit wonder “Stacy’s Mom.” What this experiment showed him was wholly unexpected. The tale begins here.
My mom used to say that God gave everyone one thing, something to mark them, a trick or “special power” that made them who they are. When I was young, I thought that meant I was like one of the X-Men, and I used to swear that I could move things with my mind—all I had to do was stare hard enough. But over time, I learned that although I had zero aptitude for psychokinesis, I was very good at one thing: getting dumped. I am the Dr. Jean Grey of breakups, and not even just with romantic partners. I have been broken up with by friends, teachers, doctors, pets, baristas and mailmen. A telemarketer even dumped me once. It just wasn’t working for him.
Last week, my sex partner of a month decided that he just wasn’t into it, and he didn’t feel the same way about me that he used to. I was on my way out of his apartment, catching a bus on Chicago’s West Side, and I got friend zoned via text message. As I read that I was attractive—but he just wasn’t attracted to me—“Stacy’s Mom” came on shuffle on my iPod. I felt soothed by it, my insecurities and rage somehow assuaged by early-aughts power pop. As Adam Schlesinger told me that the mother of Stacy “had it going on,” I knew that I also was worthy of being sexed. I felt strangely empowered by his very male gaze. I played the song again, dancing down Western Avenue, daring the passing cars to say anything about my self-empowerment. And then again. And again. For seven whole days.
This is the account of the week I spent with Stacy. This is what I learned.
As a song, “Stacy’s Mom” is severely underrated in the canon of post-millennial pop. Although it’s guitar-driven, Schlesinger firmly plants the track in the tradition of the seminal power pop bands of the ‘70s and ‘80s, like The Cars, Big Star and Cheap Trick. In fact, the song plays as partial homage to both The Cars and the entire decade of the ‘80s, which—thanks to bands like American Hi-Fi and Bowling for Soup—was very in vogue at the time of its release. The opening lick of “Stacy’s Mom” is so close to that of “Just What I Needed” that Ric Ocasek actually thought it was a sample. According to Schlesinger, they were toying around with the idea of homage in the studio and just got it right.
The same goes for the song as a whole, which transcends its genre and subject matter in a way that most parody or homage tunes do not. In a lot of ways, “Stacy’s Mom” was a viral hit before viral was a thing, a testament to the ways that gimmicks can help sell a tune. For young men of the time, the song tapped into the MILF fever of the American Pie-era male, and for their parents, the video specifically called upon their memories of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, as the video repurposes the narrative of the infamous pool scene in that film for the song. Instead of Judge Reinhold lusting after Phoebe Cates, a 12-year-old Schlesinger pined for an older, unattainable woman: his girlfriend’s mother.
On top of being incredibly catchy and joyous, the song is notable for its treatment of Stacy, who is very much the third character in the song. Even though her name is in the title, she is always attached to her mother, the true object of the singer’s affections. Stacy is an obstacle to be overcome in order to achieve true happiness. Stacy must be disposed of.
For me, this is where the trouble began.
Check back on Heave come Monday, where Nico’s tale of “Stacy’s Mom” as existential contemplation tool will conclude.