Written by Matthew Schlissel
However beloved Adam Sandler has become as an actor, he's always received divisive reactions to his work. His most seething critics find him to be immature, vulgar, a man-child stuck in a pre-pubescent state of mind, an unfunny comedian performing idiotic comedy, and, coming from a 1995 review of Billy Madison that voices a common reaction among Sandler detractors, "gratingly obnoxious."
But over the years, the cheers have rung louder than the boos. People of all ages, in all places, still honor him with a punch to Bob Barker's face, a chorale of "water sucks," and a heartbreaking plea of, "I wipe my own a**." There's also indubitably more than a few dedicated fans who appreciate the emotional depth of his character in Punch-Drunk Love. But we're not here to simply discuss his films; today we're here for the acknowledgment of Adam Sandler, the songwriter.
To date, Adam Sandler has produced five studio albums, each one with its own take on the familiar Sandler themes: nose picking, growing up in a Jewish household, being picked on as a kid, arguing with his neurotic parents, and things far too graphic to repeat. The LPs are a mixed bag of skits, anecdotes and fully formed songs, but they display an enduring musicianship, from the tunes he showcased in "The Wedding Singer," to his early days on Saturday Night Live ("The Thanksgiving Song" and "Lunchlady Land") to the infamous "The Chanukah Song." However canonized these tracks have become, they are no more than parody songs, and they do nothing to subvert the image of Sandler as a goofball whose greatest strength is to bust our bellies by making funny sounds like "turkey lurkey do and turkey lurkey da..."
But consider the song "Pickin' Daisies." On this track, the story seems simple enough: Sandler explores the life of a lonely kid who spends more time by himself than with his friends, and needs to use juvenile topics to express himself. But a closer glance shows us that there is something more to lines like "We're pickin' daisies, Who really cares what they think? Pickin' daisies, You should talk about it with your shrink. Pickin' daisies, They'll all end up in jail. Pickin' daisies, Marshall's is having a sale." In this song we have a Charlie Brown-esque character avoiding school because he gets bullied, and so he ends up spending the day with his mom, picking daisies. He can't play sports, his dad thinks he's a wuss and his mom tries to help but she ends up consoling him by calling him "handsome" and offering to take him with her to her aerobics class. We find that the entire act of picking daisies is where our character finds peace. It's where he goes to get away, it's where he finds a better world -- it's his "magic place to go." This is Catcher in the Rye with a new spin.
What's most endearing about Sandler, both as a comedian and musician, is his ability to encapsulate what it's like to be a child again. Incidentally, this also is what a lot of people hate about him-- a lack of maturity. However, his music is able to go a step further than his comedy, bringing us into a world where we're not just laughing at stupid lines like, "When I'm at the locker and my shirt's buttoned wrong, You tell me to fix it, 'Cause you're my best friend." ("Best Friend") There's so much sincerity in his voice that we can feel it in our bones, forcing us to reflect upon our own changes in our lives, and sadness comes to the surface the way it does in response to a Springsteen song.
I remember being a little kid and watching Adam Sandler on SNL. He was on the "Weekend Update" skit wearing an old red hoodie, singing about said sweatshirt. He would strum his acoustic guitar and stop appropriately for Kevin Nealon to do his deadpan "dip, dip, dip". It was a classic moment. Sandler eventually recorded "Red Hooded Sweatshirt" on What's Your Name? but there was no Kevin Nealon, no acoustic guitar. There was only a simple piano riff, guiding a ballad in which a grown man pines for his red-hooded sweatshirt. There is tenderness in his voice, pain when he screams at the end, and a poignant longing for another time -- a time when life had its hardships but sweetness filled our lungs and childhood friendships seemed like they would last forever. Is this really any less honest than Springsteen on "Thunder Road"?
Sandler sits on the cover of What's Your Name? in front of a sparse gray wall wearing Pierrot The Clown makeup. He is the sad clown who makes us laugh. He has already solidified his legend. Children of the 90s will echo his catchphrases for years to come. Old SNL episodes will be watched with genuine nostalgia, and his films will be passed down to the next generation. And while there have always been a few choice comedians who blended music with comedy, rarely are they looked at differently for it; rarely does anyone see them as anything other than a sad clown strumming a guitar, mimicking other "real" artists. That may be biggest joke of it all: A man who many see as immature, vulgar, and "gratingly obnoxious" wrote some profound songs from the heart, and nobody knew.
Check out lyrics and explanations for Adam Sandler's music on Stereo IQ: