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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Potpourri - Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack

Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack
1982 Elektra Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

See, proof positive that Generation X stakes claim as the original Vans loafer culture before there was a checkerboard revival and the Warped Tour...

Every generation has a film that defines it so accurately that to pop it on is like confronting your younger self, or if you weren't on the ground at that point, it's a time capsule to reflect a lost age so people might get a sense of appreciation for where others came from. The fifties are defined by Rebel Without a Cause while the sixties have Woodstock, Easy Rider and The Graduate. The idealistic eighties had some strife and adversity to contend with including the slaying of John Lennon, other figurehead assassination attempts, the Challenger disaster, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and the Cold War which was prompting itchy trigger fingers from two different hemispheres. Overall, though, for the United States, life was a big party for its youth, even as its generation was amongst the first to subconsciously subdivide into so many diverse sanctions there was more gray areas than black and white within teenage civilization.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High and The Breakfast Club are probably the two biggest defining films of Generation X and both rank in my top 10 films of all-time. Though I was likely closest to Judd Nelson's outcast persona in The Breakfast Club (though with less fang and far more overt cavalierism towards the ladies even as a scuzzbag headbanger), I've always loved the bounce and honesty of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, from its concerns about getting caught masturbating to lasting only a few seconds on a guy's first time (despite posing on the front as an experienced swinger) to dealing with the fear and anxiety of a girl's first time, particularly when taken from an older guy in the unromantic dirt boudoir of a baseball dugout. I love Judge Reinhold's elder statesman role in the film as a frustrated senior who can't keep a job, much less a love interest or identity. He's one of the coolest cats on the scene, well-liked by the student body and he's at-heart an honorable guy, but he's also a closet fuckup. I never could pull off his ultra-rad 90 degree aerial hand slap with any of my buddies, but I did wash my car once with The Ravyyns' "Raised On the Radio" playing just to get his point of view and I indeed got it.

The Breakfast Club speaks more to me as I was the right age of those characters, while I was only 12 when Fast Times came out. Still, the runamuck pacing of the latter film is comedy genius that knows when it's appropriate to scale back the sex and the pot in exchange for sensitivity. All of the characters of the film are vulnerably exposed as much as they try to project their coolness (or in the case of Marc Ratner, he's trying to break out of his guilded lack of hipness and become the purported suave sophisticate of his unscrupulous pal Damone), a trait The Breakfast Club also excavated with deeper psychological measures.

Both films boast a memorable soundtrack which likewise define Generation X. "(Don't You) Forget About Me" by Simple Minds from The Breakfast Club may be the decade's theme song if you stop and think about it, while Wang Chung's "Fire in the Twilight" is a seldom-mentioned tune from the same film that'll make a handful of people go "Oh yeah, I remember that one..." assuming it gets spun these days.

However, the music of Fast Times at Ridgemont High is nearly as much an event as the film itself. The minute Jackson Browne's "Somebody's Baby" coolly slides into position (if you own a turntable you can picture the agreeable pops and hisses of the stylus greeting the vinyl as the song begins), if you've been there in the eighties, you're instantly at home with it. You're in your bedroom with no responsibility save to get out of bed and go to school, which then seemed to be an edict issued by the Nazi Party. Whether you made out to this song or you just kicked back and daydreamed about secret crushes and life desires, "Somebody's Baby" is one of the sexiest and lofty pop songs recorded in rock's modern age.

The fun part about the Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack is you can put the song to the scene (which I'm sure writer Cameron Crowe digs more than all of us combined), such as a young Forest Whitaker cleaning house on the football field to Billy Squier's "Fast Times (The Best Years of Our Lives)" or Judge Reinhold strolling into All American Burger for his shift, tonguing his sweetie in the ear and dumping old fries into the trash can, all to the tune of Joe Walsh's "Waffle Stomp." You can see the timeless Jeff Spicoli and his jive-talking running mate speeding with Forest Whitaker's souped-up 'Vette to Sammy Hagar's "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" before wrecking the thing and then sabotaging it to appear the rival school trashed it in order to cover their otherwise-doomed asses. Of course, Jimmy Buffet's persnikkity "I Don't Know (Spicoli's Theme)" is the perfect stamp not only for the laced-out surfer bum that Sean Penn turned into a cross-cultural phenom--much less his adult foil Mr. Hand's brazen cut-down of Spicoli's reply "I Don't Know" when asked the reason of his perpetual tardiness--but also for all of the high-strung kids during finals week. Great stuff.

Strange that The Go Gos appear on the soundtrack with "Speeding" instead of the song they're best known for, and which opens the film wonderfully as a bopping sign of the times, "We've Got the Beat." One has to assume licensing issues with their label IRS played a hand in that, much as we should figure the same for a lack of appearance of Tom Petty's "American Girl," which by all rights should've been included, not to mention The Cars' "Moving In Stereo," made immortal through this film as the ultimate jerkoff jam. "Speeding," however, is a cool little stand-in that brings you into Quarterflash's samba-paced love letter "Don't Be Lonely."

By the time Poco's "I'll Leave it Up to You" comes up late on the 19-song soundtrack, its placement inside the film and the suburban Cali mall (no longer standing, sad to say) is a perfect laissez-faire statement of the decade, and what an important role consumerism played in our society back then. The song is breezy, pop-roasted and slickly addictive, and more likely than not, you'll start reminiscing about who you hung with at the mall and who you flirted with, just like the characters in the film did. Amazing what a social gathering hub the mall used to be, and still is to some extents, though nowadays, we're drifting away from traditional foot gatherings and relegating ourselves to instant messaging online and via phone texting. No wonder there's no Fast Times at Ridgemont High for Generation Tech. It'd be the most abbreviated bit of celluloid ever filmed, and hopelessly thus.

Other cuts like Donna Summer's "Highway Runner," Stevie Nicks' "Sleeping Angel" and Don Henley's zipper tugging "Love Rules" (Gerard McMahon's "The Look In Your Eyes" isn't too shabby in the makeout department, either) all have their locales in the film and though you get just a few seconds of each in the film, they're instantly recongized and heartfelt on this soundtrack. Maybe the soundtrack could've been trimmed by a song or two, but for Generation X, this is one of the finest audile collections of music that filled our ears and guided our lives.

I was still into pop music in 1982 before turning to the dark side later that year when one of my cousins turned me on to Iron Maiden, Dio and Ozzy. Ironically enough, my other cousin wanted me to come into his room and listen to Fast Times at Ridgemont High the very same day. Unfortunately, Louise Griffin's girly "Uptown Boys" was spinning at the time, thus the transformation to metalhead was preordained...

Of course, time changed me and opened me up to much music I'd snubbed previously. The mere fact I'd ignored the brilliant and underrated Oingo Boingo for years until I caught on in the early nineties was a grievous error, particularly once I learned it was they who coughed up the peppy closer to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, "Goodbye Goodbye." As much as that song wrapped up the film, it subliminally wrapped the teenage lives of those characters as it did the living teenagers of 1982.

We still laugh at Phoebe Cates teaching the naive Girl-Next-Door Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) how to give head with a carrot and we still chuckle at Judge Reinhold's droning "Aye aye, Captain" at his loser fish 'n chips job, much as we've already yelled "Right on, brother!" after he rails a flagrant customer. I personally laugh how Marc Ratner is so uncool he can't even put the right Led Zeppelin album on when directed by Damone to play Led Zeppelin 4 (or Zoso if you will), instead churning out the lumbering "Kashmir" from Physical Graffiti on his date with Jennifer Jason Leigh. Riot.

My old friend Jason and I re-enacted Jeff Spicoli's in-class pizza stunt in college to piss off our professor who had humiliated us many times beforehand. Luckily, the rules in college are different, so we ate our pizza happily and deliberately turned the nozzle of the 2-liter soda to spritz loudly when the professor started writing on the chalkboard. Spicoli, you have been righteously avenged, Aloha...


Metal Mark said...

I love Fast Time and it balances well between humor and teen life. The Breakfast Club is a misfire though full of teen angst and whiny, paper thin characters who are difficult to take or believe. You skipped listing what film you thought defined the 1970's.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

I don't feel TBC is a misfire, though I originally didn't warm up to it until a few viewings. I had a hard time coming up with a definitive movie for the 70s. I dunno, Airport, since it was a big crash, lol... Sad part is the music of the seventies overall is the last great era as a whole if you're talking all of the genres, disco non-inclusive

David Amulet said...

Wow. So many thoughts come to mind ...

(1) One song and only one comes to mind immediately and without distraction when Fast Times comes up: "Moving in Stereo." 'Nuff said. (If I force myself to think about it, then Jackson Browne's tune comes up.)

(2) TBC is one of the most overrated movies of all time. Mark is right--the characters only evolve in a shallowest sense, and the tension is laughable. All that said, I still love it and it's in my top five generational movies.

(3) Vying with FTaRH and TBC for most important generational movies is Ferris Bueller's Day Off. But maybe that's more of a "grew up in Chicago" thing.

(4) I was a bit too young, but defining '70s movies might be Godfather, Star Wars, Airplane, and The Shining (or was that 1980?).

(5) Nice surprise review!

Metal Mark said...

Airplane and the Shining were both 1980. A great 70's movie about young people is Breaking Away. I don't know if it defines the decade, but a great film with afairly realistic take on life right after high school.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

David, thanks, I enjoyed this, though I haven't had the time to spin the movie again, though it's sitting on top of the promo DVDs, lol... I think with TBC, I love it because nobody "went there," despite the crying and the overemotional baggage...surely none of us in high school would be caught dead crying in front of one another, which I think is the message of the film: put into forced enclosure without the rest of the student body to chastise you for weakness, and put in the midst of apposite people, you can weirdly break down...

Shining is 1980, definitely... I love how that film was trashed by critics of the day saying it was slow, boring, a train wreck, and horror books of the mid eighties mostly take that stance...a newer generation has made it immortal and rightly so...King hates it and I understand why, but it one of the most cerebral horror films ever (obviously, lol)

I need to revisit Breaking Away...been many years since I saw it

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