These Are the Fast Times

I’ve spent the last month or so pretty much obsessively listening to Fast Times at Barrington High by The Academy Is… and I’ve come to the conclusion it’s my favorite album of the last year or so. Not because it’s the best album I’ve heard in the last year — although it’s pretty damn fine emo-slathered power pop, and I have nothing bad at all to say about that – but because it’s simply brilliant at doing one thing: Distilling the entire senior year of high school into 12 tracks and 44 minutes. It starts at the beginning of the academic year, ends just before everyone heads to college (or doesn’t) and gets it all right, provided that you were a semi-dweeby, semi-outcast privileged-yet-drama-ridden suburban teenager that I certainly was and one suspects TAI band members were as well (TAI members William Beckett and Adam Siska actually went to Barrington High, located in a Chicago suburb that’s one of the wealthiest in the country — John Hughes territory, basically).

Now, it would be easy and simplistic to say that the reason I’m digging on this album is that I’m staring down the barrel of my 40th birthday and thus beginning my own mid-life crisis, which begins with me getting all moony and nostalgic about my own evaporating youth and ends some indeterminate time later with me tossing a travel bag into my newly-purchased sports car and driving to The Condo of Imminent Divorcement, from which I will call that 22-year-old Appleby’s waitress I threw my marriage away for and wonder why she prefers to go out with her friends on Friday night rather than watching Tivo’d episodes of The Daily Show with me. But fortunately for me — and thank God – that’s not what it is. For one thing, Krissy would keep the sports car. For another, dude, I actually remember my high school years. In detail. Don’t need to do that again, thanks. I needed them and wouldn’t have missed them, but the fact is, I’m having more fun now. If the tradeoff is that I have to be 40 for it, well, so be it. Believe it or not, kids, there are worse things.

No, the reason I’m digging on the album is because I’m almost 40, and listening to this album from that perspective is fundamentally different than the experience I would have with it if I were seventeen, or that a current seventeen-year-old would have it. They’re living this album, or some similar, consonant experience, while I’m looking back on it — and feeling a little sad about it. Not because I wish I could go back to it, but because I wish I could tell the characters in the album (and the teenagers listening to it) that things actually do get better from there. Eventually all the drama subsides, you figure out yourself and others, and you go on in life. Listening to the album, in other words, is for me like visiting the old neighborhood, remembering everything that happened there, looking at the kids living there now and seeing yourself and your friends in them, and then going back where you live now and being glad for everything that got you there.

Now, will you have the same experience with the album? I would suspect not, since you’re not me and don’t have the particulars of my life going on in yours. Be that as it may, I do recommend giving Fast Times at Barrington High a listen and seeing how you bounce off of it. At the very least, you’ll have an enjoyable emo-pop experience. And it’s possible you’ll get more out it, like I did. But no matter what, there are far worse ways to spend 44 minutes, and an entire senior year.

39 thoughts on “These Are the Fast Times

  1. Forty huh.

    We’ll you’re getting very close to the point where you begin to add Country music to you repertoire.

    You may even get all they way to grown-up music like Blues and Jazz.

    But you are getting very close to Country for sure.

  2. John:

    Hmmm. Never would have guessed given the music posts I’ve seen.

    I agree with the old school stuff, but there is good in the new too.

  3. Hm, from the title and picture, I thought this was going to be about the Oscar nominations.

    I’ll, uh, just go away for a while, ‘kay?

  4. I’m intrigued, John, but the whole emo thing leaves me cold. There’s enough whining in society without listening to forty-some minutes of same, even if it is artistically crafted whining.

  5. Alas, as we’ve recently discussed tangentially, CHINESE DEMOCRACY and Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” do reflect my worldview rather disturbingly.

    And yes, my last year of high school and first couple of years in college were…interesting. I’m glad to have survived them.

  6. Dude, if Chinese Democracy replicates your high school senior year experience, you are totally fucked up.

    I’m now imagining all the other albums one could slot into that sentence in place of Chinese Democracy. Maybe Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables? Holy Diver? It writes itself.

    (I guess Upstairs at Eric’s would be OK though)

  7. Relevant to comments above by Mr. Scalzi, I would submit that Chinese Democracy does replicate many high school senior experiences–in that it is an awful, awful disappointment that you’re happy to never have to endure again.

    Now, if Appetite for Destruction replicated your high school experience, THEN you would be seriously screwed up….

  8. Frank, I’m 44, and I *still * don’t like country. (Alan Jackson & Jimmy Buffett singing It’s Five O’clock Somewhere doesn’t count, because…well, Jimmy Buffett.)

    Jazz and blues? Been listening to those since I was in my twenties. No, wait, make that my teens. I discovered Buffett in my twenties.

  9. I’m in the group that would rather not relive high school, even vicariously thru someone’s music.

    For me, a good day in high school was being numb, rather than miserable.

    (This is true: My high school had over two thousand students in any given year. Out of that two thousand, there are maybe half a dozen people I would feel okay about seeing again… and every one of them is on the “People We Can’t Find” list in the occasional reunion announcements.)

  10. I dropped out of high school and basically ended up getting a pass on all the “every problem feels like a life-ruining tragedy” that comes with it, so if I had to describe that year that would have been my senior year, I’d probably go with There She Goes. The Sixpence version.

    Though at the time, my lj archives tell me, I was treating Dido’s Goodbye To You and Hunter and Kim Ferron’s Nothing But You as my personal anthems.So maybe I didn’t miss out on all the dialed-up-to-elevenness of high school.

  11. Dude, forty’s nothing. You won’t get the mid-life crisis thing until you’re staring down fifty – and you probably won’t get it even then, considering your current circumstances and mindset.

    That being said, whatever you do, don’t buy a fancy restored 60s muscle car unless you really like being a wrench monkey. Even the best of them are 40+ years old and need a lot of love.

    Go with a new red Corvette Z06. Caveat: you’ll be paying someone else a LOT of cash to be your wrench monkey.

  12. Jeff Zugale:

    The good news here is that I’m just not that much into cars anyway. I have a vague lust for the recent Mustangs, but since it’s been a few years since they’ve been out and I still don’t have one, clearly not that much lust.

  13. My niece is all amped about these cats (HI, SARAH!!!). I gave them a wee listen but not the full course earful. For you and Sarah I will listen.

    I am 40 now and it rocks! I am convinced it is the new 18. I like it much better than 18 in fact.

  14. Chang: I am 40 now and it rocks! I am convinced it is the new 18. I like it much better than 18 in fact.

    Does this mean that 51 is the new 29? I would be very happy with that.

  15. Scalzi @17: I think you’re probably right to some extent, but I feel like I got off a lot easier than most people. I spent what would have been my senior year taking classes at the local community college and working in a costume shop, where I learned pretty quickly that the real world is not, in fact, dialed up to eleven. Which took a lot of the pressure off. I distinctly remember having “honestly, it all gets better after high school” conversations with friends of mine who were still there.

    Which isn’t to say I think my experience was unique or anything, because I’m sure there are lots of high schoolers who figure out that high school doesn’t have to define them. And I was hitting play on Kim Ferron and Dido like a rat at a feeder bar. But I’m not sure “central” is the word I’d use to describe the dialed up to 11-ness of my post-high-school teenage years. The thing I most remember about that time is being in awe of how many different and amazing careers there were to choose from, and wandering about like a kid in a candy store trying various ones out.

  16. Shucks, I thought the title might be a reference to the excellent book Earth Abides by George Stewart. Too bad.

  17. punkrockhockeymom @18

    Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables TOTALLY takes me back to high school.

    The first Led Zepplin album takes me back to High School.

    As does Abby Road, Blows Against the Empire, CSN&Y and Hot Tuna. Not to mention Dylan coming out of “retirement” after his motorcycle accident.

    55 is the new Double Nickel and High School absolutely sucks. I don’t even know how people make it through.

  18. If you want to quickly get over your approaching-40 angst, tell your woes to someone my age (56) and we’ll help you deal with it by kicking your self-pitying ass. It’ll probably take three or four of us, though, because we’re getting kind of frail.

  19. Earth Abides, is this the book about how a group of people sit around and eat canned food for 42 years after “the big disaster”? If so, got a bad bad bad review on this from someone with good taste who is standing around wondering what all the fuss is about.

    The Russians are sellink me this album you suggest for $0.09 a track, so am tryink.

    Those Hats guys you suggested were okay, but not the greatest thing since sliced bread. The album everyone agreed was their best sounded like lots of other stuff I already owned, only not as good.

  20. I’m also staring down the barrel of my 40th. My music taste hasn’t changed appreciably, though. I’m celebrating by scheduling my black belt test for the same week. So if I survive that, I can dodge that bullet.

  21. Well, unlike so many others, I rather liked the tunes. They didn’t take me back to HS though. Alas, I was subjected to Donna Summers, Lionel Ritchie and (thankfully) Grace Jones. Of the latter, she was so weird she was good.

    I managed to discover Cheap Trick the summer before college which this album kinda sorta could sound like if you squint your eyes (and imagine sillier lyrics).

    I say keep the suggestions coming. I’m 40+ and still like (listening to only!) the angst.

  22. I’m afraid that Bruce A at #11 rather precisely replicates my high school experience. I hated everyone in my school, including myself, and as I am *terrible* at getting over grudges I still bear simmering dislike and resentment years after the fact.

  23. Yet another reason for me to finish my novel manuscript “Fast Times at Stuyvesant High.”

    Part of what makes a writer is remembering EVERYTHING about important times in one’s life.

    Since there were plenty of people in High School who seemed to make it a point to be as memorably unpleasant as possible, and others who seemed to make it a point to be as memorably pleasant as possible, there’s plenty to choose from. And one may assume that vivid enough emotional and sensory memories will resonate with a lot of readers.

    Experts differ about listening to specific music while writing Science Fiction. Except for such obvious exceptions as Stars: Original Stories Based on the Songs of Janis Ian, ed. Mike Resnick & Janis Ian. DAW Books, August 2003.

    My wife kindly did a rewrite of Chapter 10 of “Fast Times at Stuyvesant High.” She sped up the chapter’s action for the motley crew of high school geeks whose science experiments for decades finally tunneled them through to an alternate world — from their 1980 to a 1945 Manhattan about to be attacked by a Hitler who had a transatlantic rocket (scaled up successor to the V-2 canceled in our world) AND nuclear weapons, one of which had obliterate Moscow.

  24. 40 is wonderful, doubt it not. You’re young enough to do what you want, old enough to probably have the funds for at least some of it. I wouldn’t go back to high school again for ANY amount of money…although college…that could be interesting…

    Scalzi rang a bell with his mention of how the experience of the music would be so different for a kid in high school right now vs. someone who had been out for a while. My husband and I were talking recently about his first experience with Bruce Springstein’s “Glory Days”, which came out when we were in high school. My husband said that the first time he heard it (as an all-state football player sorting through his scholarship choices) he snorted and thought “how sad!”

    Three years later, while hanging out with some high school friends during a leave from the Marine Corps (which he’d chosen over the scholarships), he heard it again, and his perspective had changed significantly.

    Back to the 40 thing: personally, I like the perspective that I have now much better than the one I had then.

  25. Christy @ 35

    I went back to college at 48 and it was VERY interesting.
    Including when a 20 year old lab partner asked me “how come you know so much stuff?” I was kinda flattered but wasn’t sure how to answer being as I don’t really think I know that much. Life experience though, yea, got some of that.
    It was quite a bit easier to stay on the Dean’s list this time being as I didn’t need to go out to try and meet girls or be at “the” party on a Thursday during Mid-term week. I totally agree with you and others who’ve mentioned perspective as being the big difference. I’d rather be water boarded than go back to high school though. Dialed to eleven indeed!

    As far as the music talking to you about a period in your life, it has to be Dan Folgleberg, from Souvenirs, through to The Innocent Age; albums spanning high school and starting college to meeting and marrying my wife.
    I know exactly what I was doing then, when I hear those songs now. Heck, I used to sing my daughters to sleep with “Scarecrow’s Dream” from Netherlands.

    Sorry, memory lane trip over now, we now return to your regularly scheduled thread…

  26. Senior year was probably the best year of the bad bunch that were my adolescence. I finally started to come out of my shell and embrace who I was, and some of my classmates started to appreciate it.

    Of course, the year after high school, I left the country, met a new bunch of people who treated me lots better than most of the folks I went to high school with, and never looked back…

    … until I married my wife, who teaches at my old high school. Let me tell you, that’s *weird.*

  27. I have to admit I got kind of absurdly happy reading this. I’m grinning like an idiot during my teacher talking about the grade requirements for English class (seperating myself from the general masses in this thread by not even being OUT of high school yet). I’m fairly certain I look too enthustiastic about it if the odd glances are any indication.

    But The Academy Is… is one of my favourite bands. I’m glad you like it :)

  28. I can’t do it, even if I could stand emo.

    They’re from…. Barrington! Broncos? Yuck!

    I was a Zee-Bee, dammit. We’re talking arch-rivals back in the day. And they stole Gary Fencik.

    (Ask an old football fan about that one — that bit of HS recruiting dates back to 1970 or so.)

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