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.