Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Jackson Browne and ‘Somebody’s Baby’

Am I now too old to appreciate, and really enjoy, a coming-of-age movie from 1982 set in an American high school? Apparently not. When multiple references were made to Fast Times at Ridgemont High in the phenomenally successful Netflix drama Stranger Things, also set in the 1980s, I decided it was high time I watched it, and I’m so glad I did. It doesn’t matter how old you get, the themes that crop up in these movies – good and bad – still resonate, as those years when you are aged 16 to 18 are probably the most highly charged and memorable of your life. It’s certainly no coincidence that I write about songs from the late 1970s more than any other era in this retrospective music blog, just when I was that age exactly.

I don’t quite know how Fast Times… had slipped through the net for me as I’ve watched all those similarly themed ’80s movies many times over: Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off etc. In some ways Fast Times… hasn’t aged very well, as certain scenes just wouldn’t have been made nowadays, for all sorts of reasons, but in other ways nothing has changed. The various characters that make up the student body of a high school were all represented and most of the lead actors went on to great things: Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, Forest Whitaker, with more minor roles played by Eric Stoltz and Nicolas Cage (or Nicolas Coppola as he was then).

Fast Times… was the first teen movie of its type and it seems to have formed the template for all that came afterwards. It is essentially a comedy-drama, but the drama is limited to observing the lives of a diverse group of characters as they navigate a single year of high school. Sean Penn, playing Jeff Spicoli, was the original ‘surfer stoner dude’ and gets all the best lines in the movie, some of them quite deep and observationally spot on.

“Life comes at you pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

“What Jefferson was saying was, ‘Hey! You know, we left this England place ’cause it was bogus; so if we don’t get some cool rules ourselves—pronto—we’ll just be bogus, too!’ Get it?” (I can now see where the makers of the Bill and Ted movies got their inspiration.)

“Mr. Hand, do you have a guy like me in all your classes? You know, a guy you make an example of?”

“Well Stu I’ll tell you, surfing’s not a sport, it’s a way of life, it’s no hobby. It’s a way of looking at that wave and saying, ‘Hey bud, let’s party!”

Coming from rural Scotland, I don’t exactly know why I have such a fondness for films set in American high schools, even now, but a lot of it could be down to how the lives of the students, although just like our own in many ways, always seemed much more glamourous and adrenaline-packed compared to what we experienced. Our senior school days played out just like those of Gregory, Dorothy and Susan in Gregory’s Girl, set in Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire. Ridgemont, in the San Fernando Valley, it most definitely was not. In the late 1970s we didn’t have:

Sunny weather all year round (half our school year at least was spent in duffle coats as it was so cold and ‘dreich’)
Landlines in our bedrooms (our ‘house phones’ were in the hall or living room, if we had one at all, so no privacy)
Shiny new shopping malls to hang out in (we had the local high street or the park)
Car parks for the students to park their cars in (no-one had a car at my school, ergo, no car park!)
Street clothes worn to school (we had drab blazers, skirts, shirts & ties and aforementioned duffle coats)
Proms complete with bands, limousines and corsages (we had an end of term disco if we were lucky – no corsage needed)

Part-time jobs in trendy pizza and burger joints (if we were lucky we got a Saturday job in the baker’s shop, or a paper round)

Yes, I can see the appeal these films had for me back then, and to this day. Because Fast Times… was set in 1982 we of course were treated to a fine soundtrack full of songs recorded by some of the biggest American artists of the day (although some of them possibly having peaked a decade earlier – the director’s pick maybe?). The opening scene, set in the busy, colourful and space-age looking Ridgemont Mall (obviously the inspiration for the Starcourt shopping mall in Stranger Things), was played out to the song We Got The Beat by the Go-Gos. Again, the intro to this clip hasn’t aged well, but great to see the girls in action before they all started to go their separate ways.

We Got The Beat by the Go-Gos:

I kind of got sad watching the shopping mall scenes in the film as although we did eventually get these massive cathedrals dedicated to consumerism here in Scotland a few years later, most of them are now sitting half empty or have been bulldozed. We all shop online nowadays and young people hang out with their friends on social media, most certainly not in the local shopping centre food court. ‘Tis the times we are living through.

The other song that struck a cord, and one that has formed an earworm over the last few days since watching the film, is this one, Somebody’s Baby, by Jackson Browne. It became a leitmotif attached to one of the main characters, Stacy Hamilton. A perfect song for a film about the issues hormone ridden teens go through whilst at high school.

Somebody’s Baby by Jackson Browne:

Every now and again I revisit some of these teen/coming-of-age/slice-of-life movies and always get something new out of them. This blog is mainly nostalgia-based and boy do I get nostalgic when I watch movies set in the late ’70s/early ’80s. Not sure what that says about me, but I have nothing but fond memories for those days. I was one of the lucky ones I know, as not everyone has such fond memories of their teenage years. I do wish however I’d had a landline in my bedroom, a few more sunny days in the annual calendar and a shiny new mall to hang out in with my friends. Could have made life a whole lot easier!

Until next time…

Somebody’s Baby Lyrics
(Song by Jackson Browne/Danny Kortchmar)

Well, just – a look at that girl with the lights comin’ up in her eyes
She’s got to be somebody’s baby
She must be somebody’s baby
All the guys on the corner stand back and let her walk on by
She’s got to be somebody’s baby
She must be somebody’s baby
She’s got to be somebody’s baby
She’s so fine
She’s probably somebody’s only light
Gonna shine tonight
Yeah, she’s probably somebody’s baby, all right

I heard her talkin’ with her friend when she thought nobody else was around
She said she’s got to be somebody’s baby; she must be somebody’s baby
‘Cause when the cars and the signs and the street lights light up the town
She’s got to be somebody’s baby
She must be somebody’s baby
She’s got to be somebody’s baby
She’s so
She’s gonna be somebody’s only light
Gonna shine tonight
Yeah, she’s gonna be somebody’s baby tonight

I try to shut my eyes, but I can’t get her outta my sight
I know I’m gonna know her, but I gotta get over my fright
We’ll, I’m just gonna walk up to her
I’m gonna talk to her tonight
Yeah, she’s gonna be somebody’s only light
Gonna shine tonight
Yeah, she’s gonna be somebody’s baby tonight
Gonna shine tonight, make her mine tonight