Fast Times at Georgetown Prep: The Soundtrack

Van HalenAs the FBI begins its one week investigation into high school allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, one question it likely won’t be looking into is the one that’s been nagging at me: When the music was turned up loud to mask the screams of the alleged sexual attack, what music was it exactly?

It may be the least important detail about that moment, but still. What was the soundtrack in suburban Montgomery County, Md., in those days? My first guess is the blunt, dumb party music of Van Halen.

Their big singles in 1982 were covers of past songs from “Where Have All the Good Times Gone” to “Dancing in the Streets.”

Their most popular, though, was their cover of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman,” whose video, featuring a pair of little people molesting what looked to be a tied-up woman, was banned from MTV.

Such was the good time rapey culture of 1982, where the No. 1 pop song of the year, according to Billboard, was Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical.”

Written by a pair of guys and originally intended for Rod Stewart, its lyrics included “there’s nothing left to talk about  unless it’s horizontally…you gotta know you’re bringing’ out the animal in me.”

The top songs of 1982 showed both single-minded determination to a goal (Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”), awareness of sleaze (The J. Geils Band’s biggest hit, “Centerfold”) and a degree of kinkiness (John Cougar’s “Hurts So Good”).

The top songs included some angry entitlement turned to rejection (Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me”) and difficulty to own up to mistakes (Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”; Asia’s “Heat of the Moment”).

Even the most innocuous sounding 1982 tune, like the Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra” had its problematic urges (“I wanna reach out and grab ya”)

Overheated teenage libido has long been a part of pop music, but was there something sleazier going on that summer?

It was an era when Billy Idol sneered at a stranger, “Don’t be no fun, don’t forget that you’re young on a hot summer night” in his single “Hot in the City,” in which he declared “I’m a train when I’m hateful/ yeah, lay down now, and ride until your head breaks.” (That song had a video banned on MTV as well, when Idol’s then girlfriend was depicted tied to a cross in a 1987 remake).

In 1982, Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” spoke of “a new day is dawning, outside suburbia’s sprawling everywhere.” So she advises “hot shot, give me no problems .. you know life is cruel, life is never kind / kind hearts don’t grab any glory.”

Was there just more intimacy reflected in songs? Journey’s power ballad “Open Arms” set the scene by starting, “Lying beside you, here in the dark…”

Journey’s other hit that year, which has only seemed to become bigger in the intervening years, was “Don’t Stop Believin,’” which, despite its uplifting title, is really about a hookup between strangers — “Workin’ hard to get my fill, everybody wants a thrill.”

There may have been hints of women starting to stand up for themselves, as in Quarterflash’s “Harden My Heart.”

But far more often it was men who rejected emotional entanglements after acquiring physical ones. Or as Hall & Oates put it in “I Can’t Go for That,”  “You’ve got the body, now you want my soul, don’t even think about it, say no go.”

Some have already made a connection to the 1982 hit parade by linking that unusual word in Kavanaugh’s high school page “boofed,” which he said referred to flatulence, to Frank Zappa’s only Top 40 hit. The 1982 novelty tune “Valley Girl” features his then 14-year-old daughter Moon doing the affected narration of California catch phrases between choruses, including one bit about an English teacher who was “like, Mr. Bu-Fu,” flirting with all the boys in class (“Gag me with a spoon,” she goes on).

It’s not like teenagers were not already being taught through other entertainment that if they weren’t already having sex, they ought to be, through a plethora of teen sex comedies being released that year written by middle-aged men conflating exaggerations of their own youth with tasteless jokes they’ve heard.

It was 1982 when the money-making potential of crude teen sex humor was evident when the Canadian comedy “Porky’s” debuted in the U.S. It involved a largely unknown cast of boys who tried to hire a prostitute to overcome virginity, caught vengeance on a strip club that kicked them out for being under age, and spend a lot of time peeping into the girls locker room. Made for $4 million, it had made more than $105 million, and was was the fifth highest grossing movie of 1982, after “E.T.,” “Tootsie,” “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Rocky III.”

Another  comedy that year, “Zapped!,” was a teen sex comedy starring Scott Baio as a high school student who uses telekinesis to make girls’ sweaters pop open. It made $16 million and became something of a cult item, leading to a direct-to-video sequel in 1990.

I was a movie critic in those days and saw all of these things and wondered about their effect. They didn’t seem to reflect high school as I knew it in my own days or even in that era, but rather something from the overheated, hedonistic imagination of Hollywood writers.

“Beach Girls” was another, which mostly involved taking over an uncles’ beach house and inviting a lot of topless girls over. It starred Jeana Thomisno, a former Playboy model who gained fame in the ZZ Top video “Legs” and is currently known as Jeana Keogh on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

The big teen sex comedy hit of 1982, though, was “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” which had prestige and popularity, since it was Sean Penn’s first film. But it depicted a world where sex was prominent, the 15-year-old played by Jennifer Jason Leigh was losing her virginity to older men and Judge Reinhold lusted after Phoebe Cates.

The hormone-overload earned $27 million, was the first film for Penn, Reinhold, Cates and Leigh as well as several actors seen briefly, including Nicolas Cage, Eric Stolz, Anthony Edwards and Forest Whitaker. It even got a place in the Library of Congress’ U.S. Film Registry.

Based on a book by Cameron Crowe, the film had a hit soundtrack as well. Sammy Hagar wrote the title song, which reflected the era’s sexual targeting by kicking off with:

I got this strange fascination 

For this chick, down the hall 

Reliable information, Yeah 

Says she ain’t givin’ up the ball 

But Saturday night, I’ll be checkin’ it out 

From the back of my van…….. 

 

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