In the summer of '79, I had just turned twenty-two. I discussed the idea for this book with my New York publisher. Go back to high school, he said, and find out what's really going on in there with the kids. I thought about it over a weekend, and took the project.
I had attended Ridgemont Senior High School in Redondo Beach, California, for a summer session seven years earlier, and those eight weeks had been sublime and forbidden days, even if it did mean going to school in the summer. I normally attended a rather strict Catholic school, and there were many of us who believed that all our problems would be solved, all our dreams within reach if we just went to Ridgemont public high school.
In the fall of '79 I walked into the office of Principal William Gray and told him the plan. I wanted to attend classes at Ridgemont High and remain an inconspicuous presence for the full length of the school year. The object, I told him, was to write a book about real, contemporary life in high school.
Principal Gray was a careful man with probing eyes. He was wary of the entire plan, and he wanted to know what I had written before. I explained that I had authored a number of magazine profiles of people in the public eye.
"Like who?" he asked.
I named a few. A president's son. A few rock stars. A few actors. My last article had been on the songwriter-actor Kris Kristofferson.
Principal Gray eased back in his chair. "You know Kris Kristofferson?"
"Sure. I spent a few weeks on tour with him."
"Hell," said the principal. "What's he like?"
"A great guy." I told him a few Kris stories.
"Well now," said Principal Gray, "I think I can trust you. Maybe this can be worked out."