Tunes Tuesday: Janis Ian

Copyright JC Politi Photography
Students in a hallway in Nicaragua

Tunes Tuesday is a weekly series where I highlight songs that are poetic even without the music.

This song has stuck with me since I was…about seventeen. My dad listened to Janis Ian records when I was young and the words to this song are probably some of the first lyrics I ever really noticed. They are just so poignant and real.

For this Tunes Tuesday, I present At Seventeen by Janis Ian.

At Seventeen
Janis Ian

I leaned the truth at  seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school  girls with clear-skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired

The valentines I never knew
The  Friday night charades of youth
Were  spent on one more beautiful
At  seventeen I learned the truth

And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately  remained at homeInventing lovers  on the phone
Who called to say,  “Come dance with me”
And murmured  vague obscenities
It isn’t all it  seems at seventeen

A brown-eyed  girl in hand-me-downs
Whose name I  never could pronounce
Said, “Pity,  please, the ones who serve’
Cause  they only get what they deserve”

And  the rich relationed hometown queen
Marries into what she needs
With  a guarantee of company
And haven  for the elderly

So remember  those who win the game
Lose the  love they sought to gain
In  debentures of quality and dubious integrity
Their  small town eyes will gape at you
In  dull surprise when payment due
Exceeds accounts received at seventeen

To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball

It was long ago and far away
The  world was younger than today
When  dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like me

We all play the game and when we dare
To cheat ourselves at solitaire
Inventing lovers on the phone
Repenting other lives unknown
They call and say, “Come on, dance with me”
And murmur vague obscenities
At  ugly girls like me at seventeen

What do you think? What other songs expose raw emotion like this? Do you have a favorite song from your childhood that still touches your heart today? Why are the teenage years so hard for so many of us?

I would love to hear your thoughts! Thank you for reading.


Filed under Music, Women

35 responses to “Tunes Tuesday: Janis Ian

  1. Great song, and so true how songs of our youth never leave us!

  2. Oh…the memories for “….ugly duckling girls like me.”

  3. I was a teenager in the late ’70s, early ’80s. The pre-teen years were the hardest (11, 12) and the music of Queen got me through those years because they’re so camp and fun. After that it was punk rock. The raw energy taught me to stand up for myself and got me out of my shell.

    But when you think of AM Gold Hits, the one song that still touches my heart at age 49 is “Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro. That song still makes me cry thinking of a beautiful marriage ending too shortly because of death. I hear that song and feel so blessed that my husband and I have each other. Or the song “Spring” by Tanya Tucker is a real tear jerker that still makes me cry.

    I love your blog and all types of music, so this is perfect! (I have a music blog too, it’s called Maryanne’s Jukebox if you want to check it out).

  4. Hi Jeni. I remember all too well those days as a young 17 year old. Life seemed to be both beautiful and disappointing at the same time. But looking back I can see how gullible I was at the time.

  5. Pingback: All I Wanna Do – Daily Prompt « Zeebra Designs & Destinations

  6. Since the Daily Prompt requested a song, I have included yours with the one from WordPress. I could pull about 100 images to go with this song!

    I could also select about 100 favorite songs for new posts for your challenge. I’d best get back to painting!

    Thanks, Z

  7. This is brutally honest. I have sung this song along with the radio every time I have heard it but until reading it now, never really digested how brave it was to write and sing.

    My choice is Eddie Veddor

    On bended knee is no way to be free
    lifting up an empty cup I ask silently
    that all my destinations will accept the one that’s me
    so I can breathe

    Circles they grow and they swallow people whole
    half their lives they say goodnight to wives they’ll never know
    got a mind full of questions and a teacher in my soul
    so it goes…

    Don’t come closer or I’ll have to go
    Holding me like gravity are places that pull
    If ever there was someone to keep me at home
    It would be you…

    Everyone I come across in cages they bought
    they think of me and my wandering
    but I’m never what they thought
    got my indignation but I’m pure in all my thoughts
    I’m alive…

    Wind in my hair, I feel part of everywhere
    underneath my being is a road that disappeared
    late at night I hear the trees
    they’re singing with the dead

    Leave it to me as I find a way to be
    consider me a satellite for ever orbiting
    I knew all the rules but the rules did not know me

    Eddie Vedder – Guaranteed

  8. Janis Ian, ah, yes, I remember those feelings…xoxoM


  10. Great lyrics. Takes us all back to our teen years — male or female!

  11. Great post and a great song. Brings back the pain of adolescent and not quite fitting in. Who ever does? thanks for reminding me that I would rather be the age I am 🙂

  12. Jenni, what a great artist and songwriter. And, still very underrated. My wife and I saw a dual concert with Janis Ian and Don McLean. Janis went first and came out by herself with no accompaniment. She blew us away with her story telling and songs. McLean was also tremendous, but seeing Janis Ian was one of our most pleasant of surprises. The depth of her music beyond the above huge hit makes her worth listening to and she would resonate today with our younger folks. Very well done. BTG

    • So true!! Thanks for the comment BTG. By the way, check out the Denver Post this week and their series on child welfare and you will see why I have been MIA for a while. That and 9 news…it’s been a long week and I know you would understand.

      • In case you can’t find it, here’s the link: I may need to blog about this, but right now we are right in the thick of it…

        • Jenni, I feel the pain in this story. I feel for the victims and I feel for those who tried to help. We make budget cuts and ask social workers to do miracles with a severely unmanageable caseload and then when things go awry in a dramatic way, people shine a spotlight and say how could you let this happen. Plus, my guess is the very good ones leave and the less capable ones try to plug holes in the dyke with all of their digits. In our community, we have a dearth of social workers. For those readers who see this, a social worker’s job is extremely hard and requires both diplomacy and tough love.Best wishes on all fronts, BTG

          • Exactly. It is such hard work and I am sad for the caseworkers who are reading this. The job is hard enough without having fingers pointed at you telling you you haven’t done enough. A child fatality is so trajic for anyone involved. I am just not sure that looking for someone to blame, other than the person who actually committed the crime, is the best way to fix such a complicated problem. Thanks for checking it out. I knew you would understand what a hard week it’s been.

  13. I’ve loved this song for ages! Thanks for reminding me how great it is. 🙂

  14. Oh my goodness! What a memory from high school days. That song was powerful then and powerful still, especially today when it seems girls are told at younger and younger ages that they need to fit a certain look to be beautiful.

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