02 May 2009

Learning The Truth

Angst. An intense feeling of strife. A profound and deep-seated spiritual condition of insecurity and despair in a free human being.

Angst. The first time Mr. B. learned of that word was in his late teens. But he distinctively remembered he was around 10 when he started wondering about what life is all about when he passed by the exact same places going to and coming from school. What else is there aside from me, he would asked himself. At 12, struggles about roles and identities, social and sexual; acceptance and abandonment. At 16, questions about higher beings; submission and resistance; piety and iniquity.

In 1975, Janis Ian opened her heart and soul in an almost poetic fashion with At Seventeen then.

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Now at 58, Janis Ian revisits that angst. Perhaps stronger and wiser. But somewhere in her eyes, the scars left behind by the valentines that never came when she needed them most.

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I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
In 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 home
Inventing 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
They only get what they deserve
And the rich relationed hometown queen
Married into what she needs
A guarantee of company
And haven for the elderly
Remember those who win the game
Lose the love they sought to gain
Indebentures 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
And 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
That call and say, come dance with me
And murmur vague obscenities
At ugly girls like me
At seventeen


At Seventeen: music and lyrics by Janis Ian

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