Thursday, September 29, 2011

debentures of quality and dubious integrity

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 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
'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


  1. I watched her singing this on YouTube and in the introduction she said that it resonates with everyone, wherever she goes. Certainly I grew up at the same time as she did and, like her, I had curly, dark, hair when it was fashionable to have long, blond hair. I know how that feels as a teenager.

  2. I think the words to this song rang home to a lot of young people of the day, and not just girls.

    Did you know her "Society's Child" was banned in the American South, and when a radio station chose to play it anyway, it was burned down? One didn't write songs about interracial children in those days.

  3. Oh 'debentures!' I thought it said 'Dentures.'

  4. Back in 1979/80, the pottery where I worked had an eight track. Oh yes, an eight track player.
    And we had a limited library of cartridges. Janice Ian was one, and I must have heard this song a zillion times. One of the characteristics of an eight-track was that it cycled repeatedly unless you intervened. And when you're busy, and too busy, it just goes around again.
    Amazingly, I still like the song and still like Janis Ian.

    I like songwriters whose songs have content, meaning, over songwriters who just repeat a few catchy rhymes. Janis's songs were always a story.

  5. I often wondered about those vague obscenities.

  6. You didn't have to be "ugly" to feel ugly. Lord knows. Girls can be shunned for many reasons, including being smart.

    I think that's why it resonates so well with so many.

  7. @Adullamite - Murmuring vague obscenities now. Some not so vague.

    @Soubriquet - What's an eight track?

    @Stephanie Barr - Well, I'm sure you've never been shunned for being smart. And I picture you as being too short to be picked for basketball. So I'm guessing you were one of those who caused the pain. :) :)

  8. "Well, I'm sure you've never been shunned for being smart." Hahahahaha!

    Let me tell you most conversations I had with guys at mixing events in college.
    "I saw you over here by yourself and thought you shouldn't be alone."
    "Oh?" (me)
    "So, I'm soandso. What's yours?"
    "I like that name. So, what's your major?"
    "Engineering Physics."
    "Well, gotta go."
    In high school, I could send boys running with a single grammatical sentence.

    "And I picture you as being too short to be picked for basketball."

    Sorry, 5'8" but completely uncoordinated (and still so today).

    "So I'm guessing you were one of those who caused the pain. :) :)"

    I'm not a paragon by any measure, but I can say, with complete honesty, that I never EVER turned my back on someone because they weren't popular or pretty or rich or whatever. No one was so unpopular or a misfit for me to mistreat them. Most were sweet or shy or mistreated people, low on social skills but not because they were anything or anyone less than someone else.

    Even as a very young child (gradeschool), I only responded to actions I considered reprehensible, not people. I refused to hate anyone until they had demonstrated hateful behavior - never for what they were or anything else they couldn't change. I wasn't afraid of much, I wasn't much prone to violence, and many people ended up coming to me as a shield from abuse because I could take teasing and didn't care what others thought of me.

    Didn't mean to get on my soapbox, sorry about that. I realize you meant it as a joke, but, to me, to the people I knew growing up, it wasn't the least bit funny. Although I'm not without sin, bullying is not one of them. Never.

  9. @Stephanie - No matter how many times you give me a lesson that I can't joke with you, I never seem to learn. I will try harder.

    Contrary to what you are saying, pain is the real root of ALL humor, because pain and loss are something all of share universally, and we can identify. When you can't joke about (most) pain, you become emotionally impaired. One must relieve the pain through humor. So they say.

  10. Heinlein said the same thing in Stranger in a Strange Land. I can and do laugh at my own pain.

    Not someone else's, unless they're already laughing.

    Personal quirk.

    I knew you meant it as a joke and I wasn't upset with you, no really. But, though I have many flaws, I'm proud (perhaps too proud) I was never the sort of person who was all worried about what someone was rather than who. My vehemence is more sorrow on their behalf than anger at anyone.


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