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Samuel’s Musician Of The Week

September 9th, 2007 at 06:02pm

I heard a song during the week that I have heard many times before, but on this occasion I paid more attention to the lyrics than usual, and I started to think about it. The song in question is “At Seventeen” and the singer is Janis Ian. Have a read of the lyrics, and I’ll detail my thoughts below.

I learned 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 murmur 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
In the rich-relationed home-town queen
Marries into what she needs
With a guarantee of company
And haven for the elderly

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
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

Clive Robertson played this song on Tuesday morning and followed it with a comment along the lines of “Some people say Janis complained too much, but I think she may be on to something”. It’s not a direct quote, but it is close enough. I had been thinking about the song as it was unfolding and it struck me that, whilst I can empathise with Janis’ sentiments, she is going about it the wrong way.

I have never really understood the point of teenage (and in particular high school) relationships. I came to the conclusion that the whole thing was pointless long before I reached high school. I remember with some clarity a few times in primary school where I started relationships which were more serious than mere friendship.

The first one was when I was about ten years old. A girl my age moved in very close to my house, and was placed in the same class as me at school. We developed a relationship over the course of a week, and things were going well, until they started to go wrong. I suppose in many ways a lot of the problems were caused by my general intolerance of things I didn’t particularly like at the time, such as certain afternoon television programs and the people who were absolutely enthralled by them…and chewing gum, something I still regard as possibly the most repulsive thing ever invented. The bottom line was that she was nice enough, and I liked her, but I didn’t like a lot of things about her, and therefore started to dislike her. She was not particularly pleased that I constantly refused to do things, including going anywhere near her chewing gum.

Eventually we had a nice loud yelling match between the school’s quadrangles during recess.

I vaguely recall a number of friendships during primary school coming and going, and from memory a lot of the lost friendships were due to disagreements over interests, and my annoyance over some of their interests (some of the afternoon children’s programs ranked highly on my list of annoyances).

Later on in primary school I became infatuated with a particular female who was a year older than me. She found me to be quite annoying and repulsive, and I got in trouble on a number of occasions for sexual harassment (the way the primary school teachers set about convincing me that my actions were inappropriate without ever really explaining what was wrong or why it was wrong proved to be quite entertaining. It would have been blatantly obvious to them that the majority of students my age and above were aware of the “facts of life”, but they were prevented from discussing them with us). I liked her, but she didn’t like me, I knew this, but I liked her too much to care…for a while anyway, after that I became indifferent to her as chasing her was clearly pointless.

Towards the end of primary school the school counsellor decided that it would be a good idea for me to have a tour of the high school I was going to attend, and meet the counsellor of that school. During this tour, I happened to briefly visit a classroom containing (amongst others) the female I had previously been infatuated with. When I started attending that high school the next year, she was notably absent. I would hope that my appearance on that day (and the fact that I would subsequently attend the school) did not make her change school, but it is a possibility.

By this stage I had more or less come to the conclusion that such relationships were pointless. I had nothing to gain from such a relationship, and they were usually just a popularity contest anyway.

A short time later (after realising that the majority of people in my year saw me as an outsider) the truth of the matter became obvious, and I quite happily avoided trying to form relationships. I had my select group of friends, and that was a good thing, but there was no point in trying to form a relationship. This, in many ways, made high school a much more pleasurable experience for me than it was for many others.

The main problem with relationships, as I see it, is the need to get along with people. I find a lot of people incredibly annoying and irritating, and the thought of spending the rest of my life with them (or a few years followed by a messy and agonising breakup) to be incredibly troubling. The thought of deliberately spending a short amount of time with someone I’m only slightly interested in is just as troubling.

For this reason I do not actively seek out relationships. I am content with myself. I’m sure that many people see this as strange, but I think it is perfectly logical. I’m not a person who really relates well to others at a personal level for an extended period of time, and as I am happy by myself, I don’t see any good reason to attempt to start a long-term personal relationship.

Perhaps one day I will find someone who I can be happy with on a personal level, but I know the chances of it are not very high, and as long as I am happy, that is all that really matters to me. Besides which, I find pets to be far more agreeable than many humans. That’s not to say that I don’t get along with humans…I get along with most humans without any problems at either a colleague or friend level, but at a personal level, I would much rather deal with pets who, for me at least, are far easier to get along with.


Entry Filed under: Samuel's Editorials,The Sunday Share

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  • 1. davky  |  September 9th, 2007 at 11:30 pm

    Firstly, let me just say that I love this song. It does well to encapsulate the feelings of disappointment and dismay which many feel when they move from the stage of worry-less child to angstful teenager. I find it incredibly soulful and haunting.

    Secondly, thanks for being so honest in your post, Sambo. Not many blokes find it easy, or are able to at all, be so forthright about their own emotions and feelings. This is one of the things I find fantastic about some bloggers – we can sometimes gain some insights in the windows of your soul. Bravo.

  • 2. Tony  |  September 10th, 2007 at 2:16 am

    Janis Ian (real name Janis Eddy Fink) only had a few hit songs here but that in no way means she isn’t a great talent.
    At Seventeen from 1975 remains her most popular with fans while she did have Fly To High grace the charts in 1979 into 1980.
    I do remember a 60’s song though, Society’s Child from Janis also.
    she had other singles Boy, I Really Tied One On 1976 and The Other Side Of The Sun in1980.
    Don’t let the lack of chart material fool you though, Janis has some very good albums, check them out.

  • 3. Tim  |  September 10th, 2007 at 5:19 pm

    I haven’t heard this song before – and in fact I must admit I skip over most of your musician of the week posts because we must have different tastes in music & I haven’t heard of most of the songs – but I read this one because it looked interesting with your commentary.

    I have to say I agree with you about the high school relationships. Purely pointless. I am only going to enter a long term relationship when I’m sure it’s going to be very long term (i.e. with marriage + rest of life in mind) and not just for the point of doing it.

    I think you will find someone one day who will be similar enough to you in that you’ll be able to get along well and understand each other deeply. You’re certainly a unique person and there’s more than likely a unique girl out there that you’ll one day find. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. =)

  • 4. Tony  |  September 10th, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    70’s music is an acquired taste but not to be taken lightly as most artists today borrow heavily from it.
    Fly Too High has been redone since and I’m sure At Seventeen has also.
    I love 70’s music as it was a time when music evolved into so many directions, country into mainstream, disco into dance, punk into grunge and we also saw rap with clean lyrics emerging onto the charts at the end of the decade.

  • 5. Clayton Northcutt  |  September 10th, 2007 at 7:29 pm

    If she legally changed her name from Janis Eddy Fink to Janis Ian, that makes it her real name Tony.

    However, if you were to say that was her birth name, you would be correct.

  • 6. Tony  |  September 10th, 2007 at 9:18 pm

    Just for you Clayton, her birth name was Janis Eddy Fink, then she was abducted by aliens and came back to earth as Janis Ian.
    Is that better?

  • 7. Adam 1.0  |  September 11th, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    Janis Ian Turpie

  • 8. Pen 15  |  September 11th, 2007 at 9:40 pm

    Interesting post. I can’t share your cynicism though, Sam. High-school relationships taught me a lot about dealing with girls (not to mention providing me with a bit of lunchtime entertainment!)

    Doesnt the idea of the “physical” side of a relationship pique your interest at all?

    And as an aside, two of my best buddies got married to their childhood sweethearts!

  • 9. Samuel  |  September 15th, 2007 at 11:40 pm

    Consider me odd if you like, but no, the “physical” side of a relationship doesn’t really interest me.

  • 10. Tony  |  September 16th, 2007 at 11:09 am

    Marriage is the quickest way to kill a relationship if you ask me.
    I don’t know how many people I know, have lived happily together for years and soon as they got married divorced from anywhere between 6 months and 2 years.
    I think it’s the whole feeling owned thing.
    Like the Classic song says: Born free, as free as the wind blows.
    I couldn’t stand to be owned, it would take away what little sanity I have left.

  • 11. Pen 15  |  September 16th, 2007 at 9:50 pm

    Hmmm. Sam, once you’ve had a girl ***** your ***** while reaching around and ***** your ***** and ****** Advance Australia Fair, you might change your mind!

    Only stirring you. More power to you for being so open about it.

    Tony, I am going to marry an internet geek. it won’t be about feeling owned then.
    It’ll be about feeling pwned.

  • 12. Samuel  |  September 16th, 2007 at 10:37 pm

    This is one occasion where I’m sure your comment would make more sense without the use of asterisks, however I don’t think I would want to read your comment without them.

  • 13. Clayton Northcutt  |  September 18th, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    No it’s not Tony.


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