Saturday, June 03, 2006

At Seventeen (1975) – Janis Ian

In its glorification of self-pity, “At Seventeen” represents songwriting at its best: a sympathetic topic, a melody that broods, well-crafted rhymes, complex sentence structure, profound symbolism and vivid imagery. Ian recalls the desolation of her adolescence, when she deemed herself unattractive, unpopular, unwanted—living vicariously through her pitiable fantasies. Bereft of self-worth, Ian concludes that beauty is the elixir of the teenage elite and the charmed circles of adulthood. She paints the portrait of a girl suffering from self-esteem deficiency who perceived herself to be ugly, unwanted, unloved, reviled. To assuage her bitterness, she regards vapid small-town complacency as comeuppance. Indeed, the former beauty queens do not count the costs of their sheltered lives that beget scarce rewards. As foil to the lyrical hostility, gently plucked acoustic guitar figures lead a samba of bass and percussion, finding respite in a soothing trumpet and trombone duet before resuming the jeremiad.

As an adult, Ian recognizes that the loneliness and pain she endured at seventeen were creative catalysts that unlocked her imagination and gave her wealth in artistry. All too often, the most brilliant artists owe their profound insight, expression and enlightenment to miserable existences.

  • Listen to "At Seventeen" and purchaser from iTunes Music Store.
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