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The Curse of Ugliness, The Curse of Beauty: Two Songs.

October 11, 2020

Two songs by two women..

Most people would agree that ugliness is a curse. Men who are ugly can still get lots of women if the men become rich, famous, or both.

But women, not so much.

Beauty is not so commonly seen as a curse. But it can be.

After reading the lyrics to the first song, I think it actually covers both curses, a little.

This song is called “At Seventeen,” and was released by Janis Ian in 1975. It was the second single off her seventh album, called “Between the Lines.” The single became a massive hit, won Ian a Grammy, was covered by many artists, and eventually sold over a million copies.

It is a heartbreaking and somewhat bitter song.

As with my other song posts, I’ll present the lyrics first:

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 phoneWho 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
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
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 unknownThey call and say, “Come dance with me”
And murmur vague obscenities
At ugly girls like me
At seventeen

.. Most of the lyrics are pretty clear – about the heartbreak of not being beautiful, and the advantages the beautiful have..

But..

Remember those who win the game
Lose the love they sought to gain
In debentures of quality
And dubious integrity

… Wouldn’t the first line refer to beautiful girls? Those who win the game?How do they lose the love they sought to gain?

“Debentures” – I had to look up that word. It means an unsecured loan. A loan not backed up by anything.

Debentures and dubious integrity.. I think I understand these lines, but I’m going to go down a few more before I get to what I think is the meaning..

Their small-town eyes will gape at you
In dull surprise when payment due
Exceeds accounts received
At seventeen

So.. I’m thinking this is quite a contrast with previous lyrics, which are about beautiful girls having all sorts of advantages, even when they are elderly.

These later lyrics seem like a bitter sort of view of what will happen to beautiful girls who were banking on their looks to get them through life, but their looks faded, and bad things happened, such as the women losing their love.. being abandoned by their men.

Since their looks were all the women had, they ended up with nothing, and people were unpleasantly surprised to see them after they had aged.

That’s the meaning of the second song I want to get to, but first I will post Ian’s song for you to hear.

I usually don’t like to post live versions, because those can be visually distracting. Better to post the audio-only video.

This second song is less well-known. It is called “Drive-In Movies and Dashboard Lights,” and was released as one of the songs from an album called “Storms,” in 1989, by Nanci Griffith. “Storms” was Griffith’s eighth album.

Here are the lyrics:

Sister had a crystal voice
She played a Silverstone from Montgomery Ward
Baez songs and Monroe hair
She sure could turn the boys heads to stare
Swimwear saunter, tan and haunt them
Was all she learned in school
Books were for the other girls
And the other girls were fools
Texas back in ’69 was drive in movies and dashboard lights

Father waltzed her down the aisle
‘Cause college didn’t suit her style
The sad truth was she could barely read
But if you told dear father, well he wouldn’t believe you
The telephone rang and drove mother insane
From all the hearts left on the shelf
Sisters gone and she won’t be home
Cause she didn’t take care of herself
Texas back in ’69 was drive in movies and dashboard light
s

Where is she now
The backseat queen of fraternity
Where is she now
She’s heavy on thigh
And light on integrity
Someone should have told her
When beauty’s all you offer
How soon the world discovers
That your beauty’s gone
Its gone

Mother can’t you hear your daughter crying
Father wake up her youth is dying
The kids are gone
Husbands gone away
And its a shame cause she had such a lovely face
Can’t you see she needed more than
“Oh what a pretty child”
You never taught her truth from lie
All you told her was to smile
Texas back in ’69 was drive in movies and dashboard lights

Where is she now
The backseat queen of fraternity
Where is she now
She’s heavy on thigh
And light on integrity
Someone should have told her
When beauty’s all you offer
How soon the world discovers
That your beauty’s gone
Its goneTexas back in ’69 was drive in movies and dashboard lights.

Beauty is a curse, if the person is objectified and not cared for and raised well.

Interesting how both songs mention the word “integrity,” and how beautiful women in both songs do not have it.

“The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.”

“The state of being whole and undivided.”

“Internal consistency or lack of corruption.”

If all a woman has is beauty, and her personhood is not nurtured, then her growth as a human being is severely stunted. It is possible she will become someone lacking in morals, who has a divided self, and who has become corrupt.. corrupted or corrupting or both.

Here is the song:

One last thought before I go..

I first encountered the lyrics to “At Seventeen” long before I heard the song. Even though the song was released in 1975, I did not hear it until I was an adult… probably sometime in the ’90’s, when I was in my twenties.

I was maybe 12 years old, and listening to a lecture series on adolescence by Dr. James Dobson, a well-respected Christian psychologist, that I heard the lyrics.

Dobson talked about the difficulty of not being attractive, and quoted some of Ian’s lyrics.

I think it was in the same lecture series that Dobson mentioned a study of who stayed married and who was happy… how looks affected women.

According to the study, women who were of “average” appearance tended to have happier and longer-lasting marriages.

These women were neither especially ugly, nor especially beautiful.

Make of that what you will.

That’s all for now. More posts on music.. someday..

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