This song’s release and popularity in 1975 began changing my thinking. While I’d always tried to see others’ point of view, I often failed, and slipped easily into the comfort of being me, sure of what was going on, and surer about how others live. I had some inklings that all was not as I thought from newscasts about riots, war, politics, and social upheaval, and I knew from friends, movies, and reading that lives often appear to be fine on the outside but it was rank darkness behind the scenes.
Then came this Janis Ian song, “At Seventeen”. As a boy, I thought the girls had all of the breaks. They controlled it all. We boys were the ones struggling with social graces and talking to girls. I didn’t know what it meant to a girl to meet a boy who seemed to like who and said he would call her, and then didn’t. I didn’t know what it meant for her to watch others being chosen, or how difficult it was, coping with body changes, and struggling with social perceptions and self-perception.
Life is usually more nuanced, layered, and complicated than many realize. We think everyone is the same, that all words mean the same, that every action carries the same weight. That these things aren’t true are lessons I keep learning and forgetting.