Sunday, January 21, 2007

Something About 17

I was in a club last night - not the kind with live music, but the kind with thumping "club" music and over- (and under-) dressed men and women in their 20s and 30s doing their best to seduce each other. Not really my scene, but I was there for a friend's birthday party.

In any case, the house DJ would occasionally take breaks from song selections where the music consisted of THUMP THUMP...THUMP...THUMP THUMP and long streams of incomprehensible lyrics to go to song selections with loud guitars and long streams of incomprehensible lyrics, most of which I knew. One of them, towards the end of the night, was Joan Jett and the Blackhearts's famous cover of "I Love Rock 'N Roll" (point of connection to the blog, in case you're wondering: The Encyclopedia of Heavy Metal includes Joan Jett in its pantheon of artists. While I don't always agree with its selections - why is Cheap Trick and Dream Theater out? - it made for a good justification to write this post), which features the lyric, "I saw him dancin' there by the record machine/I knew he must a been about seventeen" and it got me to thinking: why do rockers have an obsession with 17-year-olds?

Joan Jett isn't the only example, obviously; Winger, Stevie Nicks and The Beatles all come to mind when thinking of this lyrical convention and I'm sure there are others. My initial theory was that 17 is a year younger than 18, the traditional age of adulthood; choosing to idealize 17 is the rock 'n roll thing to do because it's a little rebellious to make the kid seem like the adult. Then my wife pointed out that 17 is the legal age of consent in most states and it's probably no coincidence that all of these songs seem to be about sex in one way or another. I like both ideas - sex, drugs and rock 'n roll are so tied together that they end up as the subtext in song lyrics.

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