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Jody Stecher & Kate Brislin: Music

Seventeen Cents

(Jody Stecher & Kate Brislin)
Jody Stecher

Back in the 1970s I was visiting Kate (this was before we were married and I lived in the Pacific NW and she was in San Francisco) and while walking toward her house I was approached by a panhandler asking for "seventeen cents for a cup of coffee". Ten years later I was visiting Kate again (she still lived in SF and I was living in rural Mendocino county) and on the same street I was again approached by a (different) panhandler who again asked for seventeen cents, this time for a hamburger. This got me thinking. I gave him some change and walked up the street thinking "seventeen cents is a whale of lot". That's what started the song.  In the years since we recorded it (it's on STAY AWHILE) a lot of folks have misheard the words and asked me what I meant by certain things that I never sang. So here are some explanations of what I really did sing and do sing. The second verse refers to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Our protagonist only finds seventeen cents in a bucket.  The third verse was prophetic, or nearly so. The IRS sent a notice to the law firm where Kate was working as a bookkeeper saying that the IRS was about to fine the firm by a lot of money for....... over-paying..... not under-paying  their taxes by..... seventeen cents.  It turned out to be a computer error.  The next verse celebrates the well-known, much-loved San Francisco Cantonese restaurant Sam Wo and a colorful waiter who used to work there. He had the habit of seating customers before the table was cleared of the previous diners' plates. He'd seat everyone and then invert the teapot and clean the table with the tea, making sure that some tea landed on each customer. "Chow Fun" is a broad rice noodle.  "Pea shoot" is the shoot of the snow pea plant. The vine is trimmed so that it never forms pods and all the energy and taste goes into the leaves. The pink chicken reference is to a 1980s trend in San Francisco Chinese restaurants to under-cook fowl. BAD IDEA. It didn't last. The next verse imagines a band of some of my musical heroes: Fiddlin' John Carson, the Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence, and Bill Monroe, the father of Bluegrass.  ( I am the Nephew of Bluegrass. Not many people know that).  The Santa Claus verse never got recorded.  The last verse recalls the impetus for writing the song. I did eventually find out that there used to be a hamburger joint in south san francisco that sold (very small) hamburgers for seventeen cents. 

Well now! It's come to my (Jody) attention that people on an internet forum have got the idea that I don't want people to know the real words to my song "Seventeen Cents".  How such a silly idea came about is beyond me. Any time I've been asked directly I've always happily supplied the words. Soon I'll be announcing the release of my new CD "Wonders and Signs" and when the disc is ready I'll also be posting the words to all the songs here. Meanwhile here are the words to Seventeen Cents. They've never been a secret. 

 

Seventeen Cents

© (Jody Stecher) Vegetiboy Music (BMI)

 

Seventeen Cents is a whale of a lot

Seventeen Cents is-a what I got

The grocery bills, heat, and the rent

All I got left is seventeen cents

 

Chorus: Nineteen, eighteen, seventeen cents

Dirty ol’ dime and the penny’s bent

Ain’t seen nothin’ of my darlin’ since

She left me here with seventeen cents

 

Down the road and ‘round the bend

Lookin’ for gold at the rainbow’s end

Over the fields and under the fence

The bucket was lined with seventeen cents

 

Chorus: Nineteen, eighteen, seventeen cents

Dirty ol’ dime and the penny’s bent

Ain’t seen nothin’ of my darlin’ since

She left me here with seventeen cents

 

I got a letter from the IRS

“You owe back taxes, seventeen cents”

 (I) wish I had all the money they spent

Spent on bringing in seventeen cents

 

Chorus: Nineteen, eighteen, seventeen cents

Dirty ol’ dime and the penny’s bent

Ain’t seen nothin’ of my darlin’ since

She left me here with seventeen cents

 

Chicken chow fun and pea shoot fry

I got hot chili oil splattered in my eye

The waiter threw me over the fence 

‘cause the tip I left was seventeen cents

 

chorus: Seventeen Cents for soapy tea

He threw it on the table and it spilled on me

The chicken was pink and the greens were dense

I could’ve stayed home for seventeen cents

 

Went to Nashville and wrote me a song

They put it on a record by Fiddlin’ John, 

Bill Monroe, and Joseph Spence

The royalty check was seventeen cents

 

Chorus: Nineteen, eighteen, seventeen cents

Dirty ol’ dime and the penny’s bent

Ain’t seen nothin’ of my darlin’ since

She left me here with seventeen cents

 

Down the road, and up by the creek

See old Santa Claus washing his feet

He saw me and away he went

I sold his shoes for seventeen cents

 

Chorus: Nineteen, eighteen, seventeen cents

Dirty ol’ dime and the penny’s bent

Ain’t seen nothin’ of my darlin’ since

She left me here with seventeen cents

 

Down the road the skid row gents

They always beg for seventeen cents

Never did find out how it’s spent

To buy anything for seventeen cents

 

chorus: Seventeen cents for a cuppa joe

A ticket home or a burger-oh

Never did find out where they went

To buy such things for seventeen cents

 

Seventeen Cents is a whale of a lot

Seventeen Cents is-a what I got

The grocery bills, heat, and the rent

All I got left is seventeen cents

 

Chorus: Nineteen, eighteen, seventeen cents

Dirty ol’ dime and the penny’s bent

Ain’t seen nothin’ of my darlin’ since

She left me here with seventeen cents