SO 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
These are lyrics from a Janis Ian song "at seventeen"; could you please help me understand what's in bold?
PS: shouldn't it be "when payment'S due"?
I think here the 'small- town eyes' is the metaphoric value for the public opinion, and they grant you a sort of bond for recognition of their debt(metaphoric value for respect)in form of 'quality and dubious integrity,or simply, they sheepishly respect you, but with some doubts in their minds.
If a debenture = 'a bond backed by the general credit of the issuer rather than a specific lien on particular assets':
Then these 'debentures' are 'bonds backed by the issuer's quality and integrity', where the issuer = 'those who win the game', and 'bonds' = 'an obligation made binding by a forfeit', i.e.
1. 'obligations backed by the quality and integrity of those who win the game'.
2. 'in emotional matters, those who will win the game (hereafter 'TWWWTG') have certain obligations towards Janis, and will lose their quality and integrity if those obligations are not met'.
Now it gets tricky: what does she mean by 'accounts received'?
Well...I suppose she could mean 'statement of account'.
So TWWWTG receive Janis's emotional statement of account; however, the figure at the bottom of the statement is less than the 'payment due' – e.g. Janis says:
3. 'Here is your statement of account, which = x. However, here is your bill, which = 2x.'
Understandably, they 'gape in dull surprise'. This is not normal.
Putting the two parts together...perhaps:
4. 'In emotional matters, TWWWTG have certain obligations towards Janis. This includes paying her emotional bill. However, Janis presents a bill which is more (2x) than the figure on the statement of account (x). (She is very demanding.) It seems therefore that TWWWTG will query the bill, and perhaps refuse to pay it. If so, they will not have met their obligations, and will therefore lose their quality and integrity'.
Which probably means they will 'lose the love they sought to gain'.
PS: Please don't send me into the corner again.