Debby McClatchy, though a native San Franciscan, grew up in the Appalachian town of Roaring Springs, Pennsylvania, and imbibed Carter Family songs with her mother’s milk. Since the 1960s she’s played in ceilidh and old-time string bands, building up a reputation in the USA and the United Kingdom as one of our best banjo frailers. She has written and collected songs in a wide range of styles.

“Gerds and Whirls” looks back without nostalgia at high school and offers reassurance to today’s girl nerds (“gerds”) snubbed by with-it girls (“whirls”). “Back Burner Man” is credited to Wanda Jean Wangford, a 1950s pop singer who died tragically in 1957—though the earliest known recording is on Debby’s 2003 CD Chestnut Ridge (with some fine fiddle work by W.B. Reid) and the only person who seems to know anything about Wanda Jean is Debby. The British trio Posh Totty gave a spirited performance at Stocksfield Hall (Northumberland, UK), now on view at More of Debby’s songs and CDs are at

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I was told that high school should be everything that anyone
could ever wish for happily, that’s all I ever heard
But I was always diametric’ly opposite of cool and neat
and kind of brainy, guess you could say I was just a nerd.

The with-it girls with their baton twirls and bouffant beehives never deemed
to look my way or even notice that I was alive.
I tried all year to lose exactly twenty pounds of baby fat
but never could, I don’t know how I ever did survive.

For if a girl nerd is a gerd and with-it girls are whirls it seems
we should tell all today’s gerds that they should not despair,
for there’s a good chance grownup gerds are only women whirls deferred
whirls grow up with useless lives and overtinted hair.

My world was full of whirls supreme, perfect nubile chiffon dreams
and they were even nice, I mean, so carefully complete!
But my knees were too plump for mini-skirts, my hair was too fine for bouffant do’s
When I did go to a dance all I did was eat.
I loved a boy in History class, I worshiped him but from afar,
I prayed that he would make a pass, he didn’t have a clue.
Now that boy is an aging flirt with a pinky ring and a nylon shirt,
Middle management is his work, so I guess it must be true,


I had a dream, a fantasy, a scheme that I would someday be
A perfect pom-pom princess on the school’s cheerleading team;
I tried to do the splits one day and my knees, they locked, I was stuck that way,
Everybody laughed (they’ll pay!) and I didn’t make the team.
Now I am not the catty type but down, deep down, I know that now
They’re fat and ugly, bored and tired, grubby old housewives;
For if there is no adult gain without a lot of teenage pain,
I know now that the best revenge can be a happy life.

(Last Refrain:)
For if a girl nerd is a gerd and with-it girls are whirls it seems
We should tell all today’s gerds that they should not despair
For there’s a good chance grown-up gerds are only women whirls deferred,
Whirls grow up with useless lives and over-tinted hair,
and shaped just like a pear,
and there’s never anything to wear,
and little do I care!


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Now every girl, she knows that life will bring her wedded bliss,
A husband, children, picket fence, an every morning kiss,
But if he proves to be a cad, and throws her quite a curve,
She should have a big back burner man awaiting there in reserve.

Yes, every girl should have herself a big back burner man,
A bubblin’ and a-simmerin’ a-slowly in the pan,
Spice him up occasionally to keep him near at hand,
Yes, every girl should have herself a big back burner man.

Now you’d think that every girl would want a life safe and serene
Without a change or choices or those troubles unforeseen,
But if she feels she’s getting stale and and tired of playin’ it safe
She should have a big back-burner man waitin’ there just in case.


Now cookin’s just like lovin’, with no guarantees at all.
Men who talk the biggest tend to be so very small,
So if your soufflé falls down flat while bakin’ in the pan
You know you can always get a rise out of your back-burner man.

The folknik song pages are lovingly produced by John Kelly and Barbara Millikan. John Kelly produced the song pages for this issue (with a lot of help from Barbara!).

If you’d like to submit a song for possible publication, please send a score, tape/CD or (preferably) both to —

Copyright for all songs published on this page remains with the authors.