Note: I saw on the news today that Kenny Rogers was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. It probably took so long since he’s botoxed himself until he’s almost unrecognizable. I miss grizzly, hairy, 70s Kenny. So here’s a replay of one of my personal favorites, with a few minor edits.
I heard this today while I was at the grocery store buying snacks for my dad. (Update: I wasn’t out buying snacks today; I stayed home and tutored. Did a little laundry. But I’ve had this song stuck in my head for at least an hour now.) I had long since consigned it to the bin relegated for Songs Too Cheesy Even For Me, but I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it as a child (and if “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero” isn’t too cheesy for me, then nothing is).
I knew all the words when I was a little kid (is 9 still little?). I’d sing them at top volume given the slightest provocation. And listening to it again as an adult, I realize two things. One, this is a really well crafted song. Every part compliments the whole. The production is fairly understated–which is something of an accomplishment for a late-70s country song. The characters of the song are so well drawn they could be something out of a Bret Harte story; Rogers even made a secondary career for himself playing The Gambler in TV movies all through the 80s. Two, if you treat the card playing analogy as exactly that, this is pretty good advice.
I must mention here that I like to watch poker on TV. I stink at playing it (I’m just terrible at reading people or understanding odds), but there is something compelling about watching other people play cards. I have no idea why this is so interesting to me. Maybe I’m as much a victim of the Moneymaker Effect as the donkeys that pony up $10,000 for the WSOP Main Event. And poker is kind of fun to play, even if I do stink. My family used to get together sometimes when I was a kid, and everyone would bring their piggy banks or coffee cans full of loose change to play penny ante poker all night. I don’t think poker is some kind of great meaningful philosophical experience; while there is some skill involved, a significant portion is the luck of the draw. But Rogers takes good sound card playing advice and makes it sound like Nietzsche.
It’s not the chorus–“You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away, know when to run.”–that resonates the most strongly with me, although it is a pretty sound philosophy. I find that the final verse is what stands out to me. Maybe it’s because my life is in transition right now. I’ve been evaluating and re-evaluating myself and everything in my life for quite some time now. And sometimes what you need to hear is a little no-nonsense advice that’s vague enough to adapt to your needs. This might be the advice I need right now.
“Every gambler knows that the secret to survivin’ is knowing what to throw away, and knowing what to keep. ‘Cause every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser, and the most that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”
There’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done.
Just for kicks, here’s “The Gambler” from Kenny Rogers’ appearance on The Muppet Show. Awesome.