Thursday, March 4, 2010

Modern Poets: Kenny Rogers

This week Modern Poets brings you an old favorite. Chances are you’ve heard or sung this week’s song at least once in your life. We’ve searched the archives and are bringing you one of the great songs from one of the greatest beard toting men of our lifetime: Kenny Rogers.

Way back in 1978, Kenny Rogers won a Grammy for a little ditty called "The Gambler". It is the title track off his album of the same name which even scored Rogers a TV movie. For those of us who are not gigantic country fans or who barely remember the 70’s, this is probably Rogers' most recognizable song.

The song is a touching tale of a time when Rogers met an old gambler who takes time just before he passes to dispense some wisdom to the young Rogers. Being fans of kick ass beards, Productive Sweatpants believes this song is about something else entirely. Let’s take a look:

On a warm summer's evenin', on a train bound for nowhere
I met up with the gambler. We were both too tired to sleep.
So we took turns a-starin' out the window at the darkness.
When boredom overtook us, he began to speak.

PS – Rogers is masterful in how he paints the scene for us here. It’s a melodic version of “It was a dark and stormy night”. And with that he sets the scene and he introduces us to the gambler.

OR…What most people don’t know is that Rogers had an epiphany to grow and keep his trademark sweet salt a pepper beard on a sultry New Orleans summer’s evening. After a drunken binge that included massive quantities of absinthe, Rogers found himself on a train and found himself in a deep discussion with an 80 year old version of himself.

He said, "Son, I've made a life out of readin' people's faces.
Knowin' what the cards were by the way they held their eyes.
So if you don't mind my sayin', I can see you're out of aces,
For a taste of your whiskey, I'll give you some advice."

PS – The gambler can tell that Rogers is down on his luck. He’s been around, he knows what’s going on. So he decides to help out young Kenny with a little piece of advice. And friends, everyone knows advice like this doesn’t come free.

OR…This is where 80 yr old Rogers starts to explain to young Rogers that he knows that he is down. It’s written all over his face. Now if he had less face to read it might not be as easy. And no tru playa for real can let any chump read him like a book.

So I handed him my bottle, and he drank down my last swallow.
Then he bummed a cigarette and asked me for a light.
And the night got deathly quiet, and his faced lost all expression.
He said, "If you're gonna play the game, boy, you gotta learn to play it right.

PS – Rogers creates drama in this verse and sets the stage for us. He really paints a nice picture of who the gambler is and gives us an idea of the state that he, Rogers, is in at the time he meets the gambler.

OR…Old Kenny knows that young Kenny fancies himself a player, because he was him 50 some years ago. And so he begins to tell young Kenny how he can really become a player. Not just a player but a tru playa fo real

You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away, know when to run.
You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table.
There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.

PS – The gambler continues with his sage wisdom here by using the obvious poker metaphor for life. He’s telling young Rogers that you can’t control the cards your dealt, you can only control how you play those cards. And you should never take too much stock in your success or failures. There will be time for that after you die.

OR…He goes on about how a tru playa must know certain things to be the man. He must know how to play the game. Most importantly a tru playa doesn’t need to measure up cause to hell with what everybody else thinks. This is the moment that Rogers begins to think about what sets him a part.

Every gambler knows that the secret to survivin'
Is knowin' what to throw away and knowin' what to keep.
'Cause every hand's a winner and every hand's a loser
And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep."

PS – The gambler continues on, telling young Rogers that every hand your dealt can go either way, you’re the one who can control what to do with it. But the worst thing is that you don’t know how others are going to play their hands so the only thing you can really hope for is nobody decides to off you because of your play.

OR…This is the point that Rogers somehow ascertained that keeping the beard was the real secret to playadom. Cause knowing what to keep is the key to surviving as a playa and Rogers knew at that moment that keeping his sweet beard was the key to his success.

And when he finished speakin', he turned back toward the window,
Crushed out his cigarette and faded off to sleep.
And somewhere in the darkness, the gambler he broke even.
And in his final words I found an ace that I could keep.

PS – Rogers again dramatically ends the story with nothing more than a turn and eternal rest.

OR…Now Rogers explains his trip further by telling the audience that 80 yr old him had completed his mission of passing along the secret to playa success to the young him right before he takes the long nap.

You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away, know when to run.
You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table.
There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.

PS – Armed with the secret of life the young Rogers can go out and conquer the world.

OR…Young Kenny now knows that the secret to being a tru playa is "knowing what to keep:" his sweet, sweet beard. Absinthe totally rules.

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