KENNY ROGERS – THE GAMBLER

This is one of my favourite songs (I do like a bit of Kenny Rogers), mainly for the meaning I attach to it (it was part of some advice a friend gave me before I delivered a speech to a packed-out lecture theatre).  And because it’s a song I hold in high esteem, I feel it deserves the sceptical treatment.  It’s jam-packed with beautiful metaphors. So let’s take a look at it, line-by-line:

(Lyrics courtesy of lyricsfreak.com)

On a warm summer’s eve
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
The boredom overtook us,
And he began to speak
A nice way to set the scene.  I’ve been that person on the train many a time, awkwardly avoiding eye contact with other passengers, until one of us summons the courage to see what will happen if they break the very British taboo of engaging in conversation with a stranger.
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 me sayin’
I can see you’re out of aces
For a taste of your whiskey
I’ll give you some advice”
Our stranger has some valuable advice to impart: his experience has taught him to get the measure of other people, to suss them out and use that information to his advantage.  He can tell from our traveller’s demeanour that they are down on their luck.  He’ll pass on some information, but only as part of a fair exchange – the gambler knows which currency to use to get a good deal.
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 face lost all expression
He said, “If you’re gonna play the game, boy
You gotta learn to play it right
The trade takes place and our gambler begins his tale:

Our traveller has to take life seriously and learn to make the right decisions to get what they want in life – to game the system.

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for counting
When the dealin’s done
It’s important to recognise which risks are worth taking, which ones are not, and to realise when you’re about to get conned.

Don’t put make yourself vulnerable by revealing what assets you have, take stock of your own situation in private so that others cannot take advantage of you.

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
Experience will teach you how to make the best of every situation.  You can use some of what life throws at you to your advantage, and some thins you have to just let go.  And sometimes that means making unpleasant and ruthless decisions.

Whatever situation you find yourself in; you can choose to make the best of it, or not.  Life’s a gamble and you have to learn the odds.

Life, and death, are uncertain and inevitable.  Hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst, and play whatever hand you’re given.

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
But in his final words
I found an ace that I could keep
The old gambler has given his advice, lived his life to his satisfaction, and now his time has come to die.  He succeeded at life, and death, and so broke even.

Our traveller takes on board the gambler’s advice, and sees a moment of purpose in the gambler’s death.  His legacy will live on in the wisdom he gifted to the traveller.

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And 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
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em (when to hold ’em)
Know when to fold ’em (when to fold ’em)
Know when to walk away
And 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
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And 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

Songwriters: SCHLITZ, DON
The Gambler lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

And here it is, on YouTube.  I’ve had this on repeat so, so many times.  Resist it, I challenge you!

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