Know When To Fold 'EmKenny Rogers has maintained a gentle, friendly presence in my family's record collection since before I was born. "The Gambler" is one of the first songs that I can remember hearing, pouring simultaneously from my dad's massive hi-fi (a leftover from a singlehood I know little about, which is fine by me) and my father's joyous atonal throat.
"The Gambler" is the song my dad sang while getting ready to chop wood, while cleaning up the Saturday breakfast dishes, and while I helped him build the new deck on the back of the house. The actual work that went with the title of Dad's Official Deck Assistant was to hand dad his hammer, feed him lines in a call and response duet of "The Gambler" (...when to hold 'em ... when to fold 'em...) and run get mom whenever dad cut corners on the project and consequently cut holes into his flesh.
We used to pile into the den to watch the Muppet Show together in those days: me, Mom, Dad, and my younger sister who was still mired in toddlerhood and could only clap arrhythmically to Kenny Rogers' musical numbers. It was 1979 or maybe 1981.
It always frightened and confused me a little bit when Kenny did "The Gambler" on the Muppet show. The Muppets with him on the train were a bunch of dried up dirty old men, and I could tell they smelled funny even though they were only on the TV set. The Gambler himself freaking DIED during the song and his disembodied ghost danced around, finishing the song, for Christ's sake.
I see this video now and realize what sanitized times we live in. Kenny Rogers himself smokes a cigarette with a Muppet (a dirty old man Muppet, but still) and gives him a drink of whiskey on PRIME TIME TELEVISION. Then the Gambler tells Kenny and every kid out there in TV land all about gambling and dies in his sleep. The clip is greyish beige and completely bizarre, like a friendly lunatic on a Greyhound bus ride.
It's just fine for kids, but not at all the kind of aggressively wholesome programming we see now. Take a look: