At the casino there is a poster advertising an upcoming Kenny Rogers concert. I consider myself to be far outside the sphere of Kenny Rogers’ influence—in terms of my age, in terms of my location, and in terms of stylistic interest. Nevertheless, the song creeps into my ear as though it had been playing all along, as though the poster had a tiny speaker of its own. The catchiest songs are the ones that the would-be listener says to themselves anyway: “It’s getting hot in here,” you might say, accidentally setting up what is just the first half of the entire line: so take off all your clothes. So far I have only managed to lose ten dollars in the penny slots, but the line rings true:
YOU GOTTA KNOW WHEN TO HOLD ’EM,
KNOW WHEN TO FOLD ’EM…
The song trumpets in with an accompanying burst of irritation: this song will be stuck in my head all night, my bra will smell like smoke forever, this sticky dribble of cranberry vodka will stain my blouse, I will never get that ten dollars back. Permanence is a mixed blessing.
Take for example this hit single. At first it was probably all coolers full of champagne, ruby necklaces, hearty pats on the back—but as payment for those luxuries, Rogers had to sing that very song over and over and over again for the rest of his life at every casino across America. Doomed to experience his own success, forever.
At the casino that night I thought about printing out a picture of Kenny Rogers to tape above my desk. I might look up at him there and remember that once my words leave my mouth they are anyone’s to take away. I might look up at him and think something as obvious as: success is a gamble. But I have had two cranberry vodkas and so I will forget this idea, remembering it only much later the next day when I find an email to myself, from myself, blank except for the subject line: KENNY RGERS.
Olivia Dunn is a Teaching Professor of English at Skidmore College, an instructor at the Arts Center of the Capital Region, and a graduate of the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Her work has appeared in The Pinch Journal, Seneca Review, Tinker Street, JMWW, The Nervous Breakdown, Jellyfish Review, River Teeth, Entropy, and McSweeney’s.
Image: Detail from “The Original 800 Men Who Look Like Kenny Rogers,” archive of Jaime Muelhausen’s website