Up until very recently, the word “bet” would always take me to the song “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers, which I first heard when I was eight years old.
As you can imagine, Mr. Rogers was not a staple name in Venezuela, and he would have remained unknown to me if it had not been for a lady whose name, I think, was Tania.
Back then, we used to meet every Sunday at my uncles’ house. I come from a big family, with enough cousins to turn any lunch into a tropical version of “The Lord of the Flies.” It was fun, to say the least.
One of those weekends, my uncle decided to include their new neighbors, some “older” couple that looked like just out of… “The Love Boat”?
During the 70s, even the most moderate fashion trends were excessive, so up until now, I couldn’t remember what this lady could be wearing that caught my usually absent-minded attention. Forty years after, I dug through the memories of my 5′ feet 8 years old mini-me and found it: 7′ tall, wearing a fuchsia and orange paisley polyester tunic, and white bell-bottoms. And silver platform sandals, with flames of course.
At the end of that day, the children’s energy was conquered by the unlimited supply of soda, and the tolerance of the adults had received enough help from Mr. Old Parr. We all sat together, and Tania decided to spice up the night by playing a new record she’d just gotten. A vinyl of a gringo bearded man, Kenny Rogers was his name, she announced.
As the music started playing, Tania (and Mr. Parr, I’m sure) grabbed something that could double as a microphone and decided that Kenny would not sing “The Gambler” by himself. My English proficiency came mostly from “Villa Alegre”*, so I really appreciated her live Spanish dubbing, and, overall, fell in love with the song.
From that day on, I became one of the 20 –maybe 21- Venezuelan fans of Kenny Rogers. Many years later I can still sing “The Gambler” by heart, but nobody wants to hear that; I can criticize the misogyny of “Ruby, don’t take your love to town,” and have a better understanding of the country of “The Coward of the County.” And while they are not skills that would help me find a job on LinkedIn, I am proud of that.
Thanks to that afternoon with Tania and Kenny, I discovered a musical genre that I still really enjoy. If you don’t believe me, ask Spotify why it insists on Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, Rhett Miller, and my dear Kacey Musgraves.
So today, when I heard the news about the death of Kenny Rogers, I just wished he got what he wanted: “and the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”