mixsix

I’m a sheep at the card table, just waiting to be fleeced. I’ve got no poker face, for starters — everything comes out in the eyebrows, and in the smirk I simply cannot erase. Add in a general fogginess on the actual rules of most card games, and you can see how I’d spend a rainy afternoon getting fearsomely bluffed by a five-year old in multiple hands of I Doubt It.

But as a writer, I’m in love with the language, with the music of the games, with double down and shoot the moon, with five-card charleys and busted flushes and inside straights, with one-eyed jacks and suicide kings. There’s romance in that language, and it has run like an underground river through folk and popular song for centuries before Lady GaGa was born.

LISTEN TO THE FULL MIX


“The Rovin’ Gambler,” Tennessee Ernie Ford

This is one of my earliest pop music memories. My dad had a fistful of Columbia promo LPs, cheap disposable things — the “Now that’s What I Call Music” of their day, I guess — fifteen or more years old even when I first heard them. I was allowed to listen to them on my little turntable with the built-in speakers. Al Hirt, June Christy, Steve and Eydie, Les Baxter — it all seemed so impossibly grown-up. And Ernie Ford, with his finger-snapping shuffles and that big, friendly voice, seemed almost like a favorite uncle.


“The Card Cheat,” the Clash

This is Strummer & Co. going back to some of their own pop memories, I think. It sounds like they’re trying to make a Petula Clark record here.


“Solitaire,” Suzanne Vega

These days, more and more kids are getting their first exposure to card games via the computer. They’re missing the essential people-reading skills, maybe, but taking a short ride to the obsessive nature of the pastime. I don’t play many computer games, myself, precisely because I know I’m capable of pissing away an entire evening at hand after hand of Vegas-rules Klondike.


“The Ace of Spades,” Motörhead

The cards make such a brilliant metaphor that sometimes it’s hard to stop seeing them as such. Symbolism is so inevitable that even the author of the stubbornly literal “Killed By Death” is seduced by it.


“Shape of My Heart,” Sting

Say, remember how weird it was to see Sting playing the lead character’s dad in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels?


“Deal,” the Jerry Garcia Band

I’m one of those sneery punk types who hated the Grateful Dead, and I always assumed that I hated them because of Jerry Garcia. As I listened further, though, I noted how lively and focused Jerry’s work could sound with Dave Grisman and the Jerry Garcia Band. I still hate the Dead. But now I blame Bob Weir. That motherfucker.