Friday, April 03, 2009

When You’ve Begun to Think Like a Gun

When You’ve Begun to Think Like a GunBeen listening to these old John Cale albums over the last week or two. I’ll pull ’em out every couple of years. Not as good or interesting as the two Velvet Underground LPs on which Cale appeared (the one with Nico & White Light/White Heat), but full of surprises and cool moments, nonetheless. (I’m referring to the half dozen or so records Cale made during the early 1970s.)

One reason why I don’t wholeheartedly embrace Cale’s music is the fact that his lyrics -- while often suggestive -- are usually just a bit too opaque to produce any real response (in me, anyway). An exception is the song “Gun” from which my post title comes.

“Gun” is a rocker, with a driving, head-bobbin’ rhythm. As the title suggests, the song has a “hard-boiled” theme, told from the perspective of a ne’er-do-well criminal -- probably a hit man -- capable of all sorts of horrors who is reflecting on his trade. Can’t really say the story of “Gun” makes a lot of sense on a literal level, but it does a good job evoking the cool, cocky, morally-depraved atmosphere of a pulpy potboiler.

And the chorus delivers the message in a relatively point blank fashion (pun intended): “When you’ve begun to think like a gun, / The rest of the year has already gone. / When you’ve begun to think like a gun, / The days of the year have suddenly gone.”

Not to get overly academic about it, but I’ve always interpreted those lines as suggesting something about the speaker’s wholehearted commitment to executing the task before him -- his ability to forget everything and think of himself as a weapon, a tool designed to destroy. And when that happens, all that matters is now.

'Super System' by Doyle Brunson (1979)Lots of poker writers use similar language to describe effective, aggressive play, with Doyle Brunson’s chapter on no-limit hold’em in Super/System (first published in 1979) being the model for such “think like a gun”-style talk.

That chapter begins with Texas Dolly criticizing timid players who “ante themselves to death” or are “gutless” or don’t have the “courage” or “heart” or “muscle” for the game. “They’re weak,” says Brunson. “So you keep whamming on ’em and whamming on ’em and you just wear ‘em down. And, sooner or later, you’ll win all their money.” When he gets into specific strategy tips, he tends not to recommend fancy check-raises or slowplaying, favoring fast play and riding rushes. As Al Alvarez summarizes Brunson's advice in The Biggest Game in Town (1983): “the message is clear: aggression, aggression, aggression.”

Alvarez's book is also where we find that neat, metaphorical description of the difference between limit poker and no-limit poker from Crandall Addington that also evokes the idea of the player being a gun. Says Addington, “In limit, you are shooting at a target. In no-limit, the target comes alive and starts shooting back at you.”

The differences between limit and no-limit are huge, to be sure. But really, well-applied aggression can prove highly profitable in either game. In LHE, one sometimes encounters -- especially at the six-handed tables -- an aggressive, crafty player dominating the action. He’s the guy everyone is watching and reacting to. Sometimes I’m that guy; sometimes I’m one of the onlookers.

Sort of like he’s the one constantly waving a weapon around, putting everyone else on edge. Or who is the weapon. And you never know when he’s gonna fire that sucker again.

Other writers talk about using one’s “weapons” at the poker table. In The Poker Tournament Formula (2006), Arnold Snyder talks about how “the first step to victory in no-limit hold’em tournaments is knowing the three distinct weapons you will have at your disposal,” namely, your cards, your chips, and your position. Of course, you have to have the “heart” to use those weapons when necessary. One could refer to cards, chips, and position as your ammunition -- as bullets -- and you’re the gun firing them. Or not, in which case you get anted to death like Broomcorn’s uncle (as Brunson would say).

Nat Arem had a smart post yesterday in which he listed various qualities possessed by successful poker players, among which he included the “ability to view money as a tool.” Arem does a good job explaining that he’s not saying one needs to devalue money entirely, just value it appropriately -- “as a tool to make more money.” “Don’t even bother playing poker for serious money,” he says, “until you can mentally disconnect yourself from poker bankroll equaling spendable money.”

Indeed, the whole idea of a “bankroll” is informed by this concept -- that the money with which you play is a tool, a means. Or, ammunition. And you’re the gun. And the idea is to collect more ammo so you can keep firing.

'Fear' by John Cale (1974)Interestingly enough, the song “Gun” appears on Cale’s album Fear (1974), where it could be said to offer an antithetical view to the record’s opening track “Fear is a Man’s Best Friend.” Siouxsie & the Banshees did an especially good cover of it for their Through the Looking Glass (1987). Was poking around YouTube and saw an acoustic version featuring Cale and Siouxsie Sioux, which is pretty cool.

Had also seen a clip of the original smokin’ Cale tune on YouTube, but it appears to have been taken down. Check it out, if you can find it.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't always read your blog every day, but I almost always enjoy your articles when I do and I always appreciate your well considered, rambling style.

The journeys that you take your reader on, with several places to pause an linger before getting back on the road, are a real treat.

Yours is one of the finest blogs I read - hats off to you sir!

- Dan

4/03/2009 1:13 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Thanks, Dan! Much appreciated.

Anyone recognize the film from which comes that picture up above (of the dude with the gun)?

4/04/2009 9:43 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

No idea, but I'm glad I downloaded the Youtube clip before it got pulled for a TOS violation.

4/04/2009 10:12 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Yea, I didn't think that was going to last up there too long. Great tune.

(I've revised the end of the post.)

4/04/2009 10:18 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Oh, the picture is from a wonderfully insane Belgian film called C'est arrivé près de chez vous (1992), a.k.a. Man Bites Dog -- a mock-documentary about a serial killer. I recommend that, too, but with the disclaimer that it ain't for all tastes.

4/04/2009 10:25 PM  

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