The Winner

On my way home from teaching in Durham today, I heard Bobby Bare’s song “The Winner” (with lyrics by Shel Silverstein) on the radio. My dad used to delight my brother and me with this song (and his fantastic “Food Blues,” which has never sounded more relevant and has a killer punchline). It’s a great parable, and it struck me as a good lesson for yoga asana practitioners, as well as overenthusiastic endurance sports junkies who try to do too much, too soon. The voice of experience speaks with wisdom: overreach and you’ll have the scars to pay. It’s not always about how things look on the outside, and if you have something to prove with your efforts, you’re that much more likely to get pounded.

The hulk of a man with a beer in his hand he looked like a drunk old fool
And I knew if I hit him right, why, I could knock him off of that stool
But everybody they said “Watch out, hey that’s Tiger Man McCool
He’s had a whole lotta fights and he’s always come out winner. Yeah, he’s a winner.”

But I had myself about five too many and I walked up tall and proud
I faced his back and I faced the fact that he had never stooped or bowed
I said, “Tiger Man, you’re a pussycat!” and a hush fell on the crowd
I said, “Let’s you and me go outside and see who’s the winner.”

Well, he gripped the bar with one big hairy hand and he braced against the wall
He slowly looked up from his beer and my God, that man was tall
He said, “Boy, I see you’re a scrapper, so just before you fall
I’m gonna tell you just a little bout what it means to be a winner.”

He said, “Now you see these bright white smilin’ teeth? You know they ain’t my own
Mine rolled away like Chicklets down the street in San Antone
But I left that person cursin’ nursin’ seven broken bones
And he only broke, ah, three of mine. That makes me the winner.”

He said, “Now, behind this grin I got a steel pin that holds my jaw in place
A trophy of my most successful motorcycle race
And each morning when I wake and touch this scar across my face
It reminds me of all I got by bein’ a winner

“Now this broken back was the dyin’ act of a handsome Harry Clay
That sticky Cincinnati night I stole his wife away
But that woman she gets uglier and she gets meaner every day
But I got her, boy, and that’s what makes me a winner.”

He said, “You gotta speak loud when you challenge me, son, cause it’s hard for me to hear
With this twisted neck and these migraine pains and this big ol’ cauliflower ear
And if it wasn’t for this glass eye of mine, why, I’d shed a happy tear
To think of all that you gonna get by bein’ a winner.

“I got arthritic elbows, boy, I got dislocated knees
From pickin’ fights with thunderstorms and chargin’ into trees
And my nose been broke so often I might lose it if I sneeze
And, son, you say you still wanna be a winner

“Now you remind me a lot of my younger days with your knuckles clenchin’ white
But, boy, I’m gonna sit right here and sip this beer all night
And if there’s somethin’ that you gotta gain to prove by winnin’ some silly fight
Well, OK, I quit, I lose, you’re the winner.”

So I stumbled from that barroom not so tall and not so proud
And behind me I still hear the hoots of laughter of the crowd
But my eyes still see and my nose still works and my teeth are still in my mouth
And, you know, I guess that makes me the winner.