Townes Van Zandt's Mr. Gold and Mr. Mudd
June 15, 2007 9:55 AM   Subscribe

Card players, I'd appreciate some help in dissecting a song about poker called Mr. Gold and Mr. Mud by Townes Van Zandt.

I've always liked the song. But the last few times I've listened to it, I've started to become interested in whether there is actually a comprehensible narrative to it. Knowing Townes, it is entirely possible they are just wispy words put together and not intended to specifically make sense. In fact, I'm pretty sure of it. Nevertheless, I've always been curious because he uses phrases that I can't tell if they are real poker lingo or just Townes being Townes.

So, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to help me decide if there is a comprehensible narrative here, and if not, whether the phrases he uses have meanings in cards (e.g. "three fireballs on the muddy side") or if they are just lyrical words.

Here are the lyrics:

Mr Gold and Mr Mud
by Townes Van Zandt

The wicked king of clubs awoke
it was to his queen turned
his lips were laughing as they spoke
his eyes like bullets burned
the sun's upon a gambling day
his queen smiled low and blissfully
let's make some wretched fool to play
plain it was she did agree

He send his deuce down into diamond
his four to hart, and his trey to spade
three kings with their legions come
preparations soon where made
they voted club the days commander
gave him an army face and number
all but the outlaw jack of diamonds
and the aces in the sky

He give his sevens first instructions
spirit me a game of stud
stakes unscarred by limitation
'tween a man named Gold and man named Mud
Club filled Gold with greedy vapors
'til his long, green eyes did glow
Mud was left with the sighs and trembles
watching his hard earned money go

Flushes fell on Gold like water
tens they paired and paired again
but the aces only flew through heaven
and the diamond jack called no man friend
The diamond queen saw Muds ordeal
began to think of her long lost son
fell to her knees with a mother's mercy
prayed to the angels every one

The diamond queen, she prayed and prayed
and the diamond angel filled Muds hole
the wicked king of clubs himself
fell in face down in front of Gold
now three kings come to Clubs command
but the angels from the sky did ride
three kings up on the streets of Gold
three fireballs on the muddy side

The club queen heard her husband's call
but Lord that queen of diamond's joy
when the outlaw in the heavenly hall
turned out to be a wandering boy
Now Mud he checked and Gold bet all
and Mud he raised and Gold did call
and the smile just melted off his face
when Mud turned over that diamond ace

Now here's what this story's told
if you feel like Mud you'll end up Gold
if you feel like lost, you'll end up found
so amigo, lay them raises down.


Also, I couldn't find an online recording of Townes singing this, but I found a decent enough cover by some guy on youtube if you want to get the general gist. Note: Townes was to this cover a Hyperion to a satyr. If you are unfamiliar with him, check him out.
posted by dios to Grab Bag (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
And TIA.
posted by dios at 9:56 AM on June 15, 2007


There are no real poker terms here, except for "bullets" and "fireballs" for aces, and "deuces" and "treys" for twos and threes.

This song is typical TVZ poetry, and I've always taken it to be a "every dog has his day" parable. Townes had more than his share of demons, but redemption was favorite topic of his.

Townes was a gifted, gifted man without very good coping skills. We lost him way too soon.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:13 AM on June 15, 2007

Here's my best guess:

The diamond queen, she prayed and prayed
and the diamond angel filled Muds hole

Mud had the Queen of Diamonds (and some other unknown card).

the wicked king of clubs himself
fell in face down in front of Gold

Gold had the King of Clubs (and some other unknown card).

now three kings come to Clubs command
but the angels from the sky did ride
three kings up on the streets of Gold
three fireballs on the muddy side

After the flop (the first 3 cards), Gold was looking at 3-of-a-kind (Kings), and Mud had 3 diamonds (on his way to a flush). Gold had the upper hand here.

The club queen heard her husband's call

The 4th card (the Turn) was Queen of Clubs. That was unhelpful to Mud, so Gold was still at the advantage.

but Lord that queen of diamond's joy
when the outlaw in the heavenly hall
turned out to be a wandering boy

The 5th card (the River) was the Jack of Diamonds.

Now Mud he checked and Gold bet all
and Mud he raised and Gold did call

Gold was sure he was winning, with the 3-of-a-kind, but Mud went All In.

and the smile just melted off his face
when Mud turned over that diamond ace

Mud's other card was the Ace of Diamonds, giving him a Diamond Flush, so he won.

How did I do?
posted by jozxyqk at 10:14 AM on June 15, 2007

Oh, yeah - and aces beat kings.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:14 AM on June 15, 2007


I don't think it's all one hand. I take it to mean Mud kept losing to Gold, but got him back at the end by stomping Gold's four kings with four aces.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:16 AM on June 15, 2007

Yeah I didn't know "fireballs = aces" (was thinking fireball = diamond), and also realized that the intro says that they were playing Stud Poker, not Holdem.. so my story is a neat idea but wildly inaccurate :)
posted by jozxyqk at 10:20 AM on June 15, 2007

Mud and Gold are playing five-card stud, where each player gets one card face down (the "hole" card) and the remaining four cards are dealt face up, one at a time, with a round of betting between each card.

Stud is a tough game to play because it's almost impossible to bluff since your opponent can see 4 out of 5 of your cards. It's more important to consider what your opponent could have and the possibility that you'll end up getting a card that will make your own hand better.

Gold is generally cleaning up with ridiculous draws--flushes, mid-level pairs and so on. But then Mud lucks out and gets an ace of diamonds in the hole ("the diamond angel filled Muds hole") and three more aces on top ("three fireballs on the [M]uddy side"), giving him four of a kind. That luckbox Gold gets a king of clubs in the hole ("the wicked king of clubs himself/fell in face down in front of Gold") and three more kings on top ("three kings come to Clubs command") for four kings. Normally that hand wins any day of the week, but it doesn't beat four aces.

Here comes the real drama. Mud is first to bet. He checks, because there's no point in betting--Mud has three aces on the board and Gold has three kings on the board so Mud knows Gold will fold if he doesn't have the fourth king and raise all in if he does. In addition, checking might induce a bluff from Gold, although it would be a fool's bluff because it would mean representing a card he would very rarely have--that fourth king.

But Gold's exactly the kind of guy who would bluff at a hand like that and he knows that Mud knows that. But this time Gold actually has the goods. With dollar signs in his eyes, he puts all his money out on the table.

Now Mud doesn't care if it's a bluff or not since he knows he's got the best hand. Since there's no way he can lose, he puts in all his cash, too. Gold figures that this might be the stupidest bluff in the world, so he calls. (This is actually where the narrative trips up--since Gold bet all his money he wouldn't have anything left to call Mud's raise, but we'll let that slide).

Well they flip over their cards and Gold, who's had luck on his side all day finally loses everything to Mud's four aces. And we, the listeners, are told that even when everything doesn't seem to go our way, they eventually will, and when the world tells you they've got you beat, believe it.
posted by turaho at 10:22 AM on June 15, 2007 [5 favorites]

There does seem to be a narrative here (I'm not much of a poker player, but my brother is). The first three stanzas are expository: no limit ("stakes unscarred by limitation") stud poker - a knid of poker where some cards are dealt face down and others face up.

In stanza four, we learn that Gold gets a good run of luck, with flushes and pairs of tens or perhaps triplet or quad tens. But, no one sees any aces.

In stanze five, "the diamond angel" is the ace of diamonds, and "Mud's hole" is made up of the card that are dealt to him face down (they are commonly known in poker as hole cards). If they are playing seven-card stud, each player will have three hole cards which the other player can't see. Gold's three hole cards are kings (lead by the king of clubs). But the "angels from the sky", which are other aces, ride to Mud's aid. Van Zandt's "three fireballs on the muddy side" are these three aces in Mud's down cards. (I don't know if fireball is a common term for aces, but it's not found here).

So Gold is totally fucked, because he has three of a kind kings that Mud can't see, so he thinks he's the man. Mud has him beat with three aces that Gold can't see. Gold bets everything, and Mud raises him (this doesn't make any sense, particularly since Gold, after having "bet all," "calls" or matches Mud's counter-raise. But whatever. Gold loses all his money to Mud.

I don't know what the deal is with the "wandering boy," but it seems like a reference to the Jack of Diamonds mentioned earlier in the narrative.
posted by taliaferro at 10:24 AM on June 15, 2007

Benny Andajetz: I always took it to be just typical Townes poetry. But as jozxyqk just attempted, the more I listen to it the more I get the feeling there is a definable narrative about a hand. Only about half of the terms are recognizable to me, so I've always thought that if I knew enough, I could see a narrative. (Like I now know bullets and fireballs are aces). But yeah, I think there is more than one game going on here. If I were to number them, I would think that the last part of stanza 4 through stanza 6 might refer to one hand. But I could be wrong.
posted by dios at 10:24 AM on June 15, 2007

Oh, thanks for this. I always thought the last line was "lay them razors down."
posted by footnote at 10:25 AM on June 15, 2007

or read what turaho said, which is exactly correct
posted by taliaferro at 10:26 AM on June 15, 2007

turaho's narrative seems pretty dead on. At least it makes sense to me.

Thanks for the answers. Its a neat song, and while I always got the gist of it, its nice to have a better idea of the specifics of it.
posted by dios at 10:28 AM on June 15, 2007

turaho's reading is mostly perfect, save the idea that Mud lucks out and gets an ace of diamonds in the hole: it was clearly the power of the Queen of Clubs' prayer that led to Gold's demise.
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:29 AM on June 15, 2007

Dios, I rarely agree with you politically, but damn you've got good taste in music. Most of this is lyrical rhetoric; however, having listened to that song on repeat for hours, here's my take:

The King of any suit is the commander, obviously. However, the Ace could be thought of as both a higher power (when it beats King) and a commoner (when it's low, i.e. low straights).
The "King of Clubs" is singled out here to alliterate with "wicked" and "awoke". The cards have actual personifications and can control when they come up in this story, so the King orders his two, four and three to the other suits (a fresh pack of cards usually is sorted by suits) to get the cards to collude.

The jack of diamonds shows up in folk music as something of his own "man" as it were, including at least one eponymous song I can think of. So he's the "outlaw", and the aces, as mentioned above, are also independent of the Kings' orders.

Sevens are lucky, and perhaps the physical representation of quantity can be personified across various venues - cards, combinations of dice, etc. One too many ill-placed sevens in craps spirited, or drew Gold and Mud to the card table. Limitations on bets are considered strictly for amateurs, to no limits is more fitting for the King.

Flushes win a lot of hands. So do pairs, and tens are the largest non-face card, so they can sometimes sneak up on you. The aces and the Jack are obviously not helping either player. "Heaven" I'm guessing means the unused deck. The bit with the diamond Queen is pure narrative - the Aces are "angels" both in that higher power sense, above, and assonance.

Now, one last hand: the hole card is face down - Mud's got the diamond ace, and Gold has the wicked King. Three cards face up- three more kings for Gold, and three more *aces* for Mudd. The chances of either hand are astromically small; for these two hands to come face to face would be divine intervention. One more card face up: the club queen for Gold, and the Formerly independent Jack for Mudd.

I'm not sure why the diamond queen is so overjoyed; perhaps that the Jack, who is lower than the Queen, might lead Gold to become overconfident. Another half-baked theory that just came to me is that it's "_a_ wandering boy, not _her_ wandering boy, which is how I've always thought I've heard it. A wanderer might refer to a joker, giving Mud five of a kind, which is unsinkable. however, jokers aren't always used.

The rest is the bets back and forth - Gold figuring that Mud can't possibly have a four-of-a-kind aces to beat Gold's four-of-a-kind kings. They both have everything in the pot, and Gold's smile is on account of his winning streak and that he has the very-nearly unbeatable four of a kind kings.

And Mud takes it.

If I recall, this was one of the *lightning* songs, where Townes was overtaken by his muse and felt like lightning in his hands was writing, not he himself. As such, it's pretty damn inspired. (he wrote down "If I needed you" when he woke up from a dream, and fell back asleep - guy clark found the paper it was written on in the morning.)
posted by notsnot at 10:30 AM on June 15, 2007

I had to say this, if only because I named my cat after Mr. Van Zandt, but the If I Needed You story is a bit different. Townes was all messed up on codeine at Guy and Susanna's, fell asleep, had a dream that he was on a stage singing If I Needed You, wrote it down then went back to sleep. In the morning, he played it perfectly for Guy and Susanna who were appropriately amazed. I like to imagine how Guy and Susanna just gaped at him.

Thanks for this question, I've wondered about the actual poker as well.
posted by eunoia at 10:46 AM on June 15, 2007

(sorry I got that story slightly wrong, eunoia...if anything, i wanted to mention how much that guy's subconscious was working)
posted by notsnot at 11:03 AM on June 15, 2007

From the story it sounds like the jack of diamonds is wild ("outlaw"). But why would Gold go all in with Mud showing three aces and a wild card (plus another ace in the hole)?

The other line that's unclear to me is "they voted Clubs the day's commander" -- is that just lyrical personification, or does the club suit have some special status in this game, which would explain why Gold's queen of clubs is valuable enough to make him bet against four aces?
posted by Eater at 11:36 AM on June 15, 2007

Despite what I wrote above, I think it would be folly to try to read legalistic accuracy into the narrative of the song. Many of Townes's songs don't make much sense if you take a perfectly exact interpretation; while an impressionistic reading gleans the meaning exactly. The lyrics of "Two girls" comes to mind - "moccasins treading ice", "swimmin' hole was full of rum", etc.

Also, regarding the funny characterizations and names for the cards - a good dealer will take liberty with the names of cards while narrating a game to make the game more interesting.
posted by notsnot at 11:50 AM on June 15, 2007

The lyrics of "Two girls" comes to mind - "moccasins treading ice", "swimmin' hole was full of rum", etc.

True. But he was being accurate when he said Beaumont was full of penguins in "Two Girls."
posted by dios at 11:54 AM on June 15, 2007

Just resurrecting this topic to say how much I love Townes. Great song. That's all.
posted by inoculatedcities at 11:51 PM on July 3, 2007

November agrees with you.
posted by dhammond at 9:20 PM on November 20, 2007

« Older Like a bowlful of jelly.   |   Mobile Baby + Stairs = Dangerous Combination! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.