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PEACOCK 1586, NOVEMBER 1951

 
 

 

Chances in life are fleeting and their continued presence is one thing we can never be assured of.

We know we’ll get them at some point, but we never quite know where or when they’ll appear and yet we have to be constantly ready to seize those chances the second they come along or they might disappear forever.

Most of us fail at some point along the way by letting a chance we’d been hoping for slip away and it’s always – ALWAYS – the ones we fail to take advantage of when we get them that haunt us for eternity.
 

 

Each Examination Day I Failed
This is a song about regret… about not realizing your potential… of letting yourself (and those around you) down… of missing out on the opportunities you’ve been given… of looking back with remorse on what you might’ve done differently and how that would’ve improved your life.

In other words it’s our collective concerns that we shove in a dark corner of our minds to avoid having to deal with them, which means when somebody like Gatemouth Brown hauls them out into the light to study we all have to face the reckoning they present.

The examples he uses on Taking My Chances won’t necessarily match our own disappointments in life, but it’s not the particulars of each scenario that is the key to the song working, it’s the nagging guilt and self-incrimination we all have when we blow the chances we’ve been given.

The knowledge that everybody’s life is built largely on a series of decisions, seemingly unconnected to each other but intrinsically tied together all the same because what we do yesterday inevitably alters the opportunities we get tomorrow, is what is so daunting to face. Any misstep threatens to derail us and we can spend a lifetime trying to get ourselves back to the solid ground we’d been standing on before we stepped wrong.

What we need to keep in mind is that every day presents a new chance to do right, to improve your situation and boost your happiness even if human beings continually find ways to screw them up. Some are big, some are small, some make for interesting lyrics in a song, but the end result is the same… your life, the only one you’ll ever have, is what suffers unless you treat each and every chance as if it’s the most important one you’ll ever get because the reality is you may not not get another as Gatemouth Brown well knows.
 


 
 

Didn’t Have Any Luck
The high pitched horns that open this set a dire mood and Brown’s stinging bluesy guitar cuts across that foreboding atmosphere like a knife, yanking us back out of our thoughts and dropping us into the real world.

Brown delivers his parable in slow, stark terms, drawing out the tension as he sets up each situation and conveys its importance by the way he’s framed it before revealing his failing when it came to taking advantage of his prospects.

He failed in school, failed in his profession and in his social life to boot. He doesn’t delve into specifics because he doesn’t have to. The details aren’t nearly as important as his despair as he’s reached the point where even getting another chance wouldn’t turn things around for him.

His strained vocals, the lurching tempo, the biting guitar are revealing as much about his state of mind as any descriptive lyric could. He may not be at the end of his rope, ready to cash in his chips, but that’s only because he’s resigned to this fate after years of letting himself down.

Brown’s not trying to excuse his shortcomings, not shifting the blame or cursing his fate. He knows he and he alone is responsible for his lot in life and because of that self-awareness he’s probably going to suffer far more than somebody who made the same bad decisions but isn’t as aware of their own culpability.

As a result Taking My Chances is far from an easy song to listen to. It’s melodically bleak, the vocals are downcast, the music is sparse and the spirit is drained from both the performer and the listener.

Yet it IS well executed because those were the goals of the record, to paint a grim picture of an unfulfilled life, but even so it’s not one most of us want to have to think about unless we’re forced to.

If your own day to day existence is now running smoothly, the simple abstract recognition that it could all change if you foul up the next chance you get is a sobering reminder of just how tenuous our happiness can be at times.

If you currently are wrestling with your own anguish over a bad series of events, especially if you know full well your responsibility in them, this is like pouring salt in an open wound.

Yet maybe that’s what makes it an important record, even if it’s hardly an enjoyable one. We need to constantly be made aware of the ramifications of each and every exchange we have… of every decision and all of our chances.

Maybe nobody will endure a series of misfortunes like Gatemouth Brown does here, but once you step wrong the first time it becomes much more likely that the next step and the one after that will be in the wrong direction as you try and climb out of the mess you made.
 


 

Tried To Get An Education
In life we learn a lot of our most important lessons through experience but experience is always a hard teacher because we’re made to suffer for our mistakes in real time. When we fail at achieving something we want it’s exceedingly rare that we’ll be able to put it behind us and casually move on to the next test we face with renewed optimism and confidence.

It’s easy enough to say you should detach yourself from a single negative outcome but as Brown shows here those missed chances extract a heavier emotional toll than a physical or financial one.

It’s looking yourself in the mirror and acknowledging your mistakes that requires strength. It’s getting back on your feet and trying again that requires resolve. It’s refusing to let a blown chance define you that requires the kind of steely determination that much better songs than this – or more uplifting songs anyway – are constructed with.

Yet Taking My Chances, unpleasant though it may be to deal with head on, is the ominous reminder to all of us that life is filled with obstacles that have to be overcome to get where you want, what you want and who you want. That some of those obstacles are self-imposed makes it all the more frustrating, but should also make it all the more easy to get around as long as we never stop trying.

The thing to remember in life is that success is often built on the residue of failure. A setback today doesn’t determine the outcome of tomorrow. So don’t ever give up on yourself, just be ready when that next chance comes along and when you get it, grab it and cling to it for all you’re worth.
 
 
SPOTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Gatemouth Brown for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)