Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Morally Challenged", Brute- Cobalt Blue, 2002 Widespread Records

Vic was a fun guy. He could make you laugh without even trying. He was self deprecating and pleasant (mostly) and always had control of his crowd, no matter the situation. He was very funny... and his humor shone through, not only in his personality, but also in his work, including this song.

Morally Challenged was written during a drive between Austin, TX and Los Angeles sometime in the early 1990s. Vic wrote it on a newly purchased Omnichord. He said he had the "Omnichord in one hand, a joint in his mouth and his other hand on the wheel." The earliest performances start around 1994, and the song didn't receive an official release until 2002's Cobalt Blue album from his Widespread Panic collaboration entitled "Brute."

The song's musical transformation over the years is quite stunning. Whether it be the simple tick tock, Casio type keyboards of the original... to the acoustic stop and go acoustic strums .... to this full out Jam-band arrangement with Brute, the comic tone has remained. Vic really enjoyed playing this and always got a reaction from the crowd.

Lyrically, Morally Challenged is basically a joke song, full of irreverence and blatancy. Vic is the pundit, and each of the subjects, in this southern travelogue, have a commentary made about their social position (save one). The grandmother (convict), the mother (liar), the father (transsexual), and the sister (floozy) each have their dirty laundry vocalized by Vic. The only person not exposed, if you will, is the poet/appreciator and is the only person Vic talks to directly. That person is simply adorned, and highlighted for their love of famed poet W.H. Auden (which was one of Vic's favorites.) I'm pretty certain the song is complete fiction. If it's not however, praise be to Vic for being an astute observer of their 'flaws.'

As with almost all of Vic's tunes, I am more fond of his live solo versions, and this is no exception. I do like the Brute version, but I was always a little put off with that combination. Widespread Panic fans and Vic fans, in my opinion, seldom overlapped, and I wonder what effect it had on Vic. I remember being at several Vic shows and hearing people yell out for Panic songs, and it seemed to be an annoyance to him. Perhaps I am wrong. Nevertheless, Vic solo is 'cherry pie' as Michael Stipe would say.

The live version below, is just Vic and his Omnichord and is a fun listen, replete with 'boop boop be doop' sections, and flubbed lyrics. The essence of the song is intact, and it still remains one of my favorite live Vic moments.



Here's Brute's version:




And here's a very early Omnichord version from Minneapolis 1994:



MORALLY CHALLENGED

She's your gray-haired granny from Gadsden, Alabama, yeah
She's your gray-haired granny from Gadsden, Alabama, yeah
She's your gray-haired granny from Gadsden, Alabama, yeah
You never see her 'cause she's always in the slammer
She's your gray-haired granny from Gadsden, Alabama, yeah

She's your hard-hearted mama from Appalachiacola, yeah
She's your hard-hearted mama from Appalachiacola, yeah
She's your hard-hearted mama from Appalachiacola, yeah
You're daddy's dead, or at least that's what she told ya
She's your hard-hearted mama from Appalachiacola, yeah

He's your long-lost daddy from Union, Mississippi, yeah
He's your long-lost daddy from Union, Mississippi, yeah
He's your long-lost daddy from Union, Mississippi, yeah
He's been with Nelly since nineteen-and-sixty
He's your long-lost daddy from Union, Mississippi, yeah

She's your morally-challenged sister from Albany, Georgia
She's your morally-challenged sister from Albany, Georgia
She's your morally-challenged sister from Albany, Georgia
You never liked her, but you never porked
She's your morally-challenged sister from Albany, Georgia

You're a reader of poems from Slidell, Louisiana, yeah
You're a reader of poems from Slidell, Louisiana, yeah
You're a reader of poems from Slidell, Louisiana, yeah
W.H. Auden wrote all your favorite stanzas
You're a reader of poems from Slidell, Louisiana, yeah

Reader of poems from Slidell, Louisiana
Reader of poems from Slidell, Louisiana
Reader of poems from Slidell
Slidell, Louisiana, yeah

19 comments:

  1. It's an amusing song, and performance. I always like the bits on how and when he wrote these, too.

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  2. hey there - no email listed, so I'm writing you here: thanks for writing and posting this stuff. I've been planning a Vic site and hope to put it up this summer - just a guide to a index of what's online and on record.
    Where's the Amazing Little Parlour Games collection from? Is there someplace I can get my hands on one?
    If you could let me know, that'd be great. I'm jepcomix@gmail.com, and my own music-writing site is version30.wordpress.com
    cheers brother.

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  3. I think we have to learn to separate the annoyance Vic had with Panic fans from the actual music itself. In other words, that annoyance he may have had still didn't make the Brute combo any less fitting for Vic, or stellar for that matter. It was just another wonderful piece in his puzzle, and it added another interesting paradox to Vic's music and personality.

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  4. I agree Jayne that the music was a wonderful piece of Vic's puzzle, and the combo had it's merit, regardless of their musical diversities. I guess my original statement was based around how the song changed once it became a Brute song, and I do prefer Vic's solo effort most of the time, regardless of his backing band.

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  5. Though I always am interested in how Vic's songs sound done with different bands, I have to agree that ideally I prefer his songs solo most of the time. But I do like listening to the songs side by side, so to speak, just to hear the differences.

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  6. I think all of us Vic hardcores can agree that in the end, the far greatest treat was getting to see him play the songs solo. That's when he seemed to put the most emotion into the songs and became the most vulnerable (er, well, most of the time).

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  7. I generally agree, but I would probably make A Silver Mt. Zion etc. the exception, at least when it comes to live shows. I think the 2007 tour with them was superior to almost all his solo efforts.

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  8. well i'd go for the skiffle group! That was the perfect match! powerful and subtle at the same time.

    faui

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  9. i saw the West of Rome lineup first, so i'm partail to that, Vic being the only guitar player. i always felt that other guitarists he played with (Alex Mcmannus excepted) tended to either overwhelm his playing or make him less inclined to play, and he was a particularly unique guitarist, something i was glad to see Kristin Hersh comment on in her beautiful tribute. His playing had a special kind of percussiveness to it, and a very distinctive tonality. In the press, its often times referred to as "minimal" or, more condescendingly, "rudimentary", but he could pull off some slyly beautiful fills on a whim that i can't compare to any other guitarist. i regret that I never got to see the Silver Mt. Zion lineup, which is the one i think he was proudest of.

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  10. i wanted to let everyone know who might be interested that i've just completed an album called Ex Post Facto. it's my eulogy for Vic. Charles, i was wondering if you would like to do the cover art, or perhaps we could make a collage if any other artists reading this blog wouldc like to contribute. i can be reach via my band's myspace page @:
    myspace.com/retardsinlove

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  11. another great post charles, thanks a lot
    i saw vic in oldham, england just when ghetto bells was out.
    it was him, tina on drums and his niece Liz Durrett on bass.
    one of the best gigs ive seen in my life.
    saw him a few years later on the north star deserter tour,
    another one of the best gigs ive seen in my life.
    sam

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  12. Interesting take on the final verse, charles. I always construed the reader of poems/w.h. auden line as a subtle dig at the "poet/appreciator"'s fragile spirit and homosexuality. I wasn't aware that auden was one of vics favorite poets, and of course there's no direct correlation between appreciating auden's poetry and being gay, but auden is so associated with homosexual eroticism that I took it as an oblique reference to that. so, my point being, nobody goes unscathed in this song.

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  13. following up - I also have viewed the song as a response of sorts to the "reader's" question - how did I get this way? each line a piece of evidence as to how he got there. a jokey song, but with a message along the lines of DNA ... you are what you are and a lot of the reason is biological.

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  14. Has this blog moved or finished?

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  15. I hope this continues

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  16. if Charles doesn't continue it, then the rest of us should.

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  17. Hey everybody. Sorry for my lack of posts. I promise to resume quickly. To be honest, I have no explanation for my absence other than the fact that life, and all it's little excentricities, got in the way.

    Again, thanks for the support, and look for a new blog in the next few days.

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  18. Glad to hear you haven't abandoned this task!

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  19. December 25, 2009 was a day that hit very hard. I, personally, felt that I may never get over the loss of Vic Chesnutt. Looking back over the past year, many great things have grown over and taken my mind away from the empty spaces which Vic used to fill up with his "sweet, sweet goodness".

    I want to thank everyone who has kept his spirit alive. Widespread Panic always played Vic's songs and they continue to do so. I never got to see Brute play and I usually missed Vic playing with Widespread Panic by one show. I am thankful that Vic played with those fella's. If he had not, I may have never been turned on to his music. As all things in my life tend to unfold, Vic turned me on to so many more musicians I may have never located on my own (Lambchop, Thee Silver Mt. Zion, Liz Durrett, Giant Sand, Victoria Williams, Sparklehorse, Jerry Joseph and the list goes on).

    I also want to thank Charles for all of the wonderful compilations he put together. What I experienced while travelling and seeing Vic play as much as I possibly could was a wonderful web of great people. If it were not for Vic I may not have encountered any of the fine folk's I crossed paths with in his wake. This is something I miss these days.

    On July 20th 2010 my daughter, Isadora, was born. I don't think I need to say much about where her name came from. I just wish she could have met Vic.

    Happy Holidays everyone,
    Sam (Ohio version)

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