The meaning behind, 2

MN0103084July 26, 2019 — The Weight (The Band)

The Weight is my favorite song from The Band, the musicians who backed up Bob Dylan after the folk singer went electric in 1965. The song was recorded in 1968, appearing on the first album they recorded as a solo act. After 51 years, it’s still played on radio stations and other music streaming sources.

Two of my favorite performances of the song came from The Last Waltz, the Martin Scorsese film that documented The Band’s farewell tour when they performed the song with the Staple Singers in 1976, and from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon when Jimmy sang it with the Muppets in 2014. I had the opportunity to see the song performed live during one of Ring Starr’s All-Star Band performances when The Band’s Levin Helm joined Ring on tour.

The lyrics seemed biblical to me. Consider, “I pulled into Nazareth…” where the man can’t find a bed or a place to lay his head. Add the devil, Moses and even the mention of judgment day and there you’ll notice the religious significance.

One could also assume that “the weight” is a burden lifted from someone, as the lyrics suggest, “Take the load off Fanny … and you put the load right on me.” Not only that, what about those madcap characters, including Crazy Chester, young Anna Lee and Carmen, who walked side-by-side with the devil? What were they all about?

Turns out the Nazareth in the song isn’t the biblical town mentioned in the bible, but actually Nazareth, Pa., a town north of Philadelphia. The Band was on the road, pulled into Nazareth literally looking for a place to stay and couldn’t find a vacancy. The characters mentioned in the song were based on real people The Band members knew. Luke, the man waiting for the judgment day, was a guitarist in one of the member’s former bands, young Anna Lee was one of The Band member’s old friend from Turkey Scratch and Crazy Chester, was a resident of Fayetteville known for carrying a cap gun. Fayetteville and Turkey Scratch are both towns in Arkansas, the former of which is Levin Helm’s hometown.

According to songwriter Robbie Robertson, the song does have somewhat of religious meaning, but not to the extent I imagined. “It’s about the impossibility of sainthood,” he said. “I took my inspiration less from the bible than from Luis Buñuel, a Spanish filmmaker and master of surrealism who, for half of a century, poked fun at the hypocrisies of religion, patriarchy and middle-class culture.”

The title, The Weight, according to Robertson, explores a similar theme. “Someone says, listen, would you do me this favor?” he said. “When you get there, will you say ‘hello’ to somebody or will you give somebody this or will you pick up one of these for me? … So the guy goes and one thing leads to another and it’s like ‘Holy shit, what’s this turned into? I’ve only come here to say ‘hello’ for somebody and I’ve got myself in this incredible predicament.’”

There is also a bit of drama surrounding the song. While Robertson is the credited writer, Helm, who sang the song, insisted that the composition of lyrics and music was collaborative, declaring that each band member contributed significantly to it.

The Weight
I pulled into Nazareth, was feeling ’bout half past dead
I just need some place where I can lay my head
Hey, mister, can you tell me, where a man might find a bed?
He just grinned and shook my hand, “No” was all he said.

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me

I picked up my bags, I went looking for a place to hide
When I saw old Carmen and the Devil, walking side by side
I said, “Hey, Carmen, c’mon, let’s go downtown”
She said, “I got to go, but my friend can stick around”

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me

Go down, Miss Moses, isn’t nothing’ you can say
It’s just old Luke, and Luke’s waiting on the judgment day
Well, Luke, my friend, what about young Anna Lee
He said, “Do me a favor, son, won’t you stay and keep Anna Lee company”

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me

Crazy Chester followed me, and he caught me in the fog
Said, “I will fix your rag, if you’ll take Jack, my dog”
I said, “Wait a minute Chester, you know, I’m a peaceful man”
He said, “That’s okay, boy, won’t you feed him when you can”

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me

Catch the cannonball, now to take me down the line
My bag is sinking low, and I do believe it’s time
To get back to Miss Fanny, you know she’s the only one
Who sent me here, with her regards for everyone

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me

(Sources: https://www.shmoop.com/the-band-the-weight/meaning.html)

2 thoughts on “The meaning behind, 2

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