The Band: "The Weight"

“The Weight” has become one of The Band’s most popular songs, but it almost didn’t make it onto 1968’s “Music from Big Pink.” Writer Robbie Robertson told Kevin Ransom that “The Weight” was considered a backup in case an extra song was needed.
We'd tried it a number of different ways, but we weren't that excited about it. So our attitude was, "Well, just in case something else isn't working, we've got this song to fall back on." So we were in the studio, and just out of trying to not be boring, we said, "Well, let's give that 'Take a load off Fanny' song a shot."

And very quickly, someone suggested that maybe Garth should play piano and Richard should play organ, because it seemed like there was room for some fills that would sound more natural coming from the piano than the guitar. So they swapped, and we recorded it, and it wasn't until we listened back to it that we realized, "Holy shit, this song's really got something."
Robertson’s elusive lyrics have sparked debate about the song’s meaning. Many assume there’s a religious theme; the first line of the song, after all, is “I pulled into Nazareth.” But according to Robertson, his Nazareth is not the childhood home of Jesus; it’s a small town in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, chosen because Nazareth, PA is where C.F. Martin guitars are manufactured.

Peter Viney cites a 1991 interview with Vox magazine in which Robertson credits the films of Spanish director Luis Buñuel as the inspiration for “The Weight.”
People like Buñuel would make films that had these religious connotations to them but it wasn’t necessarily a religious meaning. In Buñuel there were these people trying to be good and it’s impossible to be good. In "The Weight" it was this very simple thing. Someone says, "Listen, would you do me this favor? When you get there will you say ‘hello’ to somebody…

So the guy goes and one thing leads to another…

“I’ve only come here to say ‘hello’ for somebody and I’ve got myself in this incredible predicament.”
“The Weight” is rich in characters, each one bringing another disappointment to the storyteller. In his autobiography “This Wheel’s on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band" drummer and lead vocalist Levon Helm explained that the characters are based on friends of the group.
The song was full of our favorite characters. “Luke” was Jimmy Ray Paulman (of the Hawks, a predecessor of The Band). “Young Anna Lee” was Anna Lee Williams from Turkey Scratch. “Crazy Chester” was a guy we all knew from Fayetteville (Arkansas) who came into town on Saturdays wearing a full set of cap guns on his hips and kinda walked around town to help keep the peace, if you follow me. He was like Hopalong Cassidy, and he was a friend of the Hawks.

Ronnie would always check with Crazy Chester to make sure there wasn't any trouble around town. And Chester would reassure him that everything was peaceable and not to worry, because he was on the case. Two big cap guns, he wore, plus a toupee! There were also “Carmen and the Devil,” “Miss Moses” and “Fanny,” a name that just seemed to fit the picture.
"The Weight "

I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin' about 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, and "No!", was all he said.

(Chorus) Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free;
Take a load off Fanny, And (and) (and) you can put the load right on me.

I picked up my bag, I went lookin' for a place to hide;
When I saw Carmen and the Devil walkin' side by side.
I said, "Hey, Carmen, come on, let's go downtown."
She said, "I gotta go, but m'friend can stick around."

(Chorus)

Go down, Miss Moses, there's nothin' you can say.
It's just ol' Luke, and Luke's waitin' on the Judgment Day.
"Well, Luke, my friend, what about young Anna Lee?"
He said, "Do me a favor, son, woncha stay an' keep Anna Lee company?"

(Chorus)

Crazy Chester followed me, and he caught me in the fog.
He said, "I will fix your rack, 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."

(Chorus)

Catch a cannonball now, t'take me down the line.
My bag is sinkin' 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.

(Chorus) 

 

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  • April 2, 2011 Shaun wrote:
    I just discovered this site after seeing your link (with the Robbie Robertson album review) in the Chicago Tribune. Thanks! This looks like a fun site. I'll be back!
    Reply to this
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