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The Weight

By Ramona Jan
Posted 6/28/22

I’m a big fan of the Great American Songbook; a collection of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early 20th century that have stood the test …

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The Weight


I’m a big fan of the Great American Songbook; a collection of the most important and influential American popular songs and jazz standards from the early 20th century that have stood the test of time. There’s a reason these songs have a legacy; great melodies and lyrics that make sense, which is not to say I don’t, from time to time, appreciate a song that deviates from those standards. The song, The Weight, by a band called The Band, falls lyrically-speaking, in my opinion, into the latter category. I am currently learning this song, as a back-up vocalist, to accompany Caroline Verdi on July 4th in Narrowsburg, NY.

There are many online interpretations of the lyric, here’s mine:

I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ ‘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

Here we have a man who’s simply in need of a place to stay. A grin and a handshake leads to an outright denial of said request, and this chorus:
Take a load off Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny
And you put the load right on me

Who’s Fanny? Is she the donkey he rode in on? The sentiment of taking a load off Fanny (and therefore the listener) hooks us. We love to sing along with that part, but then there’s this:
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 my friend can stick around”

He sees Carmen walking with the devil and doesn’t even question it. Instead, rudely ignoring the devil, he cheerfully invites Carmen downtown who says she’s ‘gotta go’, and then slyly suggests that the devil (whom she calls friend) hang with the singer. Relationships are complicated, but what happened to Fanny? Never mind! In verse three, we meet Miss Moses, Luke and Anna Lee:
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, won’tcha stay and keep Anna Lee company?”
Yeah, Miss Moses; don’t say anything because it’s just Luke waiting, like all of us, on the Judgment Day. The good news is that the singer finally gets invited to stay, but there’s a catch. He has to babysit the mysterious Anna Lee, but that’s the least of his troubles:
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”

Enter Crazy Chester with a deal, he’ll fix your gun rack, if only you’d take his dog?! But the singer’s a peaceful man. His rack is probably just for show. Feeding the dog is the compromise, but only when the singer is able. I worry about the dog.
Catch a cannon ball now to 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

Ah ha! Fanny’s not a donkey! She sent the singer to Nazareth just to say hi to everyone. I conclude that Fanny had enough of this guy, threw him out, causing him to wander, and on the way he wrote this song. Warning; stay away from flying cannon balls.

For more information about the Narrowsburg 4th of July Celebration where you will hear The Weight and many other classic rock and blues songs performed by the incredible Caroline Verdi and Friends visit: https://welcometonarrowsburg.com/


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