Monday, June 11, 2012

"The Weight" (what does it all mean?)

Somebody asked the question about whether the lyrics to "The Weight" were Biblical or not. OK, in fact there was no question...they simply said, "Well that song is all from the Bible, you know!" Sorry...that's not the case. Even in the Bible there's nobody named "Crazy Chester"! Nazareth, where the story takes place, refers to the town in Pennsylvania about 70 miles north of Philadelphia. In the liner notes for the Across the Great Divide box set, Robbie Robertson (who wrote the song) is quoted as saying that he chose that place because they make legendary Martin Guitars there, so he was aware of the place and been there once or twice. We stopped there on a trip to Pennsylvania, and had a great tour of the Martin Guitar Factory. In fact, if we hadn't got lost three or four times and had arrived when we meant to...we would've run in to Eric Clapton checking out a guitar he was having built! The characters in the song - Crazy Chester, Luke, Anna Lee, are based on friends of the band. In Levon Helm's autobiography This Wheel's On Fire: Levon Helm And The Story Of The Band, he explained: "We had two or three tunes, or pieces of tunes, and 'The Weight' was one I would work on. Robbie had that bit about going down to Nazareth - Pennsylvania, where the Martin guitar factory is at. The song was full of our favorite characters. "Luke" was Jimmy Ray Paulman. "Young Anna Lee" was Anna Lee Williams from Turkey Scratch. "Crazy Chester" was a guy we all knew from Fayetteville 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. (I believe she looked a lot like Caladonia.) We recorded the song maybe four times. We weren't really sure it was going to be on the album, but people really liked it. Rick, Richard, and I would switch the verses around among us, and we all sang the chorus: 'Put the load right on me!'" There has been more than a little debate among Classic Rock DJs and enthusiasts over the real meaning of this song [including the enthusiast who brought this up at the swimming pool last week!]. Robertson has insisted time and again there is no biblical subtext, but many people think he may be deflecting. Consider the following: -the narrator can't find a bed in Nazareth, and the guy to whom he makes an inquiry just smiles and says "no" -Carmen and the devil were walking side by side, Carmen can go but her friend the devil has to stick around - an allusion to ever-present temptations -"Crazy Chester followed me and he caught me in the fall" - possible allusion to Paul on the road to Damascus [although...I think the lyric is "caught me in the fog" which rhymes a whole lot better with "take Jack my dog"! And what "allusion to Paul on the road to Damascus"? Saul wasn't 'crazy' and okay, while the Bible does say "he fell to the ground" that's a pretty big stretch to think Crazy Chester alludes to him!] -the most glaring one: "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" - Miss Fanny is the one who sent him to Nazareth, but now it's time for him to go back to her; Miss Fanny is God, the "time" in question is the crucifixion, and "regards for everyone" is Jesus dying for all of man's sins. That's the most glaring allusion! That Miss Fanny is GOD? Yikes! I think it more likely, and I believe Robbie Robertson would agree with me, that the lyric is a stream of consciousness thing combining characters in and around Woodstock, with some herb-induced creativity, and a little bit of luck. Great song, but not quite as deep as some might like you to believe!