The Band / Youtube
In 1968, Canadian-American group The Band released the song “The Weight” from their debut album Music from Big Pink. While it wasn’t a major hit for the band, it eventually became an essential part of the American songbook. Literally speaking, the song’s title carries a load of significance. That’s because the tune has been cited in some notable references that recognize momentous songs. For example, Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time enlisted the single on its 2004 at #41. Additionally, Pitchfork Media named the tune as one of the best songs of the sixties. Many great artists from various music genres have since covered the song.
Written by one of the band members, Robbie Robertson, “The Weight” has three influences: American Southern music, the band members’ real experiences, and the movies of a Spanish filmmaker.
Composition and Some Controversies Related to the Song
Basically, the song is an account of someone who visited a town called Nazareth. While many considered the song as having Biblical context, its songwriter claimed otherwise. Moreover, there are aspects of the song that do not exactly go with the stories from the Bible. A traveler who can’t find a bed in Nazareth is an example. What’s written in the Holy Scripture was Mary and Joseph cannot find a bed in Bethlehem (not Nazareth). Yet, it doesn’t mean that the song is without any religious connotation at all. In fact, Robertson described the song to be about “the impossibility of sainthood.”
The characters in the song are real friends of the band members. Luke was Jimmy Ray “Luke” Paulman, former guitarist of Hawks. On the other hand, Anna Lee was an old friend Turkey Scratch. Lastly, Crazy Chester was Fayetteville’s cop-gun carrying, self-appointed sheriff. Meanwhile, the setting of the story which is in Nazareth refers to Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Robertson clarified that he’s been to that place before where they make the legendary Martin guitar.
Films whose central themes focused on people who tried to do good but find it impossible inspired Robertson to write the song. In particular, “The Weight” drew much inspiration from the movies Nazarin (1959) and Viridiana (1961). These films have been made popular by the Spanish filmmaker and master of surrealism Luis Buñuel.
“The Weight” involves both the spiritual and the real concepts of life. It records a man’s daily struggle to do good but the characters around strive to drag him down. However, these characters were not from the Bible but from the streets of Fayetteville and Turkey Scratch. The temptations, difficulties, and increasing weight upon him do not come from the visitors of the other side but from those characters who walk real streets of life.
Sources: Wikipedia, Songfacts.com
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Anna Lee, Crazy Chester, Jimmy Ray “Luke” Paulman, Luis Buñuel, Robbie Robertson, The Band