I always thought this might make a good Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy question: Who are mister, Fanny, Carmen, the devil, Miss Moses, Luke, Anna Lee, Crazy Chester, and Jack?
If you guessed these are the nine characters referenced in the lyrics to The Band’s song “The Weight” that is very sad.
This means you, like me have what writer Dave Barry calls “brain sludge.” Brain sludge is useless information that floats around aimlessly, primarily in the gray matter of men.
So, if you were a kind hearted lady who figured out the answer, you deserve a piece of discounted Easter candy.
Thanks to COVID-19, my childhood pal, Joe Vanderford, and I were not able to present our two part class on The Band scheduled for April 13 and 14. This class was offered through the Osher Institute at the University of Richmond.
In prepping for the class, Joe is a tough taskmaster.
I read three books about The Band, listened many times to the first three albums, watched the Martin Scorsese documentary, The Last Waltz, read reviews, essays, and interviews, viewed assorted video clips on the internet, and eventually carved out the framework of our presentation.
By now, you must be thinking—people actually sign up for this class? Yes, they do. Remember, there are lots of brain sludgers in this world.
But, back to “The Weight”.
The song was released in 1968 as a single from The Band’s first album Music From Big Pink on Capitol Records. “The Weight” was not a hit record—it was more.
It has been 52 years since this song was recorded and released. The lyrics have been analyzed, pondered, and written about by all kinds of journalist and admirers. Additionally, over 50 recording artists have recorded versions of the song.
For my old ears, and I am not a critic, this song is just about perfect. The lyrics, the vocals, especially on the chorus, and the musician’s mastery of their instruments all mesh together to form a peerless performance.
I’ll let your ears be the judge. But, briefly I want to reference the lyrics. Luckily, this will not be a dissertation.
Start with the first two lines:
‘I pulled into Nazareth, I was feeling about half past dead.
I just need some place where I can lay my head.’
“Half past dead,” what an image!
Think about your life. Where are those “half past dead” moments? Those situations in your life when you have been physically, emotionally drained. Tiredness, weariness have depleted from your body and mind all of your energy.
Now, think about real time—this COVID-19 crisis. Do you think anyone is feeling: “half past dead”?
The chorus for the song is as follows:
“Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free, take a load off Fanny, and,(and, and,) you put the load right on me, (you put the load right on me).”
Lots of people in our world at this very moment are carrying quite a load on them. No matter where we look, people are burdened with loads of worry, anxiety, responsibility, helplessness, doubt, hopelessness, and fear.
I always felt the characters mentioned in the lyrics of “The Weight” were real people, with real needs, carrying real loads.
I felt like they were searching for an out, a solution, a remedy for unloading their struggles.
I have that same feeling now about people who are struggling because of “the weight” of COVID-19. They are in a similar search mode.
In 1968, America had “the weight”.
Among them were the Vietnam war, the assassinations of Martin Luther King,Jr. and Robert Kennedy. These situations triggered riots and protests throughout our country. An uneasy tension was present.
Whether we want to admit it our not, America, these United States, have an uneasy tension present now.
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, somewhere between Woolwine and Floyd, my cousin Sam, and his lovely bride reside.
A few days ago in some internet chatter, Sam wisely noted the following: “I saw a Facebook post the other day that said something to the effect that we couldn’t wait for things to get back to ‘normal.’ But, if that is all we’re hoping for, we have missed the lesson from all this.”
Just about everyday, I note a story where good hearts are doing good work for people who are feeling: ‘the weight’ and the ‘load’ of COVID-19.
I hope the lesson from that good work never ends. We can’t let it.
As much as I love the lyrics to “The Weight,” I’m also reminded of meaningful words from Matthew 11: 28-30: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Lots of people all around us are weary, burdened, and in need of rest.
How can I help those people?
I need to be willing to learn from that gentle and humble heart of the master teacher.
I hope I can.
I shouldn’t be content with a return to normal.
I should be looking for ways to push beyond a return to normal.
I’m still working on that.
But for starters, part of me thinks the weight of COVID-19 will reshape, redefine, and alter normal for a long time.
And maybe in some crazy way, this will be our opportunity to reshape, redefine, and alter our hearts to counter balance that weight carried by people now and before COVID-19.
Perhaps, as I move forward, the real answer related to normal is this— keeping in front of me “for I am gentle and humble in heart.”
Surely, in the days ahead, someone that you, me, we encounter who is feeling—half past dead— will need our gentle and humble hearts.