The Weight-- what's its meaning?

In this thread (that I started) Aretha Franklin’s version of The Weight is shown to be on the President’s playlist. I listen to the song in both The Band and Aretha flavors and actually paid attention to the words I was singing. Still not sure I know what this song is about.
My interpretation-- probably wrong, I’ve been wrong many times before-- is that some guy gets to PA and everybody there shits all over him via Franny (or Anne Lee. I hear “Franny” but, like I said, I’ve been wrong before), who then puts the load in the singer, thus leaving him homeless with only the devil and a hungry dog for company.
How close am I? What is your take on the song?

Not to shut down discussion, but in the wiki for the song, Robbie Robertson describes his take on it. Which I find simultaneously simpler and more obscure than I would have thought ;).

Well, the song’s writer has explained what it meant to him.

On edit: Arg! Beaten by mere seconds!!!

Well, the writer’s take is sort of what I took from the song minus any religion and Bunuel. And he really did mean Nazareth, PA! I was only joking about that!

O.K., now what is your take on the song?

Nazareth is where Martin guitars are built. I don’t know if he mentions in this in the linked clip, but I understand he needed a town name that worked rhythmically for the lyric, looked inside his guitar or on the headstock, saw “C.F. Martin Guitar Co., Nazareth, PA” and got what he needed…

Yeah, I always assumed the reference to Nazareth was supposed to have biblical resonance. After all, the guy appears in Nazareth, finds no room at the inn, is tempted by the devil, is asked to feed [del]the multitudes[/del] a dog, and complains about the load put on him (as in “let this cup pass from me”). Not that it’s actually about Jesus, but there are at least vague echoes there.

I never considered the song as one narrative, but rather vignettes that basically had nothing to do with each other, other than – look at various weird characters I’ve managed to meet.

I thought it could be one of those songs that grew and grew, by adding more verses/characters. Kind of like Leonard Cohen’s *Hallelujah *- you never know quite which verses you’re going to get from cover to cover.

Did I read that he’s got hundreds of verses to that song? Or is that another one?

I hear “Fanny.” In the third verse there’s a mention of a woman named Anna Lee. I’ve read the Wikipedia entry a few times and I’d never come up with a specific interpretation of my own, but I know I never would’ve thought of any connection to Luis Bunuel. I still don’t really see it.

“The Weight” is an interesting song because it’s more complicated and weird than it seems. I think it’s become sort of a standard because it’s rich with Biblical allusions that make it feel a bit like a gospel song, like Nazareth at the beginning (I believe what he says about the guitar factory, but he knew people would think of Jesus’ birthplace), Moses, Luke, the Judgment Day and so on. But it’s also got this weary protagonist who keeps getting involved in situations he didn’t seek out and asked to do things for peopel who won’t do anything for him. I don’t know what I think is going on here. What I like so much about the song, I think, is the very strong vibe that grounds all this weirdness- Levon Helm just has one of those voices where I believe he means what he’s singing, the guitar is rickery, and the drum part rolls along like the wheels on a stage coach. You can just hear the dust in everybody’s clothes.

I used to sing this with a bunch of people at karaoke (one of those who was harmonizing on the chorus). To us, it was always “Fanny.”

It’s a song about a guy who is asked to do a favour–to pass along Miss Annie’s regards to the folks in Nazareth. But he’s asked by nearly everyone he meets to also do something for them: hang around with the Devil, keep Anna Lee company, feed Jack the dog. Only Crazy Chester offers to do anything for him, but only if he does Chester a favour. And the man he asks about a place to stay declines to tell him. Every time he speaks with somebody, he’s got another burden to bear.

Still, I wouldn’t surprised if there is a deeper meaning than the Band let on. The Biblical allusions are certainly there.

I’m not sure if it’s 100’s - maybe - but, yeah, that’s the one.

I’ll take a stab at this and am doing so purely from memory without looking up the lyrics.

I always thought the narrator was about to die and meets various characters along the way on their similar journey.

The first stanza, pulling into Nazareth, looking for a place to lay his head (die) he comes across a stranger and is basically asking, “Is this it? Is this the promised land?” The stranger says nothing, shakes his hand and says, “No” as in “Sorry pal, no such place exists.”

Second verse, Carmen and the devil. The narrator tries to save Carmen “Come on let’s go downtown” but evidently, it’s everyone for him/herself as Carmen says, “I’m going my own way, hang out with him (the devil) if you’d like, I’m out of here.”

Third verse, he encounters Luke waiting alone for Judgment Day. The narrator asks about some other person -Anna Lee- and shouldn’t Luke be tending to her / keeping her company? Luke’s reply, “Oh yeah, can you take care of that one for me?”

Fourth verse, Crazy Chester offers to tend to the narrator’s rags (his corpse I always figured) if he can take his dog with him. That is, the dog is old needs to be put down, you’re heading to the same place, how about it? The narrator replies, I can’t do that, “I’m a peaceful man” to which Chester says, well you can just let him slip away / starve to death by “feed[ing] him when you can”.

Fifth verse. Back or bag is sinking low and now it’s time to die. The narrator is getting back to Miss Fannie, who has already passed and is the only one who actually knows what happens at this moment. That Weight / outcome has now been passed on to the narrator.


Huh. Always thought it was “Manny.”

I’m sure the lyric is fix your rack, although that would still sort of fit your interpretation if you take it as wrack.

Did The Band release the lyrics along with the album when it was released?

There’s uncertainty in other parts of the song, Miss Annie or Miss Fanny and whether verse three’s Anna Lee is the same person repeated in the chorus. It makes a cryptic song that much more puzzling

And as an aside, you can go on a tour of their factory - or at least you used to. I’ve done it, and I thought it fascinating and I don’t even play guitar.

The lyrics are not surprising when you consider that they just had spent a lot of time with Dylan. They fit well with the “Basement Tapes” songs.

No. Here’s what it looked like.

It does make things confusing. I don’t think Fanny and Anna Lee are the same person- in the chorus it’s easy to wonder if they’re singing “Take a load off, Annie” or “Take a load off, Fanny,” but in the last verse I think it’s pretty clear they sing “To get back to Miss Fanny.” I think we’re supposed to understand that they’re separate people, since Anna Lee seems to be a Nazareth local and Miss Fannie is an outsider, since she sent the narrator to Nazareth in the first place.

Fourth verse, Crazy Chester offers to tend to the narrator’s rags (his corpse I always figured) if he can take his dog with him. That is, the dog is old needs to be put down, you’re heading to the same place, how about it? The narrator replies, I can’t do that, “I’m a peaceful man” to which Chester says, well you can just let him slip away / starve to death by “feed[ing] him when you can”.
Crazy chester accuses him of stealing his dog so he’ll settle his hash** fix his rack **means give him a hiding the singer says wait a minute chester I don’t want too fight you "you know I’m a peaceful man the man smiles and says that’s ok you can still have him wont you feed him when you can

Welcome to SDMB, rr1ng0! Thanks for resurrecting this zombie as this song has always been a favorite of mine and I love to hear other people’s impressions of it.

This verse has always had me confused a bit, but I think you might have help me straighten it out. You are incorrect in thinking that Chester is accusing him of stealing his dog. The verse is (as near as I can tell)

To me, Chester is offering a bed (a rack) for the guy (all he ever wanted in the first place) in exchange for taking care of his dog. The guy, who is in the fog, misinterprets this as the guy is threatening to bust him in the chops. Chester, being crazy and all, ignores the offense taken and responds as if it was just an objection to taking the dog and tries to still get him to take the dog by saying, “all you gotta do is feed him when you have some scraps.”

Huh. And all this time I thought the lyrics to the chorus were something completely different…

I don’t remember where exactly I actually read that because it was over 20 years ago, but it must have been either a Bob Dylan biography or a book on iconic musicians and bands of the late 60s and early 70s. In it, the author stated that the chorus to the song went, “take a load of phrennies”, phrennies being hippie era slang for schizophrenia medication used recreationally.