What’s your favorite song?
That’s a question we all are asked a few times during our life time.
Knowing me you would think a Beatle song of course and you would be very close, because if I had to pick my second favorite song it would be their brilliant, romantic and nostalgic classic “In My Life”.
My favorite song is “The Weight”, performed by The Band and written by Robbie Robertson. This work spoke to me at an early age. It was 1968, I was 14 years old when I first heard it broadcast from my FM radio and I was immediately struck by the sound and honesty of it. Even the name of the group was dramatic, THE BAND. During this period of music it was the time of Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Chocolate Wristband, The Electric Prunes and many more who copped their handle from the elongated Beatles’ moniker, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The longer or weirder the better, because in order to play the “in” music of the time, psychedelic, the more shocking or experimental your band’s name should be.
Then out of the fog of smoke machines, back-lit slide shows and surrealistic lyrics stepped out five road tested musicians with songs about people, places and things. They didn’t wear Nehru shirts or dashikis, instead they wore jeans, vintage suits and fedoras. Their album (Music From Big Pink) design wasn’t paisley patterned with smoking pigs but adorned with photographs of their families as if at a large family reunion. Their music was the same.
The songs were real, the voices of working men singing songs of their past and their future hopes. They sounded “old”, familiar even on first listen. A complete break from “Incense and Peppermints” to dirt and corn. And leading me to their revival tent of American music history was “The Weight”.
“I pulled into Nazareth…”
The journey stars with that phrase, could it be the Nazareth of the Bible or the town in Pennsylvania where the best acoustic guitars have been made for decades, C.F. Martin & Company?
And who are Carmen and the Devil, Luke, Crazy Chester or the Fanny who has the load to bear throughout the song…. and why take the load from her. It was and remains as mysterious, haunting, enigmatic and beautiful today as the first time I heard it.
It is my favorite song because it led me to many different roads of music: folk, country, bluegrass, New Orleans, Appalachian… they are too numerous to list.
It’s my favorite song because it made me feel that music was hand-hewn and not something so far beyond me that it was impossible achieve. For the first time in my life music became a living breathing thing in my life and not just wonderful grooves on vinyl. It also brought kinship with the music of my father. I began to understand his love of Johnny Cash and finally got his affection for Hank Williams. “The Weight” did that for me.
Every time I hear the guitar start that beautifully mournful roll into its opening line, all those feelings of family, friends and times-had roll back to me as Levon Helm starts to sing. And when it comes to its closing, whatever mood I may have been in, it is improved with bittersweet memories of times gone and times to come.
That’s why it is my favorite song.