Take a load off Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny
And you put the load right on me
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Indian Tower in Nazareth
Nazareth, the Biblical town where Jesus spent his youth, shares a name with a borough of Northampton County in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania. Originally established as a Moravian settlement in 1740, Nazareth (the Pennsylvania borough) remained a small town defined by the religious background of its immigrant inhabitants. These included Moravian and Lutheran Germans as well as Roman Catholic Italians and Poles. Nazareth was also home to the Pennsylvanian Dutch – a corruption of the word "Deutsch," used to describe many European immigrants with Germanic ancestry. In the late 1900s there was an influx of people from New Jersey and New York, which significantly increased the small town's population. Today there are over 6,000 people living in the unlikely cultural melting pot of Nazareth, PA.
Nazareth is also home to the headquarters of the C.F Martin and Company guitar manufacturer. Originally handmade, Martin guitars are now produced by assembly line to make the instruments more affordable. Whether it was the rich cultural history of the town or a tribute to the guitar makers, The Band put Nazareth on the map with their 1968 hit “The Weight.”
The Canadian-American rock group formed in 1964 and are renowned for fusing a variety of elements borrowed from several musical genres, including old country, early rock and roll, Motown, gospel, and blues into their signature style. The Band released their first album, Music from Big Pink
in 1968. “The Weight,” featured as the last song on Side A of the album, quickly became their most famous single after it was used in the film Easy Rider
Robbie Robertson was the only band member officially credited with writing “The Weight,” despite contributions from Holm and others. Since only the songwriter received royalties, this caused some tension in the band. Robertson claims "The Weight" was influenced by a Mexican director, Luis Bunuel, whose surreal movies depicted good people doing bad things. Robertson has denied any Biblical or religious subtext in the song despite the subtle references to sin and temptation and the obvious connection between Nazareth, Pennsylvania, and Jesus' Nazareth.
The song uses a folk music motif to tell the story of a traveler who arrives in Nazareth looking for somewhere to stay. He's been sent by his friend, Fanny, to look in on everyone, hence the "weight" he's carrying. During the course of the song, the traveler meets a number of different people. Many of these characters relate to people The Band knew personally. In his autobiography, Levon Helm revealed that a number of characters in the song were in fact based on close friends. Miss Anna Lee as mentioned in the lyric was a direct reference to Helm's good friend Anna Lee Amsden, although another source says Anna Lee Williams from Turkey Scratch is the Anna of the song; "Luke" was Jimmy Ray Paulman, and "Crazy Chester" was a man The Band knew from Fayetteville, a gun-toting Hopalong Cassidy type and friend of the Hawks. And Fanny, of course, was "just a name that fit the picture." (Rumor has it, however, that Fanny was a dray horse on Crazy Chester's farm. Which makes sense, since dray horses are work horses that haul heavy loads. But we are unable to confirm that rumor, so a rumor it will remain.)
The Martin Guitar Factory
(thanks, Lehigh, PA)
"The Weight" peaked at #63 on the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in 1968. It was an even bigger hit in Canada where it peaked at #35, and in the UK where it peaked at #21. "The Weight" gained widespread popularity after The Band performed it at Woodstock in 1969, making it the anthem of 1960's counterculture. In 2003, Music from Big Pink
was ranked number 34 on Rolling Stone
magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. This album influenced many artists, particularly Eric Clapton and George Harrison. Clapton goes so far as to cite The Band's album as the impetus to him quitting Cream to pursue his own artistic endeavors.
"The Weight" has since become a modern standard regularly covered and performed by other acts from Joe Cocker, Joan Osborne, and John Denver, to Travis, the Grateful Dead, Panic At the Disco and even Hanson. The song's fame has been significantly increased by its appearance in numerous films such as Hope Floats, Girl, Interrupted
, and Starksy and Hutch
. In 2012 “The Weight” was performed at Coachella by The Black Keys, featuring John Fogerty as the guest to honor the memory of Levon Helm who died the day before.
The Band has received many accolades during their long running career, most notably receiving the Grammy's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008, a fitting acknowledgement for a band that remains as influential today as it was almost fifty years ago, while “The Weight” remains a firm favorite, still played on radio stations and covered by emerging artists.
~ Suzanne van Rooyen
Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests nothing if not inspiring. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. Her published novels include
Dragon's Teeth, Obscura Burning, and
The Other Me. When not writing, she teaches dance and music to middle schoolers and eats far too much peanut-butter.
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