September 5, 2020
When you’re staying home on Labor Day weekend with no football, it helps to have music, the kind that resonates in the heart, that’s steered you through tough times before. I’ve been switching between the now-virtual Detroit Jazz Festival, where I’ve gone in person three times, and the wild party on WWOZ, recapping decades of the unrivaled musical gumbo that is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival or Jazzfest.
Saturday’s menu featured the Allman Brothers, who’ve been in my DNA since high school. I celebrated graduation day in part by buying their “Eat a Peach” album, and months later saw them blow the roof off an arena, coming back strong after the death of bassist Berry Oakley. Decades after that, when my wife and I married on a beach in Florida, our special song was, “Whipping Post.” Seriously. The WWOZ set included classics like “Statesboro Blues,” “Melissa,” and “Midnight Rider,” but also this cover of “The Weight,” with a blistering guest vocal by Susan Tedeschi.
Robbie Robertson, who wrote the tune for The Band, said it was about “the impossibility of sainthood,” and inspired in part by the surrealist films of Luis Buñuel. Despite the religious imagery — Luke, the Devil, Miss Moses, Judgement Day — the “Nazareth” the narrator walks into, feeling ’bout half past dead, is Nazareth PA, where Robertson’s Martin guitar was made.
I’ve heard the song hundreds, maybe thousands of times since its release in 1968 and never has it felt more like the truth. The plague has put the load right on everybody, Crazy Chester is in the White House, and the Devil is walking the countryside in a WalMart camo suit, carrying an AR-15. Even Buñuel’s surreal fever dreams can’t top this. But Judgement Day is coming, and you don’t have to be a prophet to know when: November 3, 2020. I’ll be ready. Regards to everyone. Take care and be safe.