Take a Load Off

Maybe I’m too young to claim The Band as part of the soundtrack to my life.  But the death of Levon Helm has me thinking about the first time I heard “The Weight–” or at least the first time i paid attention–and well, i do believe it did some shaping of me that Debbie Gibson, Guns n Roses, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers didn’t quite manage.

A Coke commercial: A beautiful woman drives a convertible through the desert, with a happy and faithful looking dog. “The Weight” comes through in the background. The girl pulls into a mom-and-pop service station in the middle of nowhere, and while Levon sings “take a load off,” she proceeds to get out of the car, reach into the back seat, and heave an armload of men’s clothing out into the wilderness. Followed by another load, and another. From the front porch, two old men watch her with amusement and admiration. Thus unburdened, she walks up to the porch, gets a Diet Coke out the machine, and as she drives off, the old men toast her retreating car. The song trails off into the desert behind her…

Take a load for free. Take a load off, Annie. Put the load right on me…

I was only about 12 (or younger? I have no idea what year this was.) but something in me absolutely woke up and demanded to be let out for air. Granted, I was 7-10 years from having a boyfriend who needed leaving in such an epic fashion, but it turns out, that day was coming for me. And when it did, I knew how to throw the proverbial clothes out of the car and get the eff out of dodge.

I was probably 12-15 years from needing to pack up everything I knew and head out into the desert. But that day was coming for me. And when it came, I knew how to do that, too. Picked up my bag, went looking for a place to hide…

That song nudged awake my gypsy soul, and though I didn’t get it at the time, it has continued to carve out in me a space for wandering, mystery, adventure and– in all things– ecstatic freedom.  Those few bars of folk rock have, at many times, pushed me past a place of comfortable complacency into life-seeking rhythm again. Whether it’s just running through my head, or playing through the radio in a moment of powerful spirit timing, it is and will always be ‘my song,’ while also being everybody’s. In that way, it is gospel.

I know Levon didn’t write it, but it was, in many ways, his story too. You show up. You’re supposed to make a simple connection, say hi to somebody, and it turns into a dang long and ever-unfolding story. That story isn’t really about anything, but is also about everything. I’m grateful for that era of music–the travelling mercy of many a westward-moving soul.  Even if we were born too late, it is our song now, and we move on through the dust to a place where life can sing again.

Thanks for that, Levon.  We’ll stay and keep Anna Lee company. You can take a load off.

About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...


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