The Weight

Sometimes you just have to start writing. I’m sorry if there’s a sense of déjà vu about those seven words, but this is another of those increasingly frequent days when as the (self-inflicted) deadline approaches I realise I have not the first idea what I want to write about.

I’m trawling my notebook, which for once offers a few scraps. 1. Meditation. I’ve been doing quite a lot of it recently and although I find it difficult I think it’s doing me good. 2. If Not Now, When. The title of the workshop Sarah and I ran last weekend, and the idea that by reframing stories we can free ourselves of the entanglements of the past and move forward to seize the day. 3. Graduation Addresses. An exercise we ran on the weekend, asking people to write an address for an imaginary audience of graduands in order then to see what it revealed to them about themselves – which in turn puts me in mind of the magnificent 2013 address to students at Syracuse University by the American writer George Saunders on the subject of kindness (read it here). 4. When Am I Most Me? An illuminating question put to me yesterday by my friend Paul Pinson, with whom I’m swapping a couple of coaching sessions for help with a presentation he has to make.

Hmm, all very well … but what I really want to do right now is bask, if that’s the right word, in the deliciously bleak humour of this poem, Scotland, by Alastair Reid, which I have long cherished and was reminded of again at the weekend:

It was a day peculiar to this piece of the planet,
when larks rose on long thin strings of singing
and the air shifted with the shimmer of actual angels.
Greenness entered the body. The grasses
shivered with presences, and sunlight
stayed like a halo on hair and heather and hills.
Walking into town, I saw, in a radiant raincoat,
the woman from the fish-shop. ‘What a day it is!’
cried I, like a sunstruck madman.
And what did she have to say for it?
Her brow grew bleak, her ancestors raged in their graves
as she spoke with their ancient misery:
‘We’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it!’

On the day following the Chancellor’s autumn statement I could be sidetracked into politics at this point, but heeding the wise words in my friend John Simmons’s blog last week (here) I won’t. Instead I just want to rejoice in the truth of those 13 lines and Alastair Reid’s skill in rendering one of the essential contradictions in being Scottish so wittily and succinctly and with such memorable imagery.

At the risk of stating the obvious, there’s no telling what the unconscious is going to dish up next, but that’s all part of the fun. I have to trust that there’s a reason why Scotland popped into my head at this moment – particularly since I can no longer remember the context in which it was referred to at the weekend. But one thing I know about the unconscious is that more than anything it loves to make connections; and now I see there’s one to be made with the other thing that’s been knocking at my door this afternoon: The Band’s song The Weight.

With their rootsy sound and storyladen songs, The Band have always been one of my favourite groups, and The Weight is probably my favourite of all their songs. It’s on my mind because it’s one of the numbers that feature in my new piano-and-vocals partnership with singer Dave Amos, and we were rehearsing it a couple of days ago. If you don’t know it, this version from Martin Scorsese’s 1976 movie of The Band’s final concert, The Last Waltz, complete with virtuoso vocal support from the Staples Singers, is the one to watch (here). And if you do know it, treat yourself and watch it again.

‘I pulled into Nazareth, I was feeling about half-past dead … ‘ Whether you believe Robbie Robertson, the songwriter, who maintains that it’s just about a small town in Pennsylvania and a bunch of people The Band knew, or you prefer to read into it a litany of Biblical references, it remains a tantalisingly enigmatic song, with this the most insistent riddle of all: what is the weight that the song’s narrator has to bear? Perhaps it’s none other than the ancient misery that grips the woman from the fish-shop.

It’s all about connections, you see.

Some of you will have had dealings with Corrie Watson, who handles the bookings for both Dark Angels and The Stories We Tell. The estimable Corrie also keeps me in order with books that balance and an in-try that never (quite) overflows. She currently has space for another client or two, so if you live in central Scotland and need keeping in order too, please let me know!

About Jamie Jauncey

Author, writer, blogger, facilitator, musician, co-founder of Dark Angels and The Stories We Tell
This entry was posted in Music, Personal development, Poetry, Scotland, Stories, Storytelling, The Stories We Tell and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Weight

  1. Jane Cox says:

    What a way to begin a Friday morning. Just in from my morning walk, I read Alastair’s poem and laugh out loud (I’ve never seen it) and then sit and feel tears of nostalgia well up inside me as I listen to the Band; the song – last listened to over 40 years ago – dives me back to my first foray into London, a top floor eerie in Tufnell park, with a bunch of flatmates never met before, my stack of LPs, a turntable and aged 17, that feeling of fear and excitement at the prospect of new found work, love and friendship. That’s some bandwidth of emotion. For someone who didn’t know what to write: it worked for me. Thank you, Jamie.

  2. William says:

    Nazareth, indeed a small town in PA and the home of Martin guitars. It’s near Bethlehem, which is near Allentown, which is a song by Billy Joel (and also the seat of my employer’s head office). A while back I spent a happy afternoon there in a guitar shop in Nazareth trying ou some really lovely instruments (just looking, you understand) while my colleague waited patiently alongside me. And I heard The Weight on the radio this week for the first time in ages. It always takes me back to my first year at school. Just a few of my own connections today ……

  3. Bigbrandjohn says:

    Just start writing. The words an old PR hack now respectable PR guru and dear friend told me once. It certainly works Jamie as you have demonstrated. There is nothing like a Jauncey jaunt the day after Thanksgiving to stimulate the senses. Nazareth is down the road from me and a place that Mark Knopfler was also inspired to write Nazareth Speedway.

    It is a beautiful time of the year in Pennsylvania. Clear blue skies and crisp days provide a perfect backdrop to the welcoming of the Winter holiday season. Another opportunity to share the gift of kindness as well as the gifts from Black Friday.

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