Good Medicine: The Band’s Classic Song, “The Weight,” Sung by Robbie Robertson, Ringo Starr & Special Guests from Around the World

Robbie Robertson’s “The Weight,” the Band’s most beloved song, has the quality of Dylan’s impressionistic narratives. Elliptical vignettes that seem to make very little sense at first listen, with a chorus that cuts right to the heart of the human predicament. “Robertson admits in his autobiography,” notes Patrick Doyle at Rolling Stone, “that he struggled to articulate to producer John Simon what the song was even about.” An artist needn’t understand a creation for it to resonate with listeners.

A read of the “The Weight”’s lyrics make its poignant themes evident—each stanza introduces characters who illustrate some sorrow or small kindness. The chorus offers what so many people seem to crave these days: a promise of rest from ceaseless toil, freedom from constant transactions, a community that shoulders everyone’s burdens…. “It’s almost like it’s good medicine,” Robertson told Doyle, “and it’s so suitable right now.” He refers specifically to the song’s revival in a dominant musical form of our isolation days—the online sing-along.

Though its lyrics aren’t nearly as easy to remember as, say, “Lean on Me,” Robertson’s classic, especially the big harmonies of its chorus (which everyone knows by heart), is ideal for big ensembles like the globe-spanning collection assembled by Playing for Change, “a group dedicated to ‘opening up how people see the world through the lens of music and art." The group’s producers, Doyle writes, “recently spent two years filming artists around the world, from Japan to Bahrain to Los Angeles, performing the song,” with Ringo Starr on drums and Robertson on rhythm guitar. They began on the 50th anniversary of the song's release.

The performances they captured are flawless, and mixed together seamlessly. If you want to know how this was achieved, watch the short behind the scenes video above with producer Sebastian Robertson, who happens to be Robbie's son. He starts by praising the stellar contributions of Larkin Poe, two sisters whose rootsy country rock updates the Allman Brothers for the 21st century. But there are no slouches in the bunch (don’t be intimated out of your own group sing-alongs by the talent on display here). The song resonates in a way that connects, as “The Weight”’s chorus connects its non-sequitur stanzas, many disparate stories and voices.

Robertson was thrilled with the final product. “There’s a guy on a sitar!” he enthuses. “There’s a guy playing an oud, one of my favorite instruments.” The song suggests there’s “something spiritual, magical, unsuspecting” that can come from times of darkness, and that we’d all feel a whole lot better if we learned to take care of each other. The Playing for Change version “screams of unity,” he says, “and I hope it spreads.”

Related Content:

Stream Marc Maron’s Excellent, Long Interview with The Band’s Robbie Robertson

Watch The Band Play “The Weight,” “Up On Cripple Creek” and More in Rare 1970 Concert Footage

Italians’ Nightly Singalongs Prove That Music Soothes the Savage Beast of Coronavirus Quarantine & Self-Isolation

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Bob Dylan Releases a Cryptic 17-Minute Song about the JFK Assassination: Hear a “Murder Most Foul”

Like an Old Testament prophet with smartphone, Bob Dylan has appeared the midst of catastrophe to drop a new previously unreleased track, “Murder Most Foul,” on Twitter. Ostensibly a 17-minute song about JFK’s assassination, it’s “the first evidence of original songwriting that we’ve had in eight years from one of the most original songwriters of our era,” writes Kevin Dettmar, Professor of English at Pomona College, for The New Yorker.

The move seems like a weird one—“’weird’ with its full Shakespearean force, as in the ‘weird sisters’ of ‘Macbeth.’” Its title, however, comes from Hamlet. Uttered by the ghost of Hamlet’s father, the phrase shows us the murdered king pronouncing judgment on his own death. It is also the title of the third Miss Marple film, released in the U.S. in 1964, the same year (to the month) that the Warren commission submitted its report to Lyndon Johnson.




Is Dylan pulling us into what may be the most bottomless of modern conspiracy theories, with a Shakespearean allusion suggesting we might hear the song as emanating from Kennedy himself? He’s more than aware of what he’s doing with the many specific references to the murder, drawing out the most committed of conspiracy theorists in YouTube comments. As Andy Greene writes at Rolling Stone, “Murder Most Foul” is:

Packed with references only JFK buffs will likely recognize, like the ‘triple underpass’ near Dealey Plaza, the removal of his brain during the autopsy, and the ‘three bums comin’ all dressed in rags’ captured on the Zapruder film that conspiracy theorists have been obsessing over for decades. Clearly, Dylan has spent a lot of time reading books and watching documentaries about this.

There is so much more besides. Dylan weaves densely allusive texts, just as another poet to whom he bears some comparison, John Milton, whose work has been background for Dylan’s songwriting for decades, including a sly allusion to Paradise Lost in 1965’s “Desolation Row,” another prophetic work that stretches over the ten-minute mark (and ends with passengers on the Titanic shouting “Which side are you on?”)

In 2006, Dylan opened an episode of his Theme Time Radio Hour broadcast with lines from the first book of Paradise Lost: describing Satan “hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky.” Dylan has long been obsessed with the Devil, as literary scholar Aidan Day argues in a comparison of Dylan and Milton. Likewise, he is obsessed with apocalyptic falls from grace. Songs abound with images of the powerful brought low, the lowly brought lower, and the whole world sinking like an ocean liner. He returned to the theme in 2012’s “The Tempest,” a 14-minute epic about the Titanic.

Why JFK, and why now? As he vaguely notes, the song was “recorded a while back.” Dettmar estimates sometime in the last decade. Does it live up to Dylan’s earlier epics? Hear it above and judge for yourself. (And see many of its lyrical references at its Genius page.) Dettmar calls its first half "doggerel" and the opening lines do sound like a fifth-grade history presentation: “’Twas a dark day in Dallas, November, ‘63/The day that would live on in infamy.”

Is this cliché or a satire of cliché? (Dylan was fond of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas.") Things soon take a darker turn, with lines full of Miltonian portent: assassination becomes regicide: The day they blew out the brains of the king/Thousands were watching, no one saw a thing.

Allusions tumble out, line after line. Once Dylan gets to Wolfman Jack, verse two begins, and “something amazing happens,” writes Dettmar. “We’re presented with another version of the Great American Songbook.”—JFK’s death now prelude for all the cultural shifts to come. “Wolfman, oh Wolfman, oh Wolfman, howl/Rub-a-dub-dub, it’s a murder most foul.” NPR’s Bob Boilen and Ann Powers have compiled a playlist of the dozens of songs referenced in the second half of “Murder Most Foul,” a compilation of the music Dylan admires most.

What is he up to in this track? Is "Murder Most Foul" a summation of Dylan's career? Dylanologists will be puzzling it out for years. But the last line of his Twitter announcement sure sounds like a cryptic farewell wrapped in a warning: “Stay safe,” Dylan writes, “stay observant, and may God be with you.”

Related Content:

A Massive 55-Hour Chronological Playlist of Bob Dylan Songs: Stream 763 Tracks

Hear Bob Dylan’s Newly-Released Nobel Lecture: A Meditation on Music, Literature & Lyrics

Bob Dylan’s Thanksgiving Radio Show: A Playlist of 18 Delectable Songs

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Nine Inch Nails Releases 2 Free Albums: They’re Now Ready to Download

Image by via Wikimedia Commons

FYI: Nine Inch Nails has released two new albums to help you weather the global storm. Download them for free here.

The offer comes prefaced with these words from the band...

FRIENDS-

WEIRD TIMES INDEED…

AS THE NEWS SEEMS TO TURN EVER MORE GRIM BY THE HOUR, WE’VE FOUND OURSELVES VACILLATING WILDLY BETWEEN FEELING LIKE THERE MAY BE HOPE AT TIMES TO UTTER DESPAIR – OFTEN CHANGING MINUTE TO MINUTE. ALTHOUGH EACH OF US DEFINE OURSELVES AS ANTISOCIAL-TYPES WHO PREFER BEING ON OUR OWN, THIS SITUATION HAS REALLY MADE US APPRECIATE THE POWER AND NEED FOR CONNECTION.

MUSIC – WHETHER LISTENING TO IT, THINKING ABOUT IT OR CREATING IT – HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE THING THAT HELPED US GET THROUGH ANYTHING – GOOD OR BAD. WITH THAT IN MIND, WE DECIDED TO BURN THE MIDNIGHT OIL AND COMPLETE THESE NEW GHOSTS RECORDS AS A MEANS OF STAYING SOMEWHAT SANE.

GHOSTS V: TOGETHER IS FOR WHEN THINGS SEEM LIKE IT MIGHT ALL BE OKAY, AND GHOSTS VI: LOCUSTS… WELL, YOU’LL FIGURE IT OUT.

IT MADE US FEEL BETTER TO MAKE THESE AND IT FEELS GOOD TO SHARE THEM. MUSIC HAS ALWAYS HAD A WAY OF MAKING US FEEL A LITTLE LESS ALONE IN THE WORLD… AND HOPEFULLY IT DOES FOR YOU, TOO. REMEMBER, EVERYONE IS IN THIS THING TOGETHER AND THIS TOO SHALL PASS.

WE LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING YOU AGAIN SOON.
BE SMART AND SAFE AND TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER.

WITH LOVE,
TRENT & ATTICUS

What’s the Function of Criticism? Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #36 with Critic Noah Berlatsky

Do we need professional critics regulating our entertainment intake?  Noah has written for numerous publications including The Washington Post, The Atlantic, NBC News, The Guardian, Slate, and Vox, and his work has come up for discussion in multiple past Pretty Much Pop episodes.

He was invited to join hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt in spelling out the functions of criticism, the idea of criticism as art, ideological vs. aesthetic critique, and whether there's anything wrong with being negative about other people's art. While we talk mostly about film, Noah also writes about TV, comics, music and more.

First, read some articles by Noah about criticism:

Other authors speaking on the utility of critics:

Here are some examples of Noah's critical work relevant to what came up in the interview and our recent episodes:

Included here with Noah's permission, here's some criticism directed at Noah:

At the end, after Noah leaves, Mark lays out a taxonomy of criticism: supporter, decoder, taste enforcer, and hater. Noah practices all of these! Follow him on Twitter @nberlat and get scads of his writing by supporting him at patreon.com/noahberlatsky.

Watch Mel Brooks' depiction of the very first critic.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Free: Austin City Limits Opens Up Video Archives During COVID-19 Pandemic

Austin City Limits--an PBS music program recorded live in Austin, Texas--has decided to open its archives "as a gift to music fans during the current live music moratorium." They write: "Starting March 23, the perennial television series will make fan-favorite episodes from the recently broadcast Season 45 available for streaming, in addition to the entire slate of programs from the previous two seasons of the acclaimed concert showcase. Over 35 ACL installments will be available to stream free online at https://www.pbs.org/show/austin-city-limits/ offering a wide variety of music’s finest from every genre. here’s something for everyone: an electrifying hour with guitar hero Gary Clark Jr.; an epic stage journey with 2020’s Grammy-winning global pop phenom Billie Eilish; supergroup The Raconteurs, featuring Jack White and Brendan Benson, in an all-out hour of pure rock and roll."

Get more information here, and stream episodes here.

Above you can watch Robert Plant on Austin City Limits during a show recorded in 2016.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

Related Content:

Live Performers Now Streaming Shows, from their Homes to Yours: Neil Young, Coldplay, Broadway Stars, Metropolitan Operas & More

Watch Curated Playlists of Experimental Videos & Films to Get You Through COVID-19: Miranda July, Jan Švankmajer, Guy Maddin & More

The Met Opera Streaming Free Operas Online to Get You Through COVID-19

Bruce Springsteen Releases Live Concert Film Online: Watch “London Calling: Live In Hyde Park” and Practice Self Distancing

Dead & Company Announces Couch Tour, Letting You Stream Free Concerts at Home

More free music/entertainment to carry you through these bleak, strange times. Dead & Company (the surviving members of the Grateful Dead plus John Mayer and Oteil Burbridge) are making concerts free to stream at home. And the first one gets underway tonight.

They announced on Twitter:

Stay at home this weekend and tune in to “One More Saturday Night”, a new #CouchTour series featuring your favorite Dead & Company shows, for FREE.   We’re kicking things off with the 12/2/17 Austin show this Saturday at 8pm ET/ 5pm PT on nugs.tv and on Facebook!

Click the links above to watch the show. Until then, you can watch a set above, recorded live in Atlanta's Lakewood Amphitheatre, back in June 2017.

Also find a trove of 11,000+ recorded Grateful Dead shows in the Relateds below.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

Related Content:

Live Performers Now Streaming Shows, from their Homes to Yours: Neil Young, Coldplay, Broadway Stars, Metropolitan Operas & More

11,215 Free Grateful Dead Concert Recordings in the Internet Archive

The Grateful Dead Play at the Egyptian Pyramids, in the Shadow of the Sphinx (1978)

The Longest of the Grateful Dead’s Epic Long Jams: “Dark Star” (1972), “The Other One” (1972) and “Playing in The Band” (1974)

Bruce Springsteen Releases Live Concert Film Online: Watch “London Calling: Live In Hyde Park” and Practice Self Distancing

Soothing, Uplifting Resources for Parents & Caregivers Stressed by the COVID-19 Crisis

When COVID-19 closed schools and shuttered theaters and concert venues, response was swift.

Stars ranging from the Cincinnati zoo’s hippo Fiona to Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda leapt to share free content with suddenly homebound viewers.

Coldplay’s frontman, Chris Martin, separated from his bandmates by international borders, played a mini gig at home, as did country star Keith Urban, with his wife, Nicole Kidman, lurking in the background.

Choreographer Debbie Allen got people off the couch with free dance classes on Instagram.

Audible pledged to provide free audiobooks for little kids and teens for the duration.




An embarrassment of riches for those whose experience of COVID-19 is somewhere between extended snow day and staycation...

But what about caregivers who suddenly find themselves providing 24-7 care for elders with dementia, or neuro-atypical adult children whose upended routine is wreaking havoc on their emotions?

“I know people are happy that the schools have closed but I just lost critical workday hours and if/when day hab closes I will have to take low-paid medical leave AND we will not have any breaks from caregiving someone with 24-7 needs and aggressive, loud behaviors. I feel completely defeated,” one friend writes.

24 hours later:

We just lost day hab, effective tomorrow. My messages for in-home services haven't been returned yet. Full on panic mode.

What can we do to help lighten those loads when we’re barred from physical interaction, or entering each other’s homes?

We combed through our archive, with an eye toward the most soothing, uplifting content, appropriate for all ages, starting with pianist Paul Barton's classical concerts for elephants in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, above.

Calming videos:

Hours of soothing  nature footage from the BBC.

Commuters in Newcastle's Haymarket Bus Station Playing Beethoven 

Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour's Musical Take on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18

Guided Imagery Meditation from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital

Four classic performances from the “Father of Bossa Nova” João Gilberto

The Insects’ Christmas, a 1913: Stop Motion  Animation

Multiple seasons of Bob Ross!

60+ Free Charlie Chaplin Films Online

Homemade American Music, a 1980 documentary on rural southeastern traditional music and musicians

Winsor McKay’s Gertie the Dinosaur

Calming Music and Audio:

Metallica, REM, Led Zeppelin & Queen Sung in the Style of Gregorian Chant

18 Hours of Free Guided Meditations

Weightless, the most relaxing song ever made

Calming Piano, Jazz & Harp Covers of Music from Hayao Miyazaki Films

240 Hours of Relaxing, Sleep-Inducing Sounds from Sci-Fi Video Games: From Blade Runner to Star Wars

Simon & Garfunkel Sing “The Sound of Silence” 45 Years After Its Release

We’ve also got a trove of free coloring books and pages, though caregivers should vet the content before sharing it with someone who’s likely to be disturbed by medical illustration and images of medieval demons…

Readers, if you know a resource that might buy caregivers and their agitated, housebound charges a bit of peace, please add it in the comments below.

Related Content:

The Therapeutic Benefits of Ambient Music: Science Shows How It Eases Chronic Anxiety, Physical Pain, and ICU-Related Trauma

Free Guided Imagery Recordings Help Kids Cope with Pain, Stress & Anxiety

Chill Out to 70 Hours of Oceanscape Nature Videos Filmed by BBC Earth

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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