And in addition to that, this blog has come to an end. Or at least, it’s coming to a highly open-ended hiatus, starting the minute I post this.
There are two reasons for this.
For quite some time now, I’ve just been too distracted by other projects to give this blog its due.
For quite some time before that, what motivated me to keep this blog up to date was the squishy but fun idea that it was the world’s only single-song blog — or at least the world’s only “St. James Infirmary”-specific blog.
On the latter point, not only is this not the only the world’s only “St. James Infirmary”-specific blog — it’s not even the best such blog! (In other words, you can search this whole world over — and you’ll immediately find a better blogger than me!) The best one, and the one you should immediately redirect your attention to, is Robert W. Harwood’s I Went Down To St. James Infirmary. Mr. Harwood, author of the indispensable book I Went Down To St. James Infirmary, has long since surpassed me as the leading explorer of this uniquely wonderful tune, and the multiple historical byways that exploring its origins reveals. I’ll continue to follow him on his journey, and you should, too.
As for me: If you want to stay connected I’ll offer a few options below. But if you don’t, that’s cool, and I thank you for sticking with me over the years.
Similar material related to music, with something of a focus on how technology is or isn’t changing the way we listen, can be found at journal.robwalker.net. Anything else I have to say in the future about “St. James Infirmary,” I’ll say there.
I mentioned “other projects” above. Those would primarily be: Significant Objects, which involves fiction about thrift-store flotsam (book version forthcoming in April 2012); The Hypothetical Development Organization, which involves implausible futures for unpopular places; and Unconsumption, a group Tumblr with assorted spinoffs, dedicated to promoting creative reuse and mindful consumer behavior.
I am also still overseeing MLK BLVD, the open-source photojournalism effort dedicated to collecting images from streets, avenues, boulevards, etc., named after Martin Luther King Jr. Like this blog, that project spun out of Letters From New Orleans, a book you should buy and enjoy immediately if you haven’t already done so. To this very day, 100% of author royalties (and yes, they persist) are promptly redirected to worthy causes in New Orleans.
In a second radio monologue, “I Went Down To St. James Infirmary” zeroes in on one line of “SJI” — a line that’s always interested mequiteabit Check out the highly interesting and informative monologue here.
Sorry if that headline is misleading — no Trombone Shorty/Carl Sandburg mashup is in the offing. (That I know of.)
But two quick noteworthy links:
1. Trombone Shorty was on Sound Opinions (great show) recently. The interview was fine (nothing revelatory to anyone who has been paying attention to New Orleans music in the last, say, decade), but the performances are really excellent. Listen to the entire show here, or just check out the Trombone Shorty portion here.
2. Leading “SJI” blogger and writer Robert W. Harwood has a nice surprise over I Went Down to St. James Infirmary: The first of a batch of monologues recorded for an “SJI” radio documentary includes some great details about Sandburg and early variations on the song. And he even breaks out his guitar! eally cool… Give it a listen here. And if you want to hear more, tell Mr. Harwood so, he’s looking for feedback!
It’s not very substantial, but collects links to places that interest me, including of course New Orleans, as well as stuff related to the idea of “place” in general — everything from maps to architecture. I have a secret hope of some day writing a new series of essays called “Letters from Here,” sort of like LfNO, but chances are good that it’ll never get beyond the Tumblr.
I’m also blogging these days for Design Observer. The stuff I’m doing there has nothing to do with New Orleans, place, or “St. James Infirmary,” but, you know, I try to keep it interesting anyway.
Anyway, I’ll continue to update this site as “SJI” news breaks, so stay tuned!
This morning I posted on my Design Observer blog about the waveform as a visual symbol of music (and sound), noting the role of SoundCloud in the spread of this stealth iconography. An hour or so later, I happened upon the below: User Gizmo has uploaded the intro to a rendition of “SJI” to SoundCloud. You can hear it — and see it — below.
One of the more unanticipated sub-themes of “SJI”-mining has been the recurrence of the song’s role as a burlesque number. Back in 2006 this site featured a Q&A with the former “September Rose” on that subject. In 2009 I posted a video of one Charlotte Treuse performing to SJI, and later added some further details about the contemporary performer and the context in which she performs. With that as background, I will now share with you a more recent burlesque performance using “SJI,” featuring Miss Bruise Violet — described in the intro to the video below as “the green-haired wonder.” Those of you who feel suitably mature: check it out.
The tune at hand is “Full Time Lover,” by Frankie Lee. I don’t know much about Lee, but here’s a site with a bio-sketch and something of a discography. It notes in passing that “Full Time Lover” got some regional attention (Lee is from Texas), I gather in the 1960s. It’s a bluesy soul scorcher, entertaining enough on its own — the opening organ riff and slow-drip drumming are kinda hot — but maybe not the sort of thing I’d spend much time on normally. The lyric starts out “Oh, well I got me a full time lover,” and so on, repeated per the standards of the form. “She used to be my part time girl, but she’s my full time lover now.” So yeah.
But then Lee wails: “There’s one thing I want to say right now!” And:
I went down to St. James Infirmary Asked was my baby there. He said “No sir.” I said, “Well, she must be somewhere.”
There’s a horn riff under this, which repeats while he zags off onto two more verses about finding his baby, who decides to come home. Later he declares that he’s happy about that.
This obviously has very little to do with “SJI,” but it’s pretty fascinating nonetheless — a real cut-and-paste moment, just tossing in the line about going down to St. James Infirmary, and proceeding to move things in an amusing different direction. He went down to St. James Infirmary — and his baby wasn’t there! Of all the variations I’ve come upon, that one somehow strikes me as the most hilariously subversive bait-and-switch version yet!
A couple of years ago I did some research into the song "St. James Infirmary," wrote up what I found, emailed that essay to friends and posted it on my web site (as part of a series of "Letters From New Orleans," as I was living in that city at the time). Based on the feedback, I wrote a second version of the essay, and asked for more feedback. Based on that, I wrote a third version.
And now, this site: A place to collect some of the links, leads, thoughts, and suggestions relating to the song that readers (from Finland, The Netherlands, Australia, Spain, England, Sweden, Canada, and all over the U.S.) have sent me. This may lead to a fourth and significantly expanded version of the essay, some day. Also on this site: Plenty of tangents.
The most recent version of my "St. James Infirmary" essay is now a few years old. But it's still a fairly decent overview of what I know about the song, and why I'm interested in it. You can read it either in the book Letters from New Orleans (see below), or in the archives of The Gambit, the New Orleans weekly that published the piece as a book excerpt when LfNO came out.
This site is a partial spinoff of the book Letters from New Orleans, published by the unstoppable Garrett County Press. My interest in "St. James Infirmary" is the subject of one essay in the book. All author proceeds from the book still go to post-Katrina relief efforts, so I think it's okay for me to say: You ought to buy it.
In November 2007 I was invited to do an all-"SJI" episode of the outstanding Podcast The Sounds In My Head. My episode is here. Post about it (with playlist, so, you know, spoiler alert) is here.
I either own or am familiar with a bunch of versions of S.J.I. and close variations by a variety of artists. Here's a list, in progress. For now I'm concentrating on SJI, rather than its folk antecedents or any of the "Streets of Laredo" thread. Title is "St. James Infirmary" or "St. James Infirmary Blues" unless otherwise noted: