All good things come to an end.

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.

  1. For quite some time now, I’ve just been too distracted by other projects to give this blog its due.
  2. 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.

  1. These days, I collect links and images and thoughts related to the idea of place (New Orleans included) at lettersfromhere.tumblr.com.
  2. 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.
  3. As some of you know, my day job boils down to writing about design/marketing/consumer culture/whatever. If you’re interested in that, please check out my blog on Design Observer; my MTKG Tumblr; and the Consumed Facebook page;
  4. 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.
  5. Other, smaller side efforts include Things That Look Like Other Things, a Tumblr; and Google Image Search Results, also a Tumblr, though that project may have other iterations in the future.
  6. 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.
  7. Finally: The Consumed/Rob Walker email newsletter RW Quarterly Report is perhaps the best way to stay in touch with whatever it is I am doing now, and will do in the future.

And obviously, if none of that is of any interest, then I wish you nothing but the fondest of farewells! Bye!


“Let Her Go” (cont’d)

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 me quite a bit 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!



Six years!

So here’s a fun fact: the no notes blog has been around in one form or another (it was originally a blogger-blog, not a wordpress-blog) since October 2005!

Obviously this would be more impressive if I posted more diligently. But, you know, trying to making a living and all that — takes up a lot of time these days.

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it, but I’ve lately been using Tumblr a lot, and this one might be of interest: http://lettersfromhere.tumblr.com/.

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!

A curious coincidence:

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.

Doug Schulkind, who in addition to being the proprietor of the astonishing Give The Drummer Some WFMU show & 24-7 online steaming station is a consistently invaluable source of SJI-ness, passed along another fascinating variation not long ago. Actually it probably was fairly long ago now. But never mind.

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!

Some weeks back, friend of no notes Marc “Disquiet” Weidenbaum alerted me to a forthcoming version of “SJI,” from Hugh Laurie — a name, I must admit, that meant nothing to me. But as you may know, it’s a name that plenty of people do recognize, even if they don’t associate it with music: Laurie is an actor, probably best known (in the U.S.) as the star of the popular TV show House. His record, Let Them Talk, is billed as a blues collection, with an emphasis on New Orleans influences. Aside from “SJI,” he sings “Tipitina” and “Buddy Bolden’s Blues,” among others; guests on the record include Irma Thomas and Dr. John. (The best overview of the album I’ve seen is this Mail Online piece.) Albums recorded by actors-not-previously-known-for-singing frequently get knocked around in the press, or ignored. That does not appear to be the case with this one, at least in the UK. (It doesn’t seem to have been released in the U.S. yet, as I type this.)  The Yorker: “The first track, ‘St James Infirmary’, immediately shows the adeptness of Laurie’s musical nature. He makes the piano sing, life flowing out into the stillness of the moment, and a pleasure to listen to.” The Independent: “Usually, actors’ albums should be avoided as carefully as pop stars’ movies; but Hugh Laurie’s New Orleans tribute Let Them Talk may be the exception that proves the rule. “Apparently the public is going along with these views, putting Laurie, not long ago, into a UK chart battle with Adele! You can hear Laurie’s take on “SJI” here. It’s billed as being “in two parts,” lasting a total of nearly six and a half minutes. The first part is instrumental, largely focused on Laurie’s own piano playing, gradually joined by other instruments and working its way to a fairly bombastic (to my ears) crescendo; frankly the restrained guitar sounds better to me than the hammering piano. Then it pivots to the second part: a swingy approach, designed to highlight Laurie’s singing. The lyrics follow the most common pattern, no trickiness there — very straight. I like the arrangement in the second part better; Laurie’s voice is interesting, if not exactly charismatic (again, to my ears). Taken together it’s a very respectable version, but nothing I’d call special. By way of HughLaurieBlues.com, I also found this video in which Laurie and producer Joe Henry talk about their approach to “SJI,” apparently the first thing they recorded. It’s pretty standard “behind the scenes” fare, but Laurie is so serious, it’s really rather sweet:

Fire and destruction

Sorry for the melodramatic headline. But “coupla stray notes” didn’t seem adequate.

First: Shortly after returning from our trip to N.O. in connection with the very enjoyable Hypothetical Development Organization opening, I was pleased to receive in the mail the book Louisiana Rambles: Exploring America’s Cajun and Creole Heartland, by Ian McNulty. I managed to sped a bit of time with it this weekend, and enjoyed what I read quite a bit. There’s a piece about the holiday bonfires upriver (also subject of an essay in LfNO), and a nice travelogue about the Angola rodeo — something we attended and I always wish I had written about… but I never did. There are also several pieces about exploring the musical culture of regions around N.O. that I haven’t yet read but am really looking forward to, because those are adventures we never quite found time for during our time in the area.

Anyway I intend to make more use of Mr. McNulty’s observations and explorations on our next trip to Louisiana.

Second note: Another essay in LfNO, which I’ve referred back to often, concerned Claiborne Avenue and I-10. I’ve mentioned there’s talk of somehow reverting this area to some sort of pre-Interstate version of itself (presumably by destroying the freeway, that’s my excuse for the “destruction” headline), but I see from this T-P article that the current state of things is that a study is still being planned. There’s something very New Orleans about that…

“Implausible Futures For Unpopular Places”
Gallery Du Mois, 4921 Freret St., New Orleans
April 7 – May 7, 2011
Opening reception April 9


The project seems to pose the question: If we can dream this big on paper, then what else could happen?

–Mimi Zeiger, Design Observer: Places

The Hypothetical Development Organization presents a new form of urban storytelling — what Bruce Sterling calls “architecture fiction.”

Borrowing the form of the traditional real-estate development sign, H.D.O and its contributing artists devise and depict engaging, provocative, amusing, and above all implausible future uses for neglected-looking properties. Ten of these unlikely notions — The Museum of the Self, The Loitering Centre, the SnoozerDome, The Radtke Reading Room, Karmalot, and more — have appeared on 3’X5′ signs around New Orleans.

See all of them at Du Mois — plus two new, never-before-seen Hypothetical Developments.

Works by John Becker, Candy Chang, Mark Clayton, Carey Clouse, Michael Doyle, Mauricio Espinosa, Christina Hilliard, Kirsten Hively, Nicole Lavelle, Sergio Humberto Padilla, Dave Pinter, Lauren Stewart, Meg Turner, and the SVA Masters in Branding Class of 2011

Project founders G.K. Darby, Ellen Susan, and Rob Walker will be on hand at the opening, along with several of our contributing artists. Facebook Event page here: http://on.fb.me/HypoDevReception

As seen in Boing Boing: “Hypothetical Development Organization’s real estate fictions.” Good: “Fake Realtors Imagine Artistic Uses for Neglected Buildings.” NOLA Defender: “City of Memes.” And more: from PSFK, Swiss Miss, Core 77, Design Observer, Good Magazine, Josh Spear, Aesthetics of Joy, Archetizer, Huffington Post, Coudal.com, HiLobrow, Unbeige, Bookslut, The Architects Newspaper Blog.

“This must be the closest thing to an architecture-fiction ‘pure play’ to have yet appeared.” — Bruce Sterling


Images of renderings and installations here and here.