Got a nice surprise from Ashley Morris the other day: Another version of “SJI” that I didn’t own. It’s by The Magnificent Sevenths featuring Big Al Carson. (Carson, Mr. Morris says, has a regular gig at the Funky Pirate on Bourbon Street.)
Mr. Morris accurately describes the version as: “Not revolutionary, but not bad.” At nearly six minutes, it’s leisurely, bluesy, and a little melodramatic.
Carson opts for the version of the lyrics in which the singer beholds his deceased lover and declares that he wishes “it were me instead.” (Bobby Bland does it this way, for example) As I’ve said elsewhere, this is more narratively rational than the lyrics as Louis Armstrong and others deliver them — but it’s also not as interesting. I’m partial to those versions in which the singer beholds his late beloved and declares that she’ll “never find another man like me.” It’s a strange thought (insofar as she’s dead, and presumably not looking to play the field), but a magic one. Lots of songs are narratively rational, few have that compelling mystery.
Anyway, what doesn’t make narrative sense in the rational version is why the singer at one point or another starts talking about his wishes for his own funeral. Or it least it usually doesn’t make sense to me.
This time, however, Carson is so wound up and wailingly insistent — he spends almost the entire final minute drawing out these lines: “I wish it were me, it were me lying on that cold white table, my skin so cold so fair, it were meeeeeee … iiiinnnnnn … steaaaaaaaaaaaaad!” — that it gave me pause.
I mean, this guy sounds like he really does wish it were him instead. He sounds like he’s consumed with the idea. Like he can’t stop thinking about it. Like maybe he won’t be able to go on living after delivers that last note, he can’t stand it so much.
No wonder he’s thinking about his funeral arrangements.
Thanks again, Mr. Morris!