Archive for the ‘Non-musical context’ Category

Sorry to have been so quiet here. Lots going on. And a backlog of “SJI” versions etc. to report on soon.

Short-term: A while ago I mentioned Louis Armstrong’s visual art. Well, there’s a book about that out this month:

Satchmo: The Wonderful World and Art of Louis Armstrong is a biography in the form of an art book. It tells the story of Armstrong’s life through his writings, scrapbooks, and artworks, many of which have never been published before.

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This article, “Live Not-So-Nude Girls,” mentions Charlotte Treuse, the Portland burlesque performer whose “SJI” fan dance I linked to the other day.

It explains that “Portland’s unique love affair with strip clubs is usually blamed for keeping a true burlesque subculture from establishing itself here as it has in other cool, cosmopolitan cities like San Francisco and Seattle. We are years behind the trend.” But now, apparently, there are multiple burlesque shows, and even a burlesque nine-week course for those who want to learn the “proper way to take it all off.”

“When you go to a strip club, you go for TA. That’s it,” says Sahara Dunes, the founder of Burly Girl Productions and namesake of Professor Sahara’s University of Burlesque. She started producing shows in the lean days of 2004, when she got out of the Army (trained as a nurse in a combat support hospital, she is an expert in grenades, M16s, and dismantling another human being with her bare hands—hot). “Some of the strip clubs have really good performers who are really talented; they can dance and do tricks on the pole and all that kind of stuff. A burlesque show is more about the art of the tease. Honestly, you can take one glove off and that’s your show.”

Or, say, straddle a carousel pony, or ride around on roller skates, or shoot fire from your boobs. Not surprisingly, the members of Portland’s burlesque community take that open definition and run with it. Some are purists: aforementioned equestrian Charlotte Treuse also does a classy, beguiling version of the classic feather dance to “St. James Infirmary Blues.”

Interestingly, Rosemarie Harmon, the former September Rose, who I Q&A’d earlier about her own burlesque performance to “SJI,” as an exotic dancer back in the late 1960s-early 1970s, was actually based in Portland back then. An excerpt (click here to read the whole Q&A):

Q: Was “St. James Infirmary” a good pick for a burlesque performance?
A: It was usually used for what was then called “floor work,” or a “floor routine”. (Now it is referred to as a “floor show”, which used to mean the entire revue, musicians, chorus girls, singers, the works.) Anyway, as a dirge with a sensual and sorrowful tone, this piece was a natural for the way floor routines were done when exotic dancers posed on fur rugs and couches and used other props during their floor work. This floor work was the /last/ number, the finale, done in a languid, graceful way. There was never any hopping up and down to grab a buck because dancers didn’t work for tips at that time. Pole dancing was a future event.

[Pianist] Mother Light and I mused that “St. James Infirmary” was also about death: “…and I saw my baby there… stretched out on a long white table, so pale, so cold, and so fair…” We thought that death, the long sleep, and the long white limbs of a stripper who was doing her finale (and most strippers were white at that time; women of color were referred to as “novelty acts”) — a dancer so passively displayed probably had a huge appeal to men who were habitués of these skin palaces. They came to see females who were the antithesis of modern woman: no voice, presumably no education, naked and physically vulnerable. Although not necessarily available–which is another theory altogether.

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Can we find a link between the inauguration and “SJI”? Yes we can!

Ahem. Anyway, you will recall that in many versions of the tune, the singer requests that before burial he be dressed in, among other sartorial requests, a Stetson hat. If you don’t recall that, here’s an earlier post, also noting the pivotal role of a Stetson in “Stagolee.”

Stetson is still around of course, even if that style of hat is no longer quite so widely worn — supposedly the hat-wearing habits of male professionals nose-dived after JFK’s hat-free inaugural speech. Whether or not that’s true, Stetson is keying of Obama-mania with its new collection: The Presidential Hat. More to the point, the company is apparently behind this site: www.hatforobama.com.

BrandFreak says:

The Denver-based company says it will dispatch a writer/director named Josh Shayne to Washington for the inauguration on Tuesday, where he will “attempt to hand-deliver this Stetson hat to Obama with the hope that he will wear it,” according to the press release.

Good luck with that.

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For a long time I’ve touted no notes as the world’s only known one-song blog. I can’t do that anymore — but that’s okay. It’s okay because it’s still the oldest such blog, and because the new entry in the category is an excellent one, by a respected friend of no notes — and it’s about “St. James Infirmary”!

That’s right, Robert W. Harwood, who as I mentioned earlier has a book called I Went Down To St. James Infirmary about to come out any second now, has started a blog at:


Posts so far include an old advertisement for the release of Armstrong’s “SJI,” as well as a thumbnail on Irving Mills (who claimed writing credit for “SJI” under the pseudonym Joe Primrose). Definitely worth checking out and keeping an eye on!

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Perhaps you’ll recall Koko, the clown, mentioned here in the past for his role in the famous (and not just to me) Max Fleischer cartoon starring Betty Boop and Cab Calloway’s rendition of “SJI.” (Koko also got a shout-out on the White Stripes cover of the tune.)

And perhaps you’ll thus be interested to note, as I was, that an old Koko The Klown original pen-and-ink drawing used for a Sunday newspaper publication just sold at auction for $42,000.

Here’s the interesting bit of the story:

[Fleischer, while working for another firm] introduced the world to a new animation technique called rotoscoping, which involved creating especially realistic movement by drawing animation on top of frames from live action film. From this technique came the 1918 premiere of the part live-action/part animation “Out of the Inkwell” series of shorts, featuring none other than Koko the Klown. The “Inkwell” series’ success led to Fleischer’s decision to go independent, taking Koko with him.

So there  you go: Koko,  who “sang” (or was a vehicle for Calloway’s singing of) “SJI” is an important figure in the history of animation! Who knew?

Also regarding the name:

Many have long believed that the animated clown was always known as Koko, but in the beginning the character was only known as “The Fleischer Clown” or just simply “The Clown.” …

Through his animated golden age, Koko was generally known as Koko the Clown. The definitive spelling “Klown” came about when Koko became a comic strip character in 1934

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On the WFMU blog, the always awesome Doug Schulkind writes:

Another lesser-known fact about [Louis] Armstrong is that he toted reel-to-reel recording decks with him everywhere. With them he committed to tape concerts, conversations, his own playing and talking, audio flotsam from the Satchmo Universe.

Even more impressive, Armstrong adorned the audio tape boxes with alluring and vivid Romare Bearden–esque collages layering photos, news clippings, concert programs, handwritten captions and other graphic elements. Armed with scotch tape and scissors, Armstrong spent countless hours entertaining himself, squirreled away in the den of his home in Corona, Queens, making visual music.

Check out a few samples of Armstrong’s (visual) art here.

And there are some audio clips from the above-mentioned home taping here. I’ve just begun to listen to the clips, but so far they’re all short. Interesting though. If I find anything particularly worth hearing, I’ll report back.

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Wednesday night here in Savannah there was a showing of the Todd Haynes movie I’m Not There — his wild riff on the idea of Bob Dylan, using six different actors to portray aspects of Dylan-ness — at a coffee shop here, courtesy of The Psychotronic Film Society. It was pretty crowded, kind of too warm, and not the perfect night for me to spend two-plus hours in a wooden chair. But still. Interesting movie.

I bring it up because I was interested that the film included Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell,” which as readers of my original SJI essay know, is an interesting song document in the history of SJI. The visuals it played against were largely evocative of late-Civil Rights era violence. Make of that what you will.

Also, one of the Dylan versions, the one played by Cate Blanchett, in a soliloquy, dropped the line “mystery is a traditional fact,” a Dylan-ism I mused about here.

If you see, or have seen, the film, let me know what you make of it. I’ll admit straight out that it didn’t totally connect with me, but that I think that may have had more to do with my state of mind at the time than the film itself.

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