Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Saint James Infirmary

Well I went down to the Saint James Infirmary,
And I found my baby lying there.
She was stretched out on a long white table,
So sweet, so cold, so fair.

Let her go, let her go, God bless her,
Wherever she may be.
She can search this whole wide world over,
She won't find another sweet man like me.

When I die, put on my straight-leg britches,
My box-back coat, and my Stetson hat.
Put a twenty-dollar gold piece on my watch-chain
So all the boys will know I died standing pat.

And give me six craps-shooting pall-bearers,
Let a chorus girl sing me a song,
Put on a red-hot jazz band;
We raise Hallelujah as we go along.

Well folks, now you have heard my story.
Pour me another shot of that booze,
And if anybody should ask you,
Tell them I've got the Saint James Infirmary Blues.

This famous song -- amazingly kind of a traditional folk melody of the US -- has been performed by many different artists. Below, dressed as Satan for no obvious reason, is a young Danny Elfman having a go at it.

The song seems to be based upon this old English ballad about a man who finds his friend dying of venereal disease:

As I was a-walking down by St. James' Hospital,
I was a-walking down by there one day,
What should I spy but one of my comrades
All wrapped up in flannel though warm was the day.

I asked him what ailed him, I asked him what failed him,
I asked him the cause of all his complaint.
"It's all on account of some handsome young woman,
'Tis she that has caused me to weep and lament.

"And had she but told me before she disordered me,
Had she but told me of it in time,
I might have got pills and salts of white mercury,
But now I'm cut down in the height of my prime.

"Get six young soldiers to carry my coffin,
Six young girls to sing me a song,
And each of them carry a bunch of green laurel
So they don't smell me as they bear me along.

"Don't muffle your drums and play your fifes merrily,
Play a quick march as you carry me along,
And fire your bright muskets all over my coffin,
Saying: There goes an unfortunate lad to his home."

Nevertheless the American version seems to be the standard nowadays. Here's a few minutes of a rather good jazz band I caught in Edinburgh, Scotland, playing it out on the street. They are called TJ Muller and the Dixie Six.

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