Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Alternate Lyrics

Fittingly enough, given the song’s history, many people have futzed with, altered, and otherwise played around with the lyrics in performing “St. James Infirmary.” Here are a couple of examples.

Joe R., of Denver, happened upon version two of the SJI essay and wrote in to tell how he used to perform the song with his traditional jazz band, The Boom Town Stompers, in Denver, in the 1980s. “In my own version,” he says, “I inserted the following lyric, as a segue between Big Joe McKenndy's viewing of the corpse and anticipating his own funeral. (Remember how much Tom Sawyer relished attending his own funeral?).”

“Now as I watched her lyin' there
On that stone-cold marble slab
I got to thinkin’ bout my own wicked ways
And how I been so bad.

“(or, ‘How I been so good and bad’!).”

* *

Separately, Lori R., of North Carolina, wrote in to share the following quotation from something called “The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture”:

“Although jazz has long outgrown its folk roots and modern progressive jazz has become America’s most sophisticated popular music, Dixieland jazz is still heard widely. Dixieland is associated with New Orleans, and some of its original performers can still be heard at the city’s Preservation Hall night club. Jazz funerals are a familiar tradition in New Orleans. When a musician dies, a jazz band plays a slow dirge as mourners march to the cemetery. After the burial, the band leaves the cemetery playing fast-tempo pieces, recalling the dying musician’s request in the St. James Infirmary: ‘Put a jazz band on my tailgate, and let’s raise hell as we travel along.’”

I was not familiar with that particular variation, but it certainly seems in keeping with the spirit of the song.