The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #46310   Message #3889795
Posted By: GUEST,Karen
22-Nov-17 - 01:47 PM
Thread Name: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues
Subject: RE: Origin: Saint James Infirmary Blues

* On the pimp question.

As has probably been said, this is about a verse in the Armstrong version which appears to have been added, almost like a 'floating verse' might be in both the folk tradition (on some accounts) and the blues tradition (on most accounts).

If I am right, in the Armstrong version, the verse is as follows:

Let her go, let her go, God bless here
Wherever she may be
She may search the whole world over
She'll never find another sweet man like me.

Many people have commented on how odd it makes the song feel - a dead girl searching the world for another 'sweet man'. I think Harwood in his book comments on the narrator's 'pathological self regard'.

Harwood found what a version of this verse in a turn-of-century Harvard Song Book. It comes from a completely different song, which has various names (we are getting used to this!).

Something similar appears in the Sandburg book American Song bag, which was widely used as a source by Tin Pan Alley songwriters.

The verse in question, from a song set in St Joe's Infirmary is

Let her go, let her go God bless her
Wherever she may be
There'll never be another like her,
There'll never be another for me.

As usual, there are various versions of the 'original song', but not all of them include the words 'sweet man'. One title of the original is 'Dear Companion', which can be looked up in the Fresno Song Index. That song starts like this:

They say true love is a blessing,
But the blessing I never could see,
For the only girl I ever loved
Has done gone back on me.

She’s gone, let her go, God bless her,
For she’s mine wherever she may be,
You may roam this wide world all over,
But you’ll never find a friend like me.

So it is possible that the words 'sweet man' were introduced deliberately. If you look at the content of the funeral request from the Armstrong version, and in one of the Sandburg versions, the jazz band, chorus girls and gambling context and the booze all refer to the underworld of the 1920s. This was the era of prohibition, after all. It is like a St Orleans jazz funeral mixed up with a big gangster funeral of the time.

It is said that the word 'sweet man' is underworld slang for a pimp.
I don't have a dictionary of Black American slang but I did find an online one which said that this usage was known in the Caribbean.

Given this piece of information, and the contextual information about the smart dressing character, I think the pimp interpretation is a valid one, though who knows what was in the mind of whoever threw together the lyrics for the Armstrong recording.

I don't think this line of thought can be dismissed as a 21st century bit of academicism: have a look at the character portrayed by Cab Calloway here. Shiftiness incarnated, and a brilliant interpretation/characterisation:

As it happens, on the actual words of St James' Infirmary, I can find no explicit hints about 'clap'. I think perhaps we are reading this into the song because we have decided it comes from The Unfortunate Lad.

* On Shakespeare being 'humble son of a glove maker': I like the assonance and rhythm here. Nicely put. But his father was middle class, and so was Shakespeare. (Ben Elton's latest brilliant comedy notwithstanding)

A well-to-do glover and whittawer (leather worker) by trade, Shakespeare was a dealer in hides and wool, and was elected to several municipal offices, serving as an alderman and culminating in a term as bailiff, the chief magistrate of the town council, and Mayor of Stratford in 1568, before he fell on hard times for reasons unknown.[3] His fortunes later revived and he was granted a coat of arms five years before his death, probably at the instigation and expense of his playwright son as well as his contributions in civic duty.

* On sheath and knife as 'brilliant sexual metaphor': well, yes if you were, for example, writing a first-person noire thriller narrative. Otherwise &ZZ%^$£^*&*&XX!

* On the relationship between oral and print traditions: I'm not certain one can make too many broad generalisations, but I did find this an interesting outline of some of the issues. I've come across several discussions of this sort, with various positions taken. It may be 'donnish 'but it is interesting. And peer reviewed. What he says about the blind man and the elephant is spot on, I thought.

Intro to Vic Gammon

But probably all that should be for another thread?

Thank you for reading this far.