Tag: St James Infirmary

Gowns and Needles


So, I was listening to Danny Barker’s version of St. James Infirmary the other day, and I once again came across the line regarding “The Gown Man”, which had previously sparked my interest.

And sure enough my poor dead baby was still laying there with a sheet over her head
(she looked like a gown-man)

After a little google-action, I found this:

The gown man was a bogey man like creature that was talked of in the New Orleans African American community in the early part of the 20th century. He was a white man in some sort of white robes who would snatch you to dissect your body. The tale supposedly arose from avid medical students at Charity Hospital who would snatch bodies for their studies. – Posted at No Notes

This actually reminded me of another story, also from New Orleans, that I’d read on Snopes years ago.

The legend in its current incarnation (teenage girls in darkened theaters jabbed with needles) dates back to a much older non-HIV story, one rampant in the New Orleans area in the 1930s. Toothsome young girls were told to beware of Needle Men. Young ladies were strictly instructed to sit at the end of the aisle in moviehouses, not in the middle, lest they attract the attention of white slavers working in pairs who would sit down beside the girl, one on each side, inject her with morphine, and carry her out of the theatre and into a life of shame.

The New Orleans Needle Men rumor circulated in another form besides the “white slavers after young girls” — others feared these syringe-armed fiends were in fact medical students harvesting cadavers for dissection. Women jabbed by them would quickly succumb to the poison contained in those needles, with their lifeless bodies soon afterwards delivered to a local teaching hospital. Such deadly attacks were said to take place in theaters, but also on the street.

I actually wrote a story regarding The Needle Men after originally reading the Snopes article, but it’s probably best left in the dusty bin of my juvenilia.

Found at http://johnedwinmason.typepad.com

So Sweet, So Cold, So Fair

Bogart apparently used to say that the Academy Awards were rigged, that to make judging fair every actor and actress should have to play Hamlet.

Which isn’t to say that I use it as some sort of competitive rating system, but I’ve had a long love affair with the song “St. James Infirmary Blues”, largely because of the difference in style each musician brings to the classic.

From the wikipedia:

“St. James Infirmary Blues” is based on an 18th century traditional English folk song called “The Unfortunate Rake” (also known as “The Unfortunate Lad” or “The Young Man Cut Down in His Prime”). There are numerous versions of the song throughout the English-speaking world.

The first I was familiar with was actually the Cab Calloway version:


It wasn’t long after that though that I stumbled into the most famous version, Louis Armstrong’s, with that long low note in the opening:


Eric Burdon and the Animals bring a White-guy-blues melodrama angle, but in my opinion the backup vocals take a lot of the fun out of it:


Joe Cocker does a nice job of giving it that ’70s blues twist:


Jack White of The White Stripes belts out my favourite modern rendition:


In the end though, it’s tough to beat the simplicity and lyrical embellishment of Danny Barker’s version: