Inquiries into the early years of SJI
Showing posts with label NOnotes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NOnotes. Show all posts

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Mysterious E and SJI


Many familiar with this site are also familiar with NO Notes - the other (presently paused) blog dedicated to St. James Infirmary and created by author Rob Walker. In NONotes, which I followed assiduously, Rob often referred to a person called "E."

E?

E was a mystery.

A little later Pam and I read Walker's book "Letters from New Orleans" (profits going to victims of hurricane Katrina). Before Pam and I were finally able to travel to New Orleans, we read a lot of books about the place. As it turned out, Walker's was the best of the lot. A good read, in Letters from New Orleans the mysterious E kept popping up. Who the heck is E???? I became convinced that she went deep, beneath the waves.

I stumbled upon something unexpected, as these web searches go. E once lived in Savannah, Georgia, near military bases. She saw soldiers in shops, on the street, some recently returned from Iraq or Afghanistan. The artist in her must have asked, "How do you represent these people as individuals?"




Have you seen 19th century photographs, in which the subjects stare seriously back at the camera? In those days a portrait required a long exposure. One minute. Two minutes. It is almost impossible to hold a smile for that long. And so our ancestors appear to have been somber people. Photographically, a smile was a rare thing. In photos of civil war soldiers, they had this same demeanour ... although one could ask if they had much to smile about, anyway. Today, of course, we can take a dozen photos a second, and then choose the most attractive - perhaps a transitional expression. I would argue that the held pose, in which one does not move for a minute or so, is more resonant. More representative of the person. More revealing of the subject, more responsive than is possible with our digital fastness. You can't pretend for that long.




E used 19th century photo techniques to portray 21st century soldiers.


Eventually Pam and I met E. She and Rob were living in New Orleans. We knocked ... she answered. E. The mysterious E stood in the doorway and ushered us in.

Of course we chatted about St. James Infirmary. E cued up The White Stripes.



Sometime during the evening I asked her for her favourite recording of St. James Infirmary. She said something, I said something, and afterwards neither of us remembered. But, when I wrote to her later, she did recall the Hot Eight performing the song in New Orleans ... "I have a vivid memory of that performance and song. It was skillful, raw, and moving, in part because the performers were so young, so local, and so convincing in the way they sold the song. It was a magical, divey, sweaty evening. I don't think hearing a recording would have the same effect, but if a live performance can be said top be a favourite, I guess I could go with that."

So, here's the official video of Hot 8 - of course not what E experienced in a live performance. But you'll get an impression.



E & SJI.

Depth and mystery.


Some of E's collodion images have been selected for display, at huge size, in The National Museum of the United States Army, in Virginia. Slated to open in June, 2020. here's a rendering of the "Army and Society" section of the museum, where E's portraits will be featured..

Some of E's collodion portraits in the projected "Army & Society" space at the museum



Brilliant


All collodion images courtesy of Ellen Susan

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Blues in da fog - striding into the present

I don't usually do this. In fact, this is the first time. Taking a giant step into the present, I mean.

This site concerns itself with the early days of "St. James Infirmary" - mostly the first three decades of the last century. After all, this blog is subtitled "Inquiries in to the early years of SJI." And I want to keep it's focus sharp, well defined.

For a more inclusive overview of the song - that is, embracing the whole gamut from ancient to contemporary - nobody can better the web's premiere St. James Infirmary website, Rob Walker's NO NOTES. NO NOTES, in fact, is where this particular posting most appropriately belongs.

Still, today I can't help myself. I recently received a note that read: "Hi we are a french band and this is our version of saint james infirmary, please tell us what you think."

Well, the fact is that I really like this. Don't expect to fully understand the lyrics on first listen. The vocalist leans heavily on her vowels, playing her voice like a reed instrument. While the photograph above this post shows four people, this (very well executed - it's lovely to look at) single-camera video shows six musicians, all of whom are fully engaged in the music.

Blues in da fog brings it all together in a wonderful jumbo of sound, a kind of sculpture in song.
If this is evidence of the evolution of the song, give us more!

(May, 2013) I have found that since this posting the YouTube video has been deleted. In fact, I cannot find a video at all. Instead, I offer a link to a (worthwhile) MySpace sound file. So, travel here, and click on "St. James."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

My interview with Rob Walker on NOnotes

Well, the NOnotes interview has now been posted - in five parts!

The first part can be found here - mostly discussing "Dyin Crapshooter's Blues"
The second part can be found here - regarding AL Lloyd, John and Alan Lomax, The Unfortunate Rake, Iron Head Baker, Leadbelly . . .
The third part can be found here - regarding how Redman brought the song to Armstrong in Chicago
The fourth part can be found here - legal issues and early recordings
The fifth part can be found here - "St. James Infirmary" goes to court

Rob is, to put it mildly, an SJI enthusiast. His questions were probing, a challenge and a delight to answer.

If you are among the few who find this sort of stuff interesting, there's more in the book!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Interviews on NOnotes

I am delighted and flattered to report that the esteemed NOnotes is posting a series of interviews with yours truly. Mr. Walker is a canny interviewer; answering his questions has been an enjoyable challenge. Part 1 can be found here and part 2 here.