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St. James Infirmary and translating Blues
Thread poster: Pablo Cañamares

Pablo Cañamares  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:30
Russian to Spanish
+ ...
Aug 31, 2003

Hello my friends!
I wish you a good Sunday, in which you shake those blues away, and make a little niche in your life to help me with my doubts.

I am quite a blues lover, But since I've been hearing it for a short time, I have a problem: I don't understand some of the references they use.

The particular case is Saint James Infirmary, as sung bye Louis Armstrong.
Please, let me paste the lyrics:

I went down to St. James Infirmary,
Saw my baby there,
Set down 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 look this wide world over,
She'll never find a sweet man like me.

When I die, bury me in straight-leg shoes,
Box back coat and a stetson hat,
Put a 20 dollar gold piece on my watch chain,
So the boys'll know that I died standing pat.

Ok, so can anyone speak out opinions or knowledge about that last paragraph?
Which is the reference or symbolism implicit to those clothes and accesories?
Could it be to be buried dressed as a rich man?

And what does "standing pat" mean?

Thanks in advance for your help.

Again, I hope that you have a great day, that your Mojo works, the God send her back to you, and that you didn't work 5 long years for a woman, etc.etc.

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Juan Jacob  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:30
French to Spanish
+ ...
El blues... Aug 31, 2003

Hola, Pablo, me alegro que traigas el tema a colación... me la cantaba mi papá, cuando era pequeño, y me ponía un viejo disco (ojo, 78 rpm, de medio kilo, con la versión de Armstrong de Saint James... con un solo de trompeta, claro, que te cagas, tío). Seguramente de ahí, años después, me surgió, como a ti, el amor y el blues por el blues, desde Hoolin' Wolf, pasando por el maestro John Lee Hooker, hasta llegar a Jimi Hendrix... bien.

Del último párrafo, puedo decirte que al personaje, claro, lo van a enterrar al más puro estilo New Orleans, es decir, aunque sea pobre, con todas las galas, y seguramente en carroza con media docena de caballos, y acompañado por una banda de música que no tocará más que jazz (hijo citadino del blues rural del Delta del Misisipi, de donde provienen todos los maestros de principio de siglo, eso ya lo sabes.)

-Straight-leg shoes: supongo que polainas, por confirmar.
-Box back coat: a todas luces un abrigo elegante.
-Stetson hat: Stetson es la marca por excelencia de los sombreros más caros y elegantes. Se decía simplemente: un Stetson.
-...a 20 dollar gold piece... se sobreentiende, era toda una fortuna.
-So the boys'll know that I died standing pat: así los muchachos, mis amigos, la sociedad en general, sabrán que morí la frente en alto, o los zapatos bien puestos, o de una pieza, o como todo un hombre, o de cara al sol (ninguna referencia a Franco, ojo) y, sobre todo, fiel al amor que siempre le ha tenido a la difunta, por lo que probablemente murió de pena. (To stand pat = mantenerse firme). Recuerda que la primera parte de la canción es muy trágica: va a ver a su amada al depósito de cadáveres... tan bella, tan fría, tendida en la mesa blanca... y ellos de raza negra... ¡terrible escena!

Ojalá te sirva y que los colegas aporten precisiones... y seguimos en contacto por lo del blues. Te tengo una versión de "Little Red Roaster", con Hoolin' Wolf y los Yardbirds (Eric Clapton, claro), que también te cagas...

Saludo bluesero.

Juan Jacob.

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Susana Galilea  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:30
English to Spanish
+ ...
First things first... Aug 31, 2003

Source: The Collins Concise Spanish Dictionary © 2002 HarperCollins Publishers:

◆ IDIOM: to stand pat (US) mantenerse firme or en sus trece

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Susana Galilea  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:30
English to Spanish
+ ...
there is a longer version! Aug 31, 2003

Hola Pablo!

You should not feel too bad about having a hard time understanding these references. My sweetheart is from Chicago, home of the blues, and he could only give me a faint idea of what the song is about.

I myself was confused at first, since the first paragraph seems to indicate the woman is dead, but the second paragraph talks about how she left...until I found the lyrics to a longer version of the song:

Saint James Infirmary

I went down to St james Infirmary
I saw my sweet heart there
lying on a long white table
so cold so white so fair

I went up to see the doctor
"she's very low" he said
I went back to see my baby
and great god she was lying there dead

I went down to old Joe's bar room
down on the corner by the square
they were serving drink as usual
and the usual crowd was there

on my left stood joe mac keneoy
his eyes were blood shot red
he turned to the crowd around him
and these are the words that he said

go let her go god bless her
where ever she may be
she may search the wide world over
but she'll never find find another man like me

when I die please bury me
in a high top stetson hat
put a gold piece on my watch chain
so the boys will know I died standing pat

get six gamblers to carry my coffin
six chorus girls to sing my song
put a jazz band on my tail gate
to raise hell as we roll a long

this is the end of my story
so let's have another round of booze
and if any one should ask you just tell them
I've got the Saint James Infirm'ry blues

It turns out one man speaks the first paragraph, and a different man speaks the second! The woman in the first paragraph is indeed dead, and the second woman left the guess is the song is so well known, good ol' Satchmo simply sang a few of the paragraphs in between trumpet solos!

As for the clothing, yes I understand it as a description of elegance.

Would you be very envious if I told you I visited Louis Armstrong's home in Queens, New York? Just the outside, really. It will soon open as a museum-house with Armstrong's artifacts. I took a picture of the building, maybe I can scan it for you.

Hope this helped a little!

Saluditos desde Chicago

Susana Galilea

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United States
Local time: 14:30
French to English
+ ...
Funeral clothing and had money Aug 31, 2003

Dear Pablo and Susanna:

I am a big blues fan like both of you.

I think this song gives instructions for funeral clothing and gold piece (to show that he had money)while looking at his woman's dead body.

Read more about it:

Another famous New Orleans celebration is the jazz funeral. When a jazz musician dies, a jazz band marches to the cemetery playing a hymn .
Once the deceased musician is buried, the band leaves the cemetery playing upbeat, happy tunes like "When the Saints Go Marching In." Following closely behind the musicians are the "second line," a group of dancers whose performance makes the musical celebration in honor of the dead even more festive. In the folk song "St. James Infirmary," also known as the "Dying Crapshooter's Blues," a dying musician requests that after his death he be dressed elegantly and given a jazz funeral.

When I die, put me in a long pine box, And dress me in a Stetson hat, Put a gold piece on my watch chain, So the boys will know I'm standing pat. Put a jazz band on my tail gate. Let's raise hell as we travel along.

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Pablo Cañamares  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:30
Russian to Spanish
+ ...
Thanks to everyone Aug 31, 2003


THanks to everyone!
Muchas gracias a todos!

Buah, thank for all the info, I suspected some of the verses, but that was all.

Now, as a recent listener, my blues culture (in fact my musical culture, but I won't bore you with the whys) is pretty limited, so it was fascinating for me to read all that.

Now, por partes:

Amigo Juan:
Me encantaría oirlo! me encantaría oir más y aprender más, así que si, seguiremos en contacto, me encantaría. Yo por mi parte podría conseguirte lo poquito que tengo en mi haber. No se si conoces la "Tonky Blues Band". Unos madrileños con los que me inicié al blues.

Friend Susana:

THank you very much for the longer lirics, I'll enjoy trying to fit them in a longer song.
And I swear I didn't find "standing pat" in the dictionary... oh well

Of course, no need to mention it, I AM envious (envidia sana ) so if you could scan it for me... i dunno, I'll think about something.

And a lot of thanks, Rita, for you explanation of the funeral... pretty lively funerals, don't you think? I'll ask mine to be like that xD

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Jean-Luc Dumont  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:30
English to French
+ ...
It's so petty. And so human. Aug 31, 2003

One reading and understanding of song ...

Mourning is often pure solipsism -- what am I going to do? But the narrator of this song is curiously so stuck up that he feels sorry for his loved one, not because she won't be doing any more breathing, but because she just lost the grace of his presence. It's so petty. And so human.

The next verse omits the dead girl altogether. Now he's imagining his own death, and it couldn't get more selfish. When he sees himself as a corpse, it's as an ad for his own success. He doesn't think about the people or places he'll miss. He wants to be buried in a Stetson hat. "Pin a $20 gold piece on my watch chain," he commands the air, "So the boys will know I died standing fat."

This song gave me the shivers then and it gives me the shivers now. Not just because it's a morgue scene, not just because of the cold body lying there on a table instead of a bed, but because of the chill of the man's words. Hearing it as a young girl, hearing it before I ever fell in love myself, it frightened me because of the way it shoots down the idea of love as a true possibility. If you need love in part to know you'll be missed when you're gone, what does it mean if your sweetheart stands over your icy corpse and -- instead of wishing to rejoin you on some astral plane -- fantasizes about impressing his buddies with a big dumb coin?

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Susana Galilea  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:30
English to Spanish
+ ...
it's in the mail ;) Aug 31, 2003

Pablo, you can send me a message to and I will reply with a photo attachment. (I can't send you the attachment through Proz mail)

If anyone else is interested, you can find all the info at this site

(included is an old picture of the house, but it has not changed that much!)

[Edited at 2003-08-31 23:27]

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St. James Infirmary and translating Blues

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