St James Infirmary, Sadness, Laughter, and Louis Armstrong

See below arrows, either of which when pressed or clicked will treat the reader/listener to a stirring rendition of St. James Infirmary, one played by Bumba alone yesterday, and the other played by Bumba and Maybank last week. We always play that song because it’s such fun.

St. James Infirmary is a great song to play and sing. Please sing along.

Now how, you ask, can a blunt and candid song about death be fun to sing? I’m not exactly sure – and I welcome explanations as to why it is –  but it definitely is true that sad songs, as Elton John puts it “mean so much”.

I went down to St. James infirmary/ Saw my baby there/ She was stretched out on a long, white table/ So cold/ So young/ So bare.


George Packard, retired schoolteacher, also wondered about the joy that was contained in sad songs. Perhaps there was a relief that the tragedy occurred to someone else and not to one’s self – like a roller coaster ride where you think you’re going to die and then you’re exuberant that you’re still alive.

What is it about humor, thought George, that cuts through to the quick – that captures our pain and suffering and releases it with a laugh? How can one laugh at death and sorrow? Well, we can, and clearly there is a beauty to this confrontation, an epiphany. Arthur Koestler describes humor as a bit of genius, as a contact with the divine spirit. Humor is quite an interesting psychological phenomenon, one which almost defies analysis. George recalled all the dull, un-funny analyses of humor he’d suffered through over the years. George, by the way, also liked the song St. James Infirmary and thought that Louis Armstrong’s version was the best he’d heard.

One thought on “St James Infirmary, Sadness, Laughter, and Louis Armstrong

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s