Crying Like The Wind

Who (or what) is Stella Blue?  Is this like the sled Rosebud in the movie Citizen Kane?  Stella is Latin for star, however Stella was an American guitar brand owned by the Oscar Schmidt Company that was founded around 1899.  The Stella brand consists of low and mid-level stringed instruments.  Quite a few of the pre-war blues musicians used Stellas, basically because they didn’t have money to throw around on expensive guitars.  Stella guitars were played by notable artists, including Robert Johnson, Lead Belly, Blind Blake, Blind Willie McTell, Charlie Patton, Doc Watson, Pink Anderson, Elvis Presley, B.B. King and Willie Nelson learned to play on one.  Stella was acquired by the Harmony Company in 1939.  I imagine that it is possible that Stella could have manufactured a guitar with a blue finish.  Stella is a guitar in this song not a girl and I am not sure if it fits my current theme of writing about songs with a girl’s name in the title.

Stella guitars were manufactured in Jersey City, New Jersey and it seems very likely to me that some girl in Jersey City could have been named Stella, and this company could have been named after her, so this song might be about a girl after all.  B.B. King called his guitar Lucille and this makes it entirely possible for someone to name their guitar Stella.  B.B King ran into a burning building caused by a fight between two men to save his guitar.  The men were fighting over a lady named Lucille and B.B King named his guitar after her as a reminder to never fight over a woman or run into burning buildings and he also wrote a song about his guitar titled ‘My Lucille’.

Jerry Garcia ranks #46 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.  Jerry Garcia also won awards for Musician of the Year and Best Guitarist in 1988 at the Bay Area Music awards.  Some amazing songs were written about guitars, like Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B. Goode’, George Harrison’s ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, Foreigner’s ‘Juke Box Hero’ and Bon Jovi’s ‘Wanted Dead Or Alive’ among many others.  I found a website that listed 56 songs about guitars and I was disappointed because ‘Stella Blue’ was not on the list and IMHO this is a great guitar song.

‘Stella Blue’ has lyrics by Robert Hunter and music by Jerry Garcia and it was released on Wake of the Flood, the Grateful Dead’s sixth studio album in October 1973.  ‘Stella Blue’ is a lovely unique mood piece unlike any other song that the Dead played, being one of the finest ballads that Garcia and Hunter ever produced.  ‘Stella Blue’ is one of the most emotional songs that the Grateful Dead did, as it conveys heartbreaking anguish wrapped up in a wonderful dreamy melancholy tune.  A lot musicians used to stay at the Chelsea Hotel in New York like Jimi Hendrix, Patti Smith and Bob Marley and other celebrities like Andy Warhol, Jack Kerouac and Jackson Pollock.  Hunter wrote the lyrics to this song while he was staying at the Chelsea, years before Garcia composed the music to go along with them.

Writer Thomas Wolfe spent the last few years of his life at the Chelsea before he died in 1938.  Dylan Thomas stayed in room 205 at the Chelsea hotel when he died in 1953.  William Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch there in 1959.  Arthur Miller stayed at the Chelsea after he and Marilyn Monroe divorced in 1961.  Leonard Cohen wrote ‘Chelsea hotel #2’ in 1974 which was about a tryst that he had with Janis Joplin when he was there.  Bob Dylan wrote ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ in 1976 while he was staying at the Chelsea.  In 1978, Sid Vicious was accused of killing his girlfriend Nancy Spungen when she was found dead at the Chelsea HotelMadonna took the photographs for her infamous 1992 book Sex at this hotel.

The guy in this song seems to be down and out on his luck, regretting the mistakes that he made in his past and all these years seem to have combined and melted into a dream.  He hears a broken angel singing from a guitar.  Garcia took great pride in his guitars, and although he played many in his career, there are five that are truly noteworthy which are named Alligator, Wolf, Tiger, Rosebud and Lighting Bolt.  It was Graham Nash who gave Garcia’s customized 1957 Fender Stratocaster the name Alligator.  Garcia had an instrument built by Doug Irwin which had the Wolf logo incorporated into its design.  Irwin went all out on the next guitar that he created for Garcia spending six full years making the guitar known as Tiger.  Irwin created Rosebud next for Garcia which was a twin of Tiger, though it was two pounds lighter.  Lightning Bolt was created by yacht builder Stephen Cripe.

The guy may have been lonely for quite some time and he is reflecting on his life when he says, “In the end there’s just a song Comes crying like the wind Through all the broken dreams And vanished years Stella Blue” which is probably saying that his life was not full of great accomplishments, but he always had his guitar around to keep him satisfied.  He goes on singing, “When all the cards are down There’s nothing left to see There’s just the pavement left”, probably because this guitarist lived his life as a gambler and he feels that he can hit the road at a moment’s notice.  “Down every lonely street That’s ever been”, he was able to hang on to Stella Blue, his most prized possession.

He says, “I’ve stayed in every blue-light cheap hotel Can’t win for trying Dust off those rusty strings just One more time Gonna make em shine.”  He has had a rough life and this is what the blues are all about and he feels like he just can’t win no matter what he does.  His trusty guitar is always there to remind who he is supposed to be and all he has to do is dust it off a bit and he can make it shine again.  His life is sad but he takes it in stride saying, “It all rolls into one And nothing comes for free There’s nothing you can hold For very long.”  He has this glass is half full optimistic attitude, because he is getting fulfillment from his guitar.  The song ends with him saying, “It seems like all this life Was just a dream Stella Blue”, as his guitar was the only thing that kept him from being disconnected and confused, which is sometimes called dissociative thinking.

All the years combine
They melt into a dream
A broken angel sings
From a guitar
In the end there’s just a song
Comes crying like the wind
Through all the broken dreams
And vanished years

Stella Blue
When all the cards are down
There’s nothing left to see
There’s just the pavement left
And broken dreams
In the end there’s still that song
Comes crying like the wind
Down every lonely street
That’s ever been

Stella Blue
I’ve stayed in every blue-light cheap hotel
Can’t win for trying
Dust off those rusty strings just
One more time
Gonna make em shine
It all rolls into one
And nothing comes for free
There’s nothing you can hold
For very long
And when you hear that song
Come crying like the wind
It seems like all this life
Was just a dream
Stella Blue

10 thoughts on “Crying Like The Wind

  1. I can’t imagine six full years. I would imagine Jerry was telling him different things to try…and it could have been some trial and error to it. Phil Lesh’s 70’s bass is complicated, to say the least. He had a knob for everything…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes and I would have loved to have heard them when they had the Wall of Sound because he had a speaker for each string. You may have seen them with that setup.

        Liked by 1 person

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