Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Blues for Jerry

Today being what would have been the 70th birthday of Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, it should serve as a moment to remember and celebrate his musical achievements, and also to reflect upon a life cut short, much too soon, due to drug abuse. If there's a lesson to be learned from his passing 17 years ago from a heart attack in which drug addiction (including cigarettes), diabetes, obesity, and sleep apnea all played a role, it's that these all are medical problems, not law enforcement issues.  

But leaving aside the illogical nature of just say no and just say go (to jail) policies, the bittersweet quality of this occasion brings to mind, for me, the song that I consider to be his signature performance piece. Although there were many that were better known, such as "Friend of the Devil," "Casey Jones," and of course "Truckin'," in my opinion nothing better showcases Jerry Garcia's unique quality as a musician, his style and his sensibility, that the song "Stella Blue," especially in live performance.

This high quality YouTube video was uploaded by , featuring a tasteful set of still images, mostly photographs featuring Garcia, and a "soundboard recording of a *gorgeous* Stella performed @ the Auditorium Theater in Chicago, May 13, 1977" according to the write-up.

The lyrics were written by poet and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter:

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 cryin' up the night
Thru 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 cryin' like the wind.
Down every lonely street that's ever been
Stella Blue.

Ive stayed in every blue-light cheap hotel, can't win for trying.
Dust off those rusty strings just one more time,
Gonna make them shine, 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.

It's a melancholy song, but as I tried to explain, I think this is a melancholy day when it is possible to consider what might have been as well as what was.  But I do think that, for anyone wondering what all the fuss is about concerning Jerry Garcia, this video would be a great way to being to answer that question.

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