Annotations and Interpretations: Stella Blue

Stella Blue. It’s a beautiful ballad. It harkens back to shows I’d see over the summer of 2017, with warm summer nights, and seemingly everyone slowing down and stopping what they’re doing to sit and listen. People in the Dead scene really do care about the music; they’ll stand for dance numbers, hush for the ballads, and always a raucous applause following the music. Stella Blue is one of those numbers where the crowd hushes, where many cease conversation, and sit and truly listen to the music with little distraction. So what makes this slow-moving, timeless song so serene and pleasurable upon one’s ears? Let's break it apart. As I’ve said in other pieces, this song is just my interpretation of it, though it can have countless and innumerable interpretations that each person holds to their own.
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
It seems time is slipping for our narrator. “All the years combine/they melt into a dream,” as if he is only swimming through the end of a stream filled with his dreams. It looks that our narrator is reminiscing about something, but yet, it slips away as his whole life just seems to melt together. We often forget so many of our life's moments and precious antiquities until someone brings them up in conversation. Life is but a dream, where one doesn’t remember every trail they walked upon, but they are familiar with what was present walking it. Moving forward, there seems to be a soul of some sort, broken and singing. It’s beautifully put: “in the end there’s just a song/comes crying like the wind.” The narrator hears the song sing across the air, but maybe he’s hearing it only within his head. Maybe this is another one of those Deja Vu moments, where he feels like he’s been there, but can’t describe it. The broken angel can harken to a broken soul. It might be a fresh arrival upon the gates of heaven but yet can’t help singing through his guitar. The stanza ends on a somber note, of broken dreams and vanished years. True enough, that life is ever fleeting. It is impossible to catch the minutes and hours that the clock steals away, with time ever constantly building a pillar of years that we don’t notice built until we are older. We see beautiful things, we fall in love, we have dreams broken, we have similar thoughts with people, we see places, we do the impossible; but yet, it will all vanish into years.
Stella Blue
Throughout the song, we are directed towards a certain mysticism, that of a “Stella Blue.” Perhaps, it is the name of the person that was lost or a metaphor for them. In Latin, Stella refers to light. It could be that this person lost was enraptured by a blue light of some sort, of the blues itself. They could’ve walked each step with loneliness, capitulated by the thought of it all, and perhaps ascended o the heavens in the chariot of solitude. Stella Blue is also, incidentally, the name of a popular guitar produced in the 20’s/30’s. They often decayed fast but were cheap, and the airy box they had produced a large noise that could be heard over the banter in bars. It was excellent for the poor bluesman, being cheap at only fifteen dollars. Leadbelly, a famous early blues musician, played a Stella for many years, and it hangs today at the Rock N’ Roll hall of fame in Cleveland.
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
It seems that the narrator at this point if there is one, seems to have lost a little cash in his gambling ways. He has put his final set of cards down, and he realizes there is nothing left to see. He has lost once more, and now, “there’s just the pavement left/and broken dreams.” If we’re following this folk idea of someone that has lost everything, this is the climax of his break, the apex of losing everything and being reduced to another lost soul wandering the streets. But there’s some sort of song that he still hears, something that still rings back to him. It “comes crying like the wind/down every lonely street/that’s ever been.” In our darkest moments, in our bouts of fear and anguish, we often latch onto a song. It often comes in times of morose happenings, or in the loss of a person or something close, but we often harken back to memories of that place or person, and what’s often the first thing we remember? A song we shared. Whether it was playing in the background, purposely or not, it sends us shivers when we hear the song, and we build a connection it. Whether it’s a connection of pleasure or of warmness, it depends on the context, and the connection rarely withers over the years.
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
Our narrator is traveling from cheap joint to cheap joint, staying up in motels. Whether he is actively traveling or not is not stated, but he wanders the streets around. He continues to try and get his life back together, but it seems that he still gambles what little he has and that he “can’t win for trying.” Maybe he is trying to piece back his life together, maybe not. Regardless, it seems that he’s acquired possession of a stringed instrument, probably a guitar. He dusts off what probably is his old habit of playing guitar, and seems to sink back into it. One can craft an image of a man, broken down and beat in his clothing and looks, sitting a hotel and laying in bed, plucking at the strings to produce the blues. Blues music is not something that is played; it is felt. The best blues comes from the bottom of a whiskey bottle, or from the painful memories that one holds and spins it into the story. Rarely can one just ‘play’ the blues, without feeling some kind of actual connection to the rhythm and feel of the genre.
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
Our narrator wants to wrap it all up. He begins reminiscing and putting the pieces of his life together in new ways that perhaps he has not been able to see in his lavishes of gambling. He learns that “there’s nothing you can hold for very long,” referring that everything is only material, and will vanish at some point. Everyone you know, seen, felt, observed, and build connections too will flee with the sands of time. He once again refers back to that same song he keeps hearing, the same one that “come crying like the wind.” It keeps coming back to haunt him, this song. It follows him around like a curse, like a horde of locusts, like a cloud of dust coming to ravage the prairie. He ends, saying that this life “was just a dream.” It seems to have passed him like the fleeting memories of our overnight stays in the sandman’s realms; quickly and distant. Maybe he’s realized that he has been just that his whole life, quick with his decisions, and distant from others. It is easy to slip through life like we live in a dream. We do the same routine over and over again daily, waiting for our short slip into the weekend. We go to work quickly, we want to come home quickly, we want to leave dinner with parents quickly, we quickly have to leave to catch a flight, we quickly must do this or that. Rarely are we in moments that we don’t wish to “quickly” end when we have reached an apex of acceptable pleasure that we don’t want to end. Maybe instead, one should live less quickly, and press on the brakes a little, so that those distant friends, family, and places we are so accustomed too don’t leave us so soon.
Written by: Olek Chmura

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