"What good is spilling blood? It will not grow a thing"

The Annotated "Blues For Allah"

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd
Research Associate, Music Dept.
University of California, Santa Cruz
(The opinions expressed are those of the author, not of the University of California.)
Copyright notice
"Blues For Allah"
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission.

Arabian wind
The Needle's Eye is thin
The Ships of State sail on mirage
but drown in sand
in No-Man's Land
where ALLAH does command

What good is spilling
blood? It will not
grow a thing

the sword sings Blues for ALLAH

They lie where they fall
There's nothing more to say
The desert stars are bright tonight,
let's meet as friends
The flower of Islam
The fruit of Abraham

The thousand stories have
come round to one again
Arabian Night
our gods pursue their fight
What fatal flowers of
darkness spring from
seeds of light

Bird of Paradise - Fly
In white sky
Blues for ALLAH

Let's see with our heart
these things our eyes have seen
and know the truth will still lie
somewhere in between

Under eternity
Under eternity
Under eternity
Bird of Paradise
In white sky
Under eternity

"Blues For Allah"

Musical details: Title track of Blues for Allah. Also recorded on One From the Vault.

Covered by Henry Kaiser on Eternity Blue.

Performed live only five times, all in 1975. First performed live at The SNACK benefit, March 23, in Kezar Stadium, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. "Blues For Allah" opened and closed the Dead's set, which also included "Stronger Than Dirt."

Hunter's note in Box of Rain says "This lyric is a requiem for King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, a progressive and democratically inclined ruler [and, incidentally, a fan of the Grateful Dead] whose assassination in 1975 shocked us personally."

And this note from a reader: (July 23, 1996)


I always thought that BFA referred to the Yom Kippur War (October 1973) between Israel and the Arabs--the song was written no more than a year or so thereafter, and after all the initial release of the album had the Hebrew and Arabic translations of the lyrics (only to the song BFA).

I spent a lot of time in Israel-- when friends of mine in the states would ask me "who's right, Israel or the Palestinean Arabs?," all I could say was "The truth lies somewhere in between."


Joel Schneier

And another note from a reader:

Subject: Blues for Allah
Date: Sun, 02 Mar 1997 02:14:54 -0800
From: Web Station

The song title "Blues for Allah" may be a parody of the title of the Charlie Parker song "Blues for Alice".

Note: "Blues For Alice" is included on many Parker recordings, and has also been recorded by Rahsaan Roland Kirk and by Tony Furtado, among others.

The Needle's Eye is Thin

Three of the four writers of the New Testament gospels include nearly identical quotations of Jesus saying "And I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." (--Matthew 19, v. 24) The other passages are found in Mark 10:25 and Luke 18:25. This is usually pretty good evidence that the quotation may be truly ascribed to Jesus; the other piece of evidence is that this is one of those "unpopular" sayings, one of the difficult things that the teacher said. So we can be pretty certain that this is an accurate quote. Some biblical scholars have attempted to soften the message by ascribing its meaning to a narrow gate in Jerusalem through which a camel could actually pass, but most scholars seem united in the view that Jesus meant to say that it is impossible for a rich man to enter the "kingdom of God." Whatever that might be meant to be.

This note from a reader:

Subject: Blues for Allah
Date: Tue, 10 Dec 1996 23:54:06 -0800
From: ghostnthesystm

I just want to say that I think you should include the entire quote from Matthew 19:24 "24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
25 When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?
26 But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. "
You miss the most important part of the lesson if you leave out, "...with God all thinks are possible."
-- ghost

Thanks, ghost! (I especially like the idea that "all thinks are possible"!)

Hunter's use of this image for his second line reinforces the first line's geographical placement of the song in the landscape of the Holy Land, and adds the element of admonition.


This is the second use of the word "Allah" in a lyric by Hunter. For the first, and for a footnote on the word, see "What's Become of the Baby".


According to the Oxford English Dictionary:
"Representing Arab. in sa' Allah if Allah wills (it), a very frequent pious ejaculation among Muslims."

The thousand stories have come round to one again

A reference to The Arabian Nights Entertainment. See the footnote in "What's Become of the Baby" for more information.

Bird of Paradise

The bird of paradise is of the family Paradisaeidae, with 43 species, occurring in the Moluccas, New Guinea, and Australia. One of their environments of choice is mangrove swamps. They are well known for their extravagant plumage, especially those of the males, who often have huge, iridescent feather structures, although this varies widely from species to species.
keywords: @war
DeadBase code: [ALLA]
First posted: March 28, 1995