"Tangled Up in Blues"
Written by The Descendant
Chapter 1: "The Manehattan Blues"
I once learned an interesting fact, when I was a foal, about ships and the sea.
It turns out, you see, that if a ship's captain dies while the ship is out on the ocean that the crew is supposed to fly a blue flag, and paint a blue band around the ship's hull.
This tells other ships that the afflicted craft is under the command of a junior officer, someone who may not have all of the experience needed to properly handle a ship on the water.
The crew of that ship, the one painted blue, may suddenly find themselves being asked to do things in a new way, or may not like their new ranking officer. They may begin to become tiresome, they may put their hooves to work improperly and they may become "lubberly".
If this happens, the crew may be said to be "feeling at their blues".
Or simply put, "feeling blue".
I feel blue a lot of the time 'cause I am. You see that's my name. I'm Blues.
You've probably seen me around. I'm the one who always is running unknowingly towards the danger. I'm the one who, if something falls, it falls upon. I'm the one who is the first pony in line for something horrible, and the first one be told "Sorry kid, all sold out!" when waiting for something good.
I had always been a bit of a klutz, even when I was a foal. I remember when I got my mark
That's stupid. Everybody remembers when they got their mark. That's kinda the point of getting one, isn't it? Never mind. Lemmee start over.
What I'm trying to point out here is that the way I got mine is related to that early bit about the color blue and the dead sea captains. Except, there's no dead nautical ponies, so don't worry if that was going to put you off of reading this.
I should really just tell the story, shouldn't I?
I I always loved music, you see. I knew I was going to get my mark in music. It simply had to happen that way. So, I wrote this big long sonata. It was about ships and the sea and all that other stuff that sells a lot of copies. I took my horn and went down to the big park that overlooks the harbor in Manehattan...
Oh, did I mention that I grew up in Manehattan? That's kinda important.
Anywho, I went there, down to the rocks that overlook the harbor, next to the tiny monument erected by some unknown individual to the memory of an "amiable foal" who died doing something or other in a year now long forgotten. There I unfolded my composition, the song I had written over the course of a year, and laid each sheet carefully before me on the rocks.
I lifted my horn to my lips knowing, every fiber of my being absolutely sure, that this beautiful work, this opus, would award me my mark and it would be magnificent to behold.
I felt the reed with my tongue I inhaled.
Not just any freakin' rainbow either. It was amazing, terrifying, startling. It flashed across the horizon with an audible boom it leapt from deep within Equestria out to the sea beyond the harbor.
I exhaled in concert with it, but it was not my work that flowed through the horn, oh no! It was instead an insipid "bwargle", a note of high-pitched shock and awe. At that, carried both on the wave of sonic clarity that emitted from the rainbow and my own disastrous exclamation, my sheets of music flew into the air.
I watched, my whole frame and expression falling, as they danced on the air and then down to the river below. I watched them coast down into the harbor as long as I could see them until they were gone down into the sea.
There was the sound like a falling star sliding over an ice-covered lake, and I felt a sensation like quicksilver running down my flank.
Without blinking I stood and walked to the monument, to the tiny tomb of the "amiable foal". There I looked at my flank in the shining surface of the granite. My mark two plain eighth notes, one bigger than the other.
It was nothing exceptional, nothing amazing, and nothing of my own making. It wasn't my music that had brought on the mark it had been my failure to perform it.
I ran my hoof over the monument, knocking away some detritus that clung to it and then thought on the life that was commemorated there. With my horn hanging loose at my side I made my way back into the city.
I walked for a long time, walked with my head down, bouncing off of the occasion streetlamp, post office box, and doom-speaking sidewalk prophets.
By the time I lifted my head from a posture better suited to examining the sidewalk I realized that I was far from home. I was in the older, less picturesque part of the city.
"Hey colt, let's see dat' horn."
Upon hearing those words I knew that any number of possible outcomes faced me few good and many involving bodily harm. As I turned I saw an older stallion sitting on the steps of a row house. He nodded at me and I, utterly ignoring all of the good and practical information my mother and father had imparted to me about interaction with strangers, approached and presented him my horn.
"Not ah' bad horn," he says, "Ya' any good at it?"
"Yes, but not today, today I " I began. Before I could conclude he had put it in his mouth and was getting ready to play.
My mind began calculating the amount of disinfectant I would need to deluge my horn with before I would risk putting it in my mouth again, but that line of thought stopped immediately when the old stallion blew my mind clear out of my little blue head.
The music he was playing was like nothing I had ever heard before. I watched him play with my mouth hanging open. I didn't think that it was my horn, it was as though he'd magically changed it into something that could read my soul.
That or he had realized how depressed I was as he saw me coming down the street probably the later.
"How can a colt wit' such a fine horn have such a look about 'em?" he asked as he finished the song.
I proceeded to explain to him how I had lost my song, how the loud rainbow thingy had screwed up my mark.
"Ah now ya' feelin' it, aintcha?"
"Da' blues, colt, da blues! Ya' feelin' 'em, ya' lookin' 'em, you even colored like 'em!" he said with a growing grin.
"That's that's my name I'm Blues," I said, struggling to understand what he had said.
At once he started to giggle, then laugh, and at once he stood and entered his house, his laughter following him up the stairs and after he had closed the door. I was left standing there, standing in the street with Manehattan flowing around me confused, hurt blue.
In a matter of seconds the door came open again, and he emerged speaking as though he had begun a conversation somewhere within and had been arguing it successfully with himself. He gathered up an object that he carried carefully with him down the steps.
" the colt's even named Blues! How's that, how's that! He's got the look on 'em, ya' gotta be for the colt."
I looked on in fascination as he opened a huge dirty case. I could see his name on the inside of the case, written on a label in immaculate hoofwriting, but I could not yet see what he'd taken out.
"Now, colt, you got yourself a mark, and it ain't bad it ain't bad. You wear the blues, both in yer' color and in yer' face, now ya' gotta wear 'em in yer' heart," he said, affixing a strap to something he kept hidden.
"Old Moody Blues, I see it in 'ya."
At once he looped it around my neck. I looked down to see a saxophone, a big old dirty one, sitting before me.
"Go on, colt, giver 'er a go!" he says, motioning to the sax with a big grin.
I wanted to explain to the stallion that I don't know how to play a sax, but instead I simply laid my hooves on it, and from there it was easy.
I ignored all of the good and practical advice my mother and father had given me about not putting strange things in my mouth and put the reed to my lips. The horn tasted old, it was heavy in my hooves, but here was magic in it, and after a few uncertain notes I began to make music.
I can remember the song, "I'm so sad, oh so sad," it implied with its tones, and I felt a part of myself evaporating through the sax, leaving me.
I can remember Moody Blues sitting on his steps, his head bobbing with the music, ponies leaning out of their windows to listen, and ponies stopping as they went by to watch me play. I even remember a little orange filly about my age, the most beautiful filly I'd ever seen, who slowed down as she ran along the street for a moment to listen before she pelted off again.
When it was over, Moody stepped up to me.
"Yours is ah' world of hurt, Blues, and yah' kin' thank Celestia fer' it," he said, rubbing my mane, "Yer' pain and hurt is gonna be big, and it's gonna seem like it goes on un' on. But, colt, when ya' sing the blues people listen and yah' know the great secret of the blues?"
I shook my head in ignorance.
"Yer' always alive tah' sing 'em, colt, yer' alive tah' sing 'em," he says with a final grin, "They take da' pain out, make it somethin' good, somethin' good. Wear yer' blues well, colt, you gonna earn every drop of em'. Yer' gonna be tangled up in blues."
With that he went up his steps into his house, clicking on the porch light as he did, leaving me in its glow and the sax in my hooves.
When I got home that night my parents were already frantic, relatives having been sent to search for me. They wanted me to explain where I was, what had happened. When they saw my mark they wanted to be happy for me, but I was silent.
With their worry growing they ran their hooves through my mane, begging me to speak. I simply motioned them to the couch, and they sat.
I took out the old sax and played. Their eyes went wide, and my uncle Take Five, always a great lover of music of all types, whispered, "How does a colt that young know how to play the blues like that?"
Twenty years later, more or less, I stood outside Ponyville.
I had many experiences before this, more times where the blues had played a role in my life, but outside that beautiful little city that is where my troubles really began.
I had heard that the Princess Celestia had determined to hold the annual Summer Sun Celebration in the small city that year, for reasons of her own, and I figured that there might be a gig available for me to play.
I had determined to make my living with my music. Like most musicians who have made similar decisions that meant I was actually working odd jobs. This meant I was free to travel granted that there wasn't much cost involved.
The first thing I did, of course was track down whoever was supposed to be in charge of the music. When I found her she was singing with some birds, and when I cleared my throat to speak with her the most beautiful filly I'd ever seen turned to me
and then promptly stared at the ground.
To say that the following conversation was excruciating would be an understatement. The more I tried to give my references and explain my availability for the ceremony the less verbal she became. Fluttershy, I later learned she was named, soon was speaking in squeaks and whimpers. This, while adorable, certainly wasn't exactly financially beneficial.
I excused myself and found my way into the city. There I found that one local hotel, "The Seabiscuit", was holding a post-ceremony party and I offered my services. Now gainfully employed, if at least for the evening, I turned my attention to finding some more immediate income.
Finding a nice little spot in the middle of the downtown I opened my case, took out the sax that Moody Blues had given me all those years before, and set myself up a spot to play. Before I began I looked at the big hoof-written label he had affixed inside, his neat script pointing out his former property.
"Here I go, Moody wish me luck "
Even before I had taken my first breath a pink earth pony, the most beautiful filly I'd ever seen, stopped and stared at me. Carefully adjusting my case so that she could see how pitifully absent it was of bits and currency of any type I took a breath
Unfortunately, so did she. "Aaaahhh!" she exclaimed, quite loudly, "You're new in town, and I guess that means that you don't know anyone "
Her concern on my part was adorable and appreciated, but unfortunately her sudden and utterly surprising launch into the string of thought had made me accidentally swallow my reed, and it was now in the process of suffocating me to death.
" and it's not good to not know anyone, so we have to figure out a way for you to meet ponies "
As she continued her soliloquy of revelation I laid there thrashing about on the cobblestones, choking and wheezing, begging for air.
I would say that I started to turn blue, but well, you know.
" and the best way to do that is to have a party!" she said, grabbing me up in a much welcomed hug. I can say welcomed because the act, while comforting on an emotional level, also acted to dislodge the reed, allowing me to resume the whole breathing thing to which I had become accustomed.
"I'm Pinkie Pie," she said with a big manic grin.
"Blues," I answered, panting.
"I'll see about that party, talk to you later Blues!" she said, cantering away. I watched her go, seeing her lively steps, hearing her happy humming.
"Wow," I thought, "That she's do that for me "
At once she stopped and did pretty much the exact same thing, absent the asphyxiation, this time for a unicorn filly and what I guessed was her pet dragon.
My head went down to the cobblestones. There sat my reed, recently evacuated from my windpipe. I picked it up and rolled it over and over in my hoof.
I looked up then to see that a big old stallion with a white beard and crumpled hat had been watching the whole comedic episode. "You poor bastard," he said, tossing a couple of bits into the saxophone case, and then he trundled on his way with his cart clattering along behind him.
I looked to the bits, examining them as they sat there shining in the sun. With them I purchased a month's rent on a three-room apartment above a store that, amazingly, only seemed to sell quill pens and sofas.
Returning to the hotel I hid my sax in the bandstand, looked through the sheet music that the other members of the impromptu band had set up to be sure I knew the tunes, and then went back to my new and utterly unfurnished apartment for a nap.
I awoke in the dark. I walked through quiet streets to the hotel. There was no one there. The clocks all said that I was on time but as I stood there, alone, nopony came to hear the music.
I took my sax from its case, flipped it over a few times, and played. I kept my word. When my set was over, heard by no one, I put it away, cleaned out my spot, and went back to my small apartment. It was still dark, I realized. I didn't care.
It turns out that an ancient demon had possessed a hitherto unknown (or at best mythologically implied) sister of Princess Celestia about a millennia ago. During a cataclysmic battle Celestia had been made to choose between allowing Equestria to wither and die or suffer her sister to be trapped within the moon in a death-like slumber along with the demon. She had chosen to let her be trapped there until the stars aligned properly.
It turns out that as I was walking to the hotel the demon had returned, banished Princess Celestia to within the sun, and threatened to cast Equestria into an eternal night.
I hate it when that happens.
So, as I had stood alone in the dark hotel, belting out the blues to nopony, some of the ponies of Ponyville (including the three I had met or seen that day) used ancient magical artifacts to defeat the demon, free Princess Celestia, and rescue her sister from beyond the gates of death.
That worked out fine because there was a second party and I finally got paid.
As I cleaned up after that gig I met Pinkie Pie again. She introduced me to some of her friends, and promised me that she would get a party all planned out to introduce me to everyone just as soon as everything settled down.
Months passed no party. Oh, she was trying, but it seemed like she was always busy with something else or I had a job that night. She was obviously sad that we were unable to make a date, but I didn't mind too much.
I actually started to make a nice little life for myself in Ponyville, and was meeting plenty of ponies by myself. Big Mac was one I ended spending a lot of time with him, especially when he was looking for day help.
I had tried my hooves at a lot of things, but agriculture was new. I got to like it, kinda. It was hard, but honest, and it paid the rent when musical appreciation was at a nadir.
The best part of working on the farm was the spread that the Apple clan put out at the end of the day. I often wondered what their profit/loss margin was with all the food they prepared for the help. It was good to have a dinner that didn't come out of a can even if sometimes that dinner was really a late lunch of about six pieces of apple pie with lots, lots, and I mean lots of extra cheese slices.
Those were the nights I was very glad one of my three crusty rooms was a serviceable bathroom.
It was as I had returned from working at Sweet Apple Acres one warm day that I had the distinct feeling that something unusual was transpiring in Ponyville. I couldn't quite put my hoof on it. There was something definitely odd, something different something obviously atypical
I guessed that it had something to do with the masses of winged blobs that were flying around devouring the entirety of the city in an orgy of destruction and mayhem.
"Blues! Saxophone! Borrow!" called a pink bolt that flew past me. As I looked to her Pinkie Pie called back, "And I'm sorry we haven't had that party yet!"
"Saxophone?" I thought as I began running, "Why would she want my saxophone?"
As I crested the top of the hill and entered the road that lead to The Quill & Sofa I saw that part of the building was already serving as a buffet for the blob-things. At once I thought of my apartment, my sax
I ran faster.
I arrived at the top of the stairs to an unusual sight. There stood my apartment, untouched. It in fact teetered on a timber beam as the flying little blasphemies lazed back and forth across the sky, nibbling on nearby structures.
I opened the door carefully. Nothing had been disturbed. I breathed a sigh of relief, and then quickly sucked the air back in the gesture had sent my apartment swinging back and forth across the sky.
There was a buzzing sound, and to my horror one of the blob-thingies came bobbling into my sitting/living/lounging/spare bedroom.
I held my breath as it circled around one, twice, three times, and quickly left, its tongue hanging out in disgust.
It was then that I realized why my apartment had been spared. As I listened to the screams of the ponies in the street below I ruminated on the apparent fact that my stained curtains, moldy bathroom, and few sticks of furniture were not of sufficient worth to be eaten by an all-consuming flying waste disposal unit.
I grabbed my one item of worth, the saxophone Moody had given me, and carefully picked my way down what remained of the stairs.
By the time I found Pinkie all that was left to witness was, apparently, a group of her friends surveying the twisted burning wreckage of our little city, their eyes awash with uncertainty and pain.
I hate it when that happens.
I showed Pinkie that I had, in fact, brought my sax. She smiled at me. "Thanks," she said, "But I took care of it. I think that we have to look to fixing up Ponyville now so, no party again "
"It's alright," I lied.
I return to my apartment I gingerly make my way up the steps, and placed my hoof on the doorknob.
As I did it comes off in my hoof, and the timbers that supported the whole works gave one resolute groan and flew into splinters, sending my apartment crashing to the ground.
As I looked on aghast the wood of the steps beneath me began to creak and groan as well. At once they gave way and I crashed down, down, down into the store below.
I awoke to find that I had landed on the very last couch that Davenport, owner of the shop and my landlord, had in stock. As he stared at me, hours of fighting the parasprites etched into his face, he smiled at me. I smiled back. "You lucky " he began.
At that point the springs of the sofa (protesting being left behind, I suppose, while all of their kin had been devoured) exploded from the sofa at once. This had the effect of launching me a few feet into the air and then dropping me onto the cold floor of the Quill & Sofa.
"I'm adding that to your rent, you know," Davenport said as the smile vanished from his face.
I gave him the doorknob, picked up my sax, and headed to Sweet Apple Acres in hopes of spending the night in their barn. It turns out that they had been hit as bad as anyone, and the family huddled together for comfort. So, that night I slept beneath an apple tree as the stars wheeled overhead, fireflies flashed, and I composed a song.
"It all comes crashing down," sang the notes that flew from my sax there in the dark, "It all just comes crashing down, nothing lasts."
We got to work rebuilding the city, and within hours Royal Engineers had arrived. As the magic of the three races worked in concert the city was rebuilt at a surprising rate.
My apartment was rebuilt, complete with a new (if saddeningly springless) couch. I didn't return right away. I went home.
Well, home as in to my parents. I had missed Manehattan. They had missed me. They did all the regular parent stuff; they overfed me, they asked me about work, mom wondered why I wasn't married with foals yet.
After a few days of this I needed to see Moody.
I had visited with Moody Blues many times since the day we had first met. When I was still a foal I had come seeking instruction on how to play the blues, but as I grew he showed less interest in instructing me on how to play, and grew more interested in teaching me what the blues "meant".
I never once saw the inside of his house. All of our time together was spent on the stoop of his rowhouse, watching the city scenes that sped by, watching Manehattan flow like an oil painting before us. We watched the thousand little stories of the ponies that passed before us unfolding like a foal's picture book as we sat there on the steps.
Not exactly as eloquent as all that during snowstorms and driving rain, but always interesting.
He had begun playing his sax as I played mine, said he was ready to play along when my song "Had gotten da' right mellow to it."
"Hard times, hard times, leave me alone," implies my song, begs the notes that float out into the street, "I'm a pony of sorrow, hard times please leave me alone."
His song matches mine, but older, fuller, his experience sounding from his sax.
His was the exact same make and model as the one he had given me, though newer by decades. The only thing that revealed it to be anything other than a regular off-the-self model was the tiny little "M.B." engraved beneath the neck screw, the little initials proving to any that cared to witness that it belonged to the old stallion.
"It's breakin' in real good, real good," he had said, "Taste's like a mule's shoe, though!"
As I had arrived that summer we spent the whole afternoon sitting on his steps drinking iced tea and eating watermelons.
He listened intently to my story of my life in Ponyville. I sensed that he was very interested in my life. I never asked him about his I got the sense that he had no foals, or was estranged from them. The house was always silent. Somehow I got the feeling that he looked at me as a surrogate son
"Now don't go getting' the idea in that blue head o' yers' that you're some kind of surrogate son to me, colt," he had said, stretching, "but I want ya' to know I think yer' doin' a fine job, yes indeed, Blues yer' wearin' yer' blues just fine, mighty fine "
I nodded, not really finding it a compliment, but not wanting to argue with him. It was as though he thought I was some kind of steel, being tempered by all of this nonsense as I went through life.
As the sun went down we played together a little bit more, the notes of the two saxophones blending with the twilight that fell between the rowhouses in visible shafts, ponies listening from backyard gardens, the little notes drifting to ears in nearby living rooms through windows left open in the heat.
He stood, stretching, and rubbed his hoof through my mane, just like he had on that first day we met. He looked tired, older than I remembered. Still, his smile was wide, and he spoke with the same tone I had first heard all of those years ago.
"Colt, yer song, it's comin' 'long sweet and good, sweet and good, but soon, Blues, colt, yer' gonna hafta deal with that one thing that makes the life o' every stallion so very painful the thing that drives all colts mad and all stallion down inta tears "
He looked at me, and I looked to the sidewalk for a long second, guessing what he meant.
I looked back up to him
"Mares, colt, mares!" he said wiping his hoof across his face. "Mares and fillies, dat sweet agony which has inspired da' most wonderful insanity which any male has had to dwell upon!"
He shook his head at me and laughed, and turned to enter his rowhouse. As he entered the doorway he stood there, looking back to me, his smile small, looking very old and weary.
"When yer' song knows that, then'll know da' blues, colt. That's when yer' song will be good un' ready, Blues. Good luck to ya'."
With that the door closed, and the porch light came on. Once again I was left alone in the streets of Manehattan as the streetlights were lit and the city drifted into darkness and silence.