Tangled Up in Blues
Written by The Descendant
Chapter 4: "The Moody Blues"
I decided to make a little side-trip and head to Manehattan to see Moody Blues.
"Little side-trip" here having the definition of "went days out of my way".
As I left the railhead at Omareha I wondered why our rail network only served small outlying communities on the frontier. Somepony could make a lot of money, I thought, by tying Equestria together with an intricate rail system.
Oh well, not my place, I'm just a bluespony.
I arrived back in Manehattan. At once I realized that I would never be able to live here again. Ponyville had spread my sensibilities, but Appleoosa had burst them wide open. The city felt constrained, suffocating. I felt trapped.
I spent a few days with my mother and father. The usual questions came forth, and my mother had an unfortunate moment of false hope when she asked about any mares in my life.
I told her about Seafoam and Cherry. She gathered her big blue son into her forelegs and rocked me back and forth. To my surprise my father took me for a walk with him through our old neighborhood.
I was once told that a father and son's relationship is complete the moment they can tell each other that they love one another. We reached that moment when he tells me about his life before he met my mother, adventures he had with my uncle Take Five and the like. It was the first time I'd heard such stories.
"I know you're hurting now," he concludes, "and that you don't feel like you've accomplished anything…but I've seen much change in you, son…you're wiser, stronger. No matter what you do, I'm proud of you. I love you, son."
"Love you too, dad."
Weird. Appreciated, but weird.
The next afternoon I gathered up my sax and headed to the Western District to meet up with Moody Blues. The second I saw his rowhouse I knew something was wrong. There were small foal toys on the stoop, and the windows were all open.
I carefully stepped over the toys as I climbed up the stairs, cautiously making my way up the stoop. I knocked on the door, begging, hoping against hope that the familiar old face would answer.
"Hey bro, whattzup?" answered a stallion, younger and smaller than me, eating out of a bag of Mairzy Dotes, the snack falling into his unkempt goatee.
"Who is it?" called a filly's voice from within.
"Some blue dude!" he called back, "Sorry bro, what can I do fer' you?"
"I'm…I'm sorry," I stammered, "I…I have a friend who, lives…well, lived, here apparently. You wouldn't happen to know if he's gone into a nursing home…or moved to Foalida?"
As I dared breathe these optimistic sentiments the filly appeared, and in her forelegs rested a tiny foal. He looked up to her, then back to me with apprehension.
"Oh, bro…sorry, bro…but, but we bought this place from the Public Housing Bureau after the city came and cleaned it out."
"The neighbors…smelled something…and the police came…"
My vision retreated, they now seemed a million miles away, as though I was having the conversation through a telescope. Sounds retreated, became muffled. I heard the beating of my own heart.
"Do, do you know what they did with his body, by any chance?" I asked through the fog in my head, feeling the pressure on the backs of my eyes, "Do you know anything…anything at all?"
"I am so sorry bro," he said, "I am so sorry."
I nodded. The little foal gurgled in its blanket. I couldn't see if it was a colt or filly, but I smiled.
"It's a good house," I said, "it has a wonderful stoop. You can watch the city just flow on by…just sit and listen and talk…"
They both nodded at me, reacting as my expression began to fall down.
"Sorry to have bothered you, have a good afternoon," I said, forcing a smile. With that I went down those stairs for the last time in my life.
I turned into the street, started walking. At once though there were hurried sounds behind me, and I turned back towards the house.
"He's headin' that way, babe!" called the stallion, his foal in his forelegs, pointing towards me.
At once the filly was out of the house, cantering towards me. I stopped and waited. She approached me with something held before her, and I took it into my hooves. It was a huge black book with hard covers.
"We…we just found it yesterday, behind the built-in bookshelf. It must have slid down there years ago, decades ago."
I opened it, and a lost world played out before me. It was a photo album, one of the old kind where the photos were held in place by little triangles and paste.
"We…we thought we'd sell it, or give it to the historical society…but, but perhaps you should have it…you're the only one who's come asking about him."
I looked back up to her and breathed a "Thank you". She smiled, and turned back towards her house, her family. As she did so I waved to the stallion, and he raised his hoof in reply, carefully balancing his foal.
I sat in the park overlooking the river, the exact same spot where nearly two and a half decades before I had laid my song about dead sea captains on the rocks.
I sat with my back against the famous tombstone of the "amiable colt", as I had in that moment when I thought I was in control of my destiny. He was still dead after all those years, but now I am older, and (if my father was right)…stronger and wiser.
It took a lot of that strength to work through Moody's album. I actually had to start in the middle and work back to the front, start from the first place I saw his mark, the saxophone and harmonica against a starfield, on a pony. To see him so young…not any older than me, perhaps younger, he seemed so alive.
I see him grow, and there's hoofwriting in places. It's not his, not the same as the writing on the label in my sax case. Was it his mothers? She's in here in places, but no older stallion.
I see Moody age in clippings from papers where he's playing in the band at parties. I see him and other ponies, other musicians, standing outside a club. They were clipping a ribbon to open it.
There are pictures with mares…some only in the album for two or three shots…others lasting through page after page…years of his life. In the end though none of them last to the final pages.
There are no foals, no birthday parties, no candid family photos, no wedding shots. I reach color photos, blurry with old developing processes at first, finally a clear and modern one, one shot with a group of older stallions, each with instrument in hoof, playing at some sort of funeral.
I am shocked at first, but soon I realized it's not a pony they're remembering, it's the club. Around them are smiling faces, each one rejoicing in the life of the club now ending, counting down until it closed its doors for the last time.
I turned to the last page. It was filled with loose photos of himself and others whose names I'll never know. Camping trips, vacations with friends, business cards for instrument dealers…even a receipt, one I realized that was for my own old saxophone that he had given me. I chuckled at the price. The rate of inflation since he had bought it had not been kind.
I dig through these until I came to the last page itself, and there I found a newspaper clipping. It was a street festival, one held only a few years ago. I remembered watching it from the stoop with him on a humid day as we ate watermelon and drank iced tea.
Why was it there, I wondered? He hadn't played the gig, he had been sitting with me. Looking deeper into the photo I scanned the street for clues. I realized from the angle of the shot that his rowhouse should have been visible. I followed the street to his stoop with my eyes, and there I realized why he had added it.
We, the two of us, are there on his stoop. He is standing, apparently getting ready to return to his home and flick on the porchlight, as was his custom.
I saw that his hoof was in my mane, rubbing my head as he had done that first time we met, as he had done every time we had parted since.
The last thing he had ever included in the album was a shot of the two of us. The last thing he had ever taken the time to properly glue into place with the little triangles, even as pictures of friends he had known for decades sat loose, was a picture of he and I.
I carefully laid the album on the pedestal of the monument to the "amiable colt", and stood to pace back and forth in front of the moment, trotting along on the path.
I reached for my saxophone, his gift given so freely, as the sun once more began to set, as Celestia sighed and let it go once more.
"Oh death, why are you so cruel, why now, why like this?" intoned the sax, "Why'd ya' take my friend before I could say goodbye?" asked my music.
Or at least it would have if I hadn't been breaking down. Instead it was making "bwargle" sounds, like the sound my old horn had made when the rainbow shook me to my core. "Bwargle" went my sax one last time before I removed it from my lips and began to bawl aloud.
As the river rolled beneath me I cried out in miserable tones, sucking in deep gulps of air to fuel my massive rocking sobs. I leaned against the grave of the "amiable colt", the tears soaking the ancient granite. I let them come, the cries, let that become Moody's tomb just as much as it was to the long-dead colt, made it sacred to both of their memories.
As my cries echoed down the river and into the harbor beyond the fireflies emerged and the lights of Manehattan cast their un-dimming glow across the waters far out into the dark sea beyond.
Ponyville hadn't changed. It was still half-timbered, sleepy, and happily populated by a mix of the three races.
I arrived very early that morning, so early that I met my former milkpony for the first time in months. He offered me a little bottle of chocolate milk and we briefly chatted about life, the living of life, and the moral implications of utilizing sentient beings for food production…and mares, mostly mares.
"Good luck, buddy, see ya' around" he said, wandering off. I realized as he left that he didn't call me "kid". Oh Dad, you're a smarter stallion than me.
I walked past the semi-permanent tents that the army uses to house regiments passing through on their way up to the front lines of The Wars. I had considered joining the military as a bugler once. I had actually gone down to where the recruiting office had been after my apartment had been devoured by the parasprites. When I saw that the place had been reduced to timbers and witnessed the recruiting officer sobbing with his face on his desk I took it as an omen.
Plus, I'm a huge coward who's allergic to spear wounds.
As I crossed through the snoring camp and past Rarity's Carousel Boutique I thought about what I was going to do this time, how I was going to not just stay alive, but prosper.
There was something out there waiting for me…I was going to wait right here in Ponyville, let the plan find me, wait for it. If Moody was right, then my "song" must be ready by now…and if my father was right, I was strong enough and wise enough now to try.
I was ready to make one more throw…to take a big risk and (once it revealed itself) work to make it happen.
"What we need is somepony who is willing to take a big risk and work to make it happen," said a young stallion, standing with two others outside of the old dance hall.
I stepped back to check the bushes and see if Princess Celestia was hiding within. The deus ex machina of my existence would be a lot more comforting if I knew that my apparently immortal and seemingly divine sovereign was, in fact, "deus-ing" them for me.
I walked forward into the group, but before I could even introduce myself one, to my utter surprise, shouted my name.
"Hey, Blues!" yelled one of the stallions, maybe just a couple years younger than me, cantering over to where I stood. I smiled at him and nodded, trying desperately to remember if I knew him or if he was just really good at implying names from cutie marks.
"It's me, Bluegrass…from Appleoosa!"
"Oh!" I cried, "Right! Sorry, didn't recognize you without your hat."
He, like I, had only just returned from Appleoosa, had decided on life in Ponyville.
"Appleoosa is changing too fast, growing too quick…doesn't have the same atmosphere," he complained.
"How terrible," I lied.
He introduced me to his friends. Lucky, who was just about my age, and One Short, who was about Bluegrass's age. His mark was three horseshoes. From that fact alone I knew that the kid was born to play the blues and that, fortunately, was the reason why they were standing outside the old structure.
They had pooled their resources, and were determined to rebuild the music hall and start it up as a club again. They had their own funds, gifts from their parents, and grants from the Royal Historic Structure Re-Use and Rehabilitation fund.
"We just need a few more bits, and we can close on the place and get started with the rehab…we're just that short," said Lucky, shaking his head, making a tiny circle in the grass of the paddock.
"Excuse me one second," I said. I trotted out of their view and looked up to distant Canterlot, perched as it was on the side of the mountain, and smiled.
I returned and flipped open my saxophone case. My accumulated bits dropped all over the paddock where we stood, the coins splaying out in a satisfyingly large pile.
"I'm in," I said, "You need a sax player too?"
They recovered from their shock to nod at me with wild enthusiasm.
We worked hard that late summer and early autumn. We scoured and scrapped, sawed and drilled, patched and painted. As we did so ponies came to watch, to ask us what we were doing, or how it was coming.
Impassioned amateurs that we were we did make mistakes. We stood together beaming with pride as we looked at the new doors we had just installed…only to realize in unison that we had put them in upside down. We all went scrambling for cover as our office drop ceiling dropped all the way to the floor.
"I think we should go with a skylight," said Bluegrass as the tiles that made up the mosaic on the ballroom ceiling came tinkling down around him like a rainstorm.
Outside Lucky and Short had begun to build the patio only to have it all get sucked and slurped down into a muddy morass as the pegasi unleashed a late-summer rainstorm. We went with grass.
But, we pressed on despite these setbacks, and as I watched the colts working and the old dance hall coming back to life I could not help but smile.
I looked up one day to see a familiar face looking into the wide open doors as we hung sheetrock. Lowering my mask I walked over, nodding as I went.
"Howdy, Davenport," I said, looking to my former landlord.
"I thought that was you, Blues! Good to see you back in Ponyville. Dang, you look older," he said. We had some small talk about life, the living of life, and the chronic shortage of quality sofas in the world…and mares, mostly mares.
"You know," he said, "I saved everything of yours that was in your old apartment."
I looked at the recently re-polished floor of my new club, trying to think of what I could possibly have left behind.
"They didn't last long…turned moldy and started to smell bad," he added. I smiled back at him, realizing that the only thing I had owned in that unhappy place was the contents of my icebox…the luncheon meats and the bottle of milk.
We stared at each other for a long minute. "Good to see ya', Blues. Dang, Chief, you sure look all grown-up."
He didn't call me "kid".
I thanked him for stopping in, asked him to stop in once we opened, and he agreed.
At night we slept where we fell down tired, we ate whatever we could gather from the Whitetail Woods and whatever their concerned parents would bring them. As we enjoyed one such bounty Short's mother spoke to me in a voice that, while not accusing, was loud enough for all to hear.
"I hope, Mr. Blues…"
"…that you are taking good care of these colts!"
I looked around to the assembly, the parents and the three others. Lucky got the joke, saw the look on my face, stifled his laughter. But the others, I realized, were simply waiting for an answer.
I was stronger, I was wiser. My song had come together, and even though my years were not even half of a decade greater than all of them combined I was the one they were depending on…the one they were looking to for strength.
Moody, you were the smartest pony I ever met.
As the dusk of autumn firmly arrived we finished off the apartments above the dance hall…our homes.
We spent the last of our discretionary funds on furniture, and as we moved the last of it in we all collapsed in my sitting room and convened the first official meeting of our Co-Ownership Trust Partnership, L.L.C., Incorporated. We desperately needed a name for the club.
"We desperately need a name," said Lucky, bringing about our first order of business, "for the club."
That we could have gotten this far and not have thought of such a thing was ridiculous. As the colts began rattling off standard names I settled back into my nice new chair, letting it learn the shape of my body.
As they went on and on suggesting and shooting down horrible, awful name after tedious, repugnant name I leaned farther back. As I did I thought about my path here…back here to Ponyville, to this amazing opportunity.
Of all things the old story about the sea came to my mind, the one about the dead sea captains. I smirked at it as the colts continued their deliberations. Here I was, guiding them through these treacherous waters, as though I'm that forlorn first officer…the one who takes command as they slip the body of the captain into the sea, as they weep and look for direction, as they mark the ship with the azure pigments and run up the cobalt banner.
But, I realized, I'm not in as bad a shape. I can guide the ship, I know now not to rock the boat…as my song has taught me, let the sun and moon guide me, let it play out, make my choices based on what the plan is that's unfolding…don't fight the currents. You were right Moody, I thought, the song guides me, even if I'm…
"Fly the blue flag," I laughed to myself, sitting back up. As I did so the faces of the colts all turned to me.
"Like Moody Blues' old place?" said Short.
"It's not copyrighted, and it's a traditional name for a club," added an enthusiastic Lucky.
I would have liked to have made a comment at that moment but, if I remembered the situation correctly, I was in the middle of hyperventilating.
"How do you all know who Moody Blues was?!" I pleaded.
"Was?!" they replied in unison, "You mean he's dead?!"
I might be wiser, if my father was correct, but I sure was ignorant.
In the space of minutes I got my education. Moody, it turned out, was a legendary bluespony. His place, The Blue Flag, had been the focal point of the blues scene in Manehattan, perhaps in Equestria, for generations. He was considered the progenitor of the rebirth of the blues in Manehattan, and he was essentially the foremost influence on many of the most successful rhythm, blues, bluegrass, country and rock artists of my lifetime and my parent's lifetime.
"I just thought he was a nice old pony who liked sax music and iced tea," I said, sliding back into my chair with a long slow whistle. My eyes sunk into my head at the realization of what I had just been told.
At any point in our relationship Moody could have rattled off a list of achievements, could have wowed me with name-dropping, could have trucked out award after award to dazzle me with. No. Instead he sat on his stoop and let a blue colt learn from his experience. He didn't want admirers; he didn't want to be "a legend". At the end of his days he had just wanted to pass it all along…and to have me as a friend.
I saw their eyes on me, looking to me as I wiped my hooves across my face. Slowly and certainly I told them all. I told them about my mentor, adviser, and friend. For the first time they saw the label on the inside of his case, my case, and I let them hold my first sax, his legendary sax. They passed it around as though they were holding a holy relic, they touched the label as though they had made a pilgrimage of thousands of miles to see it.
I take the photo album from my brand new coffee table shelf, and laid it before them. At once Lucky, Short, and Bluegrass were alive, pouring over it, examining it as though they were the first ponies to enter a long-forgotten tomb filled with wonders.
Soon they were calling to one another, "Is this Dusty Crossroads?" or "In Celestia's name, it's Low and Sweet, they were my idols!" To them Moody's album was more than just one pony's memories. It was like a holy text, the faces of bluesponies coming to life, pulled out of the darkness of death itself.
I watched them, a smile growing on my face, for more than an hour. Moody's album was coming to life again. The names had meaning again.
They stopped and were quiet. Bluegrass lifted a loose picture, the single big portrait of Moody with his last sax, the one with the little "M.B." beneath the neck screw.
They looked to the last picture in the album, of Moody and I on his stoop in the newspaper clipping. They then looked at me, and I saw something in their faces as they sat in the shafts of autumn light falling through the windows.
As a group they stood up, and left the room, taking the portrait with them.
"Hey!" I called in sudden alarm, standing and trotting along after them.
To my surprise Lucky stopped me at the top of the stairs leading down. He gathered me up in a hug. A hug!
"Blues, stay right here, okay?"
I nodded, and returned to my apartment. I went through my new rooms, I pranced up from my bedroom through my sitting room, to my kitchenette to my bathroom, I picked up small things in my den and put them back down again.
All the while the sounds of light construction vibrated up through the adjacent stairwell.
"Hey Blues!" I heard Short call, and at once I was cantering down the stairs.
As I did a series of lights passed around me, and I am made to look back up the stairwell I had just come down.
It had been a blank space an hour before, an overhang in the wall above the stairs. It cleared the fire code, but just barely, and everypony who went up the stair naturally ducked their head to avoid it.
Now, it was no longer blank. Instead it was alive with magical candlelight and lanterns that burned their purple and green flame. It was an altar, and in the middle of it, obvious to all who were present in the club, was the picture of Moody Blues from the album. It sat in a big golden frame on a background…
Beside it were some old concert posters and a frame filled with ticket stubs, Moody's name and image all over each of them.
They had chosen that spot on purpose, I realized.
We had been discussing about what to do with it, and as I had told them about Moody they had wordlessly decided that this was the best use of the space.
Every pony who went up those stairs ducked, needlessly or not, as they came to the overhang. Now, instead of simply protecting their heads, they were bowing…paying homage to the spirit of Moody Blues.
This was now more than a dance hall, more than a club…
…it was now his memorial.
I looked up into his eyes, immortalized as they were in the photo, and they reflected the candles. His eyes, looking to me over the neck of his saxophone, shimmered as they had done on the last day I saw him alive, as he had gone up those steps and inside his rowhouse, flicking on the porch light to see me safely on my way home.
I started to cry…yet again. Once more I had started to cry, and to my embarrassment they each gathered around me, the colts, embracing me in a group hug.
"I hereby make a motion to call the first meeting of The New Blue Flag Club Partnership, L.L.C. to a close," said Lucky as I wept.
"Seconded," called Short.
"Aye", added Bluegrass, and with that night settled in around the club.
That night I slept in my brand new bedroom, on a brand new bed, a fine one made of sturdy wood and a comfortable mattress. I had thought it would take me days to get used to the new room, to the new mattress, like it had during my long weeks of traveling, each flophouse bed being a new nightly torment.
Instead I dropped off to sleep within moments, Moody's old album clutched to my chest, and soon I was dreaming of being in that club…the original Blue Flag.
As I found my way to a seat in that dream the most beautiful mare I'd ever seen batted her eyelashes at me and I watched as a young Moody Blues burned the place down with his music…I watched him illuminate the world.