My little town had the blues last week. The rest of the world has the blues too, something or other about debts and deficits, but we in the old port town celebrated having the blues with a festival. Musicians from everywhere played in clubs, stages and parks. I heard rags, hollers, call-and-response, country and city blues, solos and groups. It was a perfect antidote for all the terrible news in the world o’ finance. Ol’ Stock Market caint git me down!
Everyone gets the blues. No life is free from troubles. If you learn to sing or play them, they won’t hold you down. Sharing your blues openly, using the right forms, will free you from them. That’s the gubmint’s problem. When those guys get the blues, they don’t follow the tried and true ways of expressing them.
There’s transformative power in the blues. If you do it honestly, singing, playing, even listening to the blues gets you back in touch with the cosmic cycle. Blues is about the wheel, the Great Wheel where all things turn and return. You will try something you aren’t ready for. You will make an unwise choice. Someone else will do you wrong, or you’ll do wrong to them. All winners sometimes lose, and when you lose, you’ll know the blues.
My little town knows all about the blues. Port Townsend started with 1,500 or so Native Americans, 3 White families and 15 bachelors in 1851, a couple years before Washington was made a territory. In the first 20 years the tribes were decimated by epidemics of smallpox, had their tenements burned down, and got massacred at Kala Point. They got the blues big time.
The town was in a boom because the government established it as a Customs point, due to it being a deep-water port. Port Townsend also was the place where crews for the ships could be gotten. Ever heard of crimping? It’s another word for shanghaied. If a ship had a known bad captain, or the voyage would be long and dangerous, they would pay crimps to “talk” men into signing on. If the men weren’t easily persuaded, the crimps would get them drunk or drug them, knock them out, and they would wake up below decks. Talk about the blues…
By 1891, 40 years after the town began, the biggest boom in local history was in full swing. The population was 7,000, fueled by hopes of the railroad coming. There were two-dozen hotels and about the same number of brothels. Downtown and Uptown commercial buildings morphed from wood into brick. Then the panic of 1893 came, the largest national depression until that Great one came in 1929. The whole town got the blues. Businesses failed, there were lots of suicides, and 5,000 packed up and left. Victorian-style buildings and homes lay abandoned all over town. They fell into decay, left unfinished for 80 years.
My town has been slowly coming back since the 1970s. The lovely old buildings drew a subculture of self-sufficient hippies who restored them, and stayed to become a core contingent of the town today. This town once lost two-thirds of its residents, and most of its businesses, and it refused to die. There’s a resilient spirit here. When I get the blues, I keep that in mind.