Blue Blue–Martha Johnson


“Trouble in mind. I’m Blue. But I won’t be Blue always. The sun’s gonna shine in my back door one day.”

Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bessie Smith, Big Mama Thornton, B. B. King, John Lee Hooker. They were my guys from when I was fifteen, from their first notes.

The sounds of MoTown, too. “I’ve been lovin’ you a little too long.” Otis Redding wails and weeps. I was hooked. I was born with an abyss of nebulous sadness always seeking a way out. The Blues understood a white girl from a Methodist family in a working class burb of Chicago.

My dad hated the sounds of MoTown. He was a Dixieland/Lawrence Welk guy, through and through. “Pack the suitcases and get out!” One day my dad put two suitcases on my bed. He wasn’t going to have a melancholic n*gger lover for a daughter. I was about as far from a Lennon Sister as I could be.

At eighteen I was cast out into Chicago and whatever fate befell me. My Blues tagged along. I hooked up with Henry. We were hippies, peaceniks, except behind closed doors when he raged, overpowered me and pushed my face into the carpet until I yelped in shame. Then he was all smiles. Nowhere else to go, I endured it. Janis helped me. No one did “Ball and Chain” quite like Janis. Her notes gave expression to my silent burden, a sadness stuck in my throat. Jimi’s whammy bar and the crash into some deep something, even in the Star-Spangled, became another sound that soothed my Blues.

Perhaps the Blues moved in when I was six, when my sister died, not the one I had with me for sixty years, but her identical twin who did not take the first breath. Her name was to be Margaret. A loss. I miss her. But maybe it was before that when I was three and I found the featherless baby bird on the ground, Dead. Maybe his mother was very sad. I wanted him to be with her in the nest where he would escape death.

During and after the Henry days, there were always other Blue days. Sometimes they owned all my days and nights, though they never had a form, parameters or a definitive name. They hopped from one thing to another trying to find what their name really was. For decades I did not know until one day I came face to face with the Blues as tangible as my old Dr. Martens or Rotkåppchen, my favorite doll.

But before that, for years it would latch onto any old thing. It was longing to come out. It was searching for a way. Some Blues came out in tears. I think living beings striving to survive always hurt me. Injustice really hurt. The “Harvest of Shame” documentary featuring a little boy feeding his baby sister, Beulah, cold oatmeal while their mother was working in the fields; he had a nail stuck in his foot; his mother would have cared, but she wasn’t there. They lived in a shack. My dad hated females. Mom was happy I was gone. Henry did not love me. My daughter’s fondness for minor chords scared me. I hoped her Blues were not innate, too.

Some Blues came out in anger. Friends turned their backs. Janie tried to get me fired because she wanted my job. Sleazy little bitch. Rene said I was possessed by a demon, albeit a small one, easy to exorcise. Rene was a real screwball. Small losses. Minor Blues.

Then more losses when the Blues almost came into focus – my sister lying in the middle of Marine Drive crumpled, broken, yet conscious and asking for her shoes; the time when my dad was sitting on the gurney and the Shadow People were menacing. Big, swelling Blues.

Then that day. “He’s in rough shape.” The ER doc was trying to prepare me for the worst. I raced to Adventist ICU. I saw my son on life-support and the Blues finally had a clear shape. The Bluest of the Blues. “I want a priest.” I demanded. “I want music – The Ode to Joy. Now!”  My son is Catholic. He’s a classical musician. “Mutti is here,” I told his comatose self. Hours and hours of not knowing passed. I ran to the “quiet room” where a short pastor stood doing nothing. I grabbed him. I wailed, “My baby! My baby!” He held me and did not let go. “I got you.” With his help, that day I beat the Blues once and for all. It did not win. I did. My son did. He’s with me now. Later, I listened to the Sex Pistols sing “Pretty Vacant.” Empty of the Blues, like me.


Born and reared in Chicago, Martha Johnson relocated to the beautiful Oregon North Coast in 1972. A few years in Portland to complete her MFA. Old Hippie. Avid knitter and doll collector. Retired social worker. Lives in an old Victorian house on a hill. She writes to process her wild life.