Friday, March 20, 2009

Buffy Sainte-Marie: “The Big Ones Get Away”

Something really special tonight for this Friday’s “Music Night” at The Wild Reed . . . Courtesy of tinchoguitar5, it’s the promotional video for singer/songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie’s song “The Big Ones Get Away,” from her 1992 album, Coincidence and Likely Stories.

Says Buffy in the short interview preceding the music video:

“The Big Ones Get Away” is the kind of song that you write when someone you care about is about to go down for having told the truth when the society wants to lie – needs to lie. It’s as if a business person requires a courier to deliver something illegal and then when the courier is caught, the company and the business person says, “Well, we didn’t know anything about that.”

Or it can be, on the other hand, about a General who volunteers his testimony to Congress but Congress cannot afford to hear the truth the General tells because if they do they’ll be required to impeach the President and the country would come to a grinding halt. And so instead they sacrifice the General to the press and make him look bad even though he’s the one who told the truth.

It’s a song from a wife’s point of view as she sees her husband about to go down for having been sold out by his boss who he believed in. It’s a song of compassion and love and idealism . . .

And it’s definitely one of my all-time favorite songs – a beautiful, passionate and haunting song from a beautiful, passionate (and often haunting) artist.

(NOTE: The video takes about 12 seconds to start. So be patient! Also, the music video is followed by more interview footage in which Buffy talks about some of the other songs on Coincidence and Likely Stories)

Hey, baby, I just got back from town
where the bribes are paid.
Honey, they turned my offer down,
they say the deal’s already made.
So now I gotta stand and watch
while it all comes down.
And the buzzards and the hawks,
and the judges and the mob,
circle around.

Now if I were the queen of all the world
I would go in chains just to see you free
of the ropes that bind you
and the role you play
and the pride that hooks you
while the big ones get away.

Love junkies wanna change the world,
it quickly stays the same.
Money junkies hire all the smart ones;
Power junkies run the game.
One step at a time, Polarity Hill,
If the bad guys don’t get you, baby,
then the good guys will.
With angels on the take
and the gangsters in the yard,
Hey, don’t the wars come easy,
and don’t the peace come hard.

Now if I had a way to reach the sky
I'd grab that crescent moon,
wield it like a knife,
save you from the lies . . .
From the ropes that bind you
and the role you play
and the game that hooks you
while the big ones get away.

Coincidence and Likely Stories was very much a ‘comeback’ album for Buffy Sainte-Marie, who first rose to prominence in the early 1960s as a folk artist. From 1976 to 1991, Buffy quit recording to concentrate on raising her son. In 1991 she was invited by Ensign Records to re-enter professional recording and, with Chris Birkett as her co-producer, proceeded to make Coincidence and Likely Stories — recording most of the instrumentation herself in her home studio in Hawaii using digital media.

The recording process, however, went even further in terms of innovation, with Coincidence and Likely Stories being the first documented use of the internet to deliver a music CD via modem. It was digitally recorded at Buffy’s home in Hawaii and then delivered from there to Chrysalis Records’ studio in London.

Of the groundbreaking recording process of the album, Buffy says:

It was the first album ever done this way, I’m told. I recorded everything in Hawaii. First we sent the midi tracks—we sent them by modem, bounced them off the satellite, they went on tape in London. Then we did further overdubs in London because the record company was so nervous about doing something like this, they had already booked a studio. They very much wanted to be in on the mixes, so we did the mixes there. But for the most part all of the pre-production was done in Hawaii, almost all of the vocals, some overdubs in Canada, and again we sent it up using the new technology.

In reviewing Coincidence and Likely Stories, one critic notes that Buffy’s “hippy/beatnik folk sound of the sixties and the anti-war movement [has] matured into an eclectic mixture of country, rock, and American Indian music. While New Age flutists and ‘Indian-aware’ grunge artists struggle to appropriate the American Indian musical tradition, Sainte-Marie has integrated the sound into the mainstream of popular music as successfully as Paul Simon brought us the music and musicians of Brazil and South Africa.” Another reviewer remarked on the album’s “classy and discreet treatments [and] bitter lyrics.”

Yet the album also contains lyrics of hope — as evidenced, for instance, in “Getting Started.” On this particular track, Buffy, while acknowledging loneliness and isolation, also sings of the possibility of something “wild and unique” – a journey of human consciousness where “love’s the magic number,” and where together “we’re only getting started.”

Upon its release in 1992, Coincidence and Likely Stories garnered Buffy numerous accolades. France, for instance, named her Best International Artist and presented her with the Grand Prix Charles de Gaulle Award.

Commenting on the album’s lack of success in the U.S., Buffy has simply remarked: “Coincidence and Likely Stories was a big hit in Europe, won best international artist and lots of wonderful accolades, but it was never heard in the U.S.”

I first heard about the album through a British music magazine not long after its release in 1992. I was living in Australia at the time and so special ordered it through my local music store. Upon its arrival I can well remember sitting and listening to it late into the night. I thought at the time it was an incredible album - a great album. I still do.

Since relocating to the U.S. in 1994 I’ve seen Buffy twice in concert – and once even got to meet and talk with her backstage. She is a very warm and engaging person. And of course I still have the program she autographed for me!

Buffy’s latest album is entitled Running for the Drum. It comes with a bonus DVD that beautifully documents her life as an artist, activist, and educator. I highly recommend it.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Official Website
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Mouthbows to Cyberskins
Buffy Sainte-Marie UK
Beyond Images of Women and Indians: Straight-talk from a Cree Icon - Brenda Norrell (Censored News, 1999/2008).


butterfly said...

Thank you, Michael, for having this music here of Buffy Sainte-Marie! What a nice surprise to hear her sing again. I was a huge fan of hers in the late sixties when I was in my teens. I used to sing along with her while listening to her albums.

I happened to notice your blog from Colleen Kochivar-Baker's blog Enlightened Catholicism. When I saw you had music up I just had to dash over to your blog!!

Buffy is beautiful. A true Artist. It is fascinating to me that someone I so much appreciated so many years ago, is still someone that I can appreciate immensely today!!

I am an Artist too and record right from my home studio. I have my music online at Recent issues at the website are forcing me out, and many others, to a smaller place that is run by an artist who appreciates artist and is very encouraging towards artist at

Thanks again Michael!!! This made my day!!

Best regards to you - Fran Schultz

Paul Burnham said...

Hi and thanks. I do love this, I remember exactly where i was and how I felt when I first heard "The big ones get away" on the radio. It's both political and a love song, it's woman-centred in that Buffy is in control, except for what the power elite do, that we cannot prevent. A woman with beautiful boundaries! And especially, she doesn't smile in the song promo vid. Wow!

Paul Burnham

Carl said...

A beautiful woman singing a beautiful song. Buffy Sainte-Marie is an international treasure.
But this song's message always depresses me. A commentary on the sad reality of the world - it just makes me feel hopeless.
And things aren't getting better.
The world quickly stays the same

Unknown said...

Hello! Please: what does mean "Polarity Hill" in the song? Thanks!