Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Happy Birthday, Buffy!

Above: Buffy and guitarist Anthony King performing at the Big Top Chautauqua, Bayfield, WI on Saturday, August 27, 2016. (Photo: Michael J. Bayly)

Singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie turns 77 today.

Happy Birthday, Buffy!

As regulars readers will know, I’ve long admired Buffy Sainte-Marie and enjoyed her music. Indeed, I find her to be a very inspiring figure. (I even chose her song "It's My Way" as my theme song when I turned 50 in 2015!)

Left: With Buffy after her August 26, 2016 performance at The Dakota in Minneapolis.

I particularly appreciate and am inspired by Buffy's passion and purposefulness – and by the way she blends her art and social activism. I’ve seen her four times in concert, and had the privilege of meeting and talking with her at three of these events. She’s creative, articulate, warm, and funny – a very human human being, in other words.

Buffy's most recent album is the Juno-nominated Medicine Songs (2017), about which Buffy says the following.

[Medicine Songs] is a collection of front line songs about unity and resistance – some brand new and some classics – and I want to put them to work. These are songs I've been writing for over fifty years, and what troubles people today are still the same damn issues from 30-40-50 years ago: war, oppression, inequity, violence, rankism of all kinds, the pecking order, bullying, racketeering and systemic greed. Some of these songs come from the other side of that: positivity, common sense, romance, equity and enthusiasm for life.

[. . .] I really want this collection of songs to be like medicine, to be of some help or encouragement, to maybe do some good. Songs can motivate you and advance your own ideas, encourage and support collaborations and be part of making change globally and at home. They do that for me and I hope this album can be positive and provide thoughts and remedies that rock your world and inspire new ideas of your own.

For The Wild Reed's special post featuring highlights from a number of reviews of Medicine Songs, along with an insightful interview with Buffy, click here.

Above: Buffy, tuning her guitar between songs at her August 27, 2016 performance in Bayfield, WI. (Photo: Michael J. Bayly)

Here's an interesting little aside: In January of 2017 I participated in the Women's March in St. Paul, MN. It was an event that drew an estimated 100,000 people to the Minnesota State Capitol grounds and it's believed to have been one of the largest protest gatherings in Minnesota history. The march was part of a nationwide surge of massive rallies and marches aimed at both protesting President Donald Trump’s positions and statements on women’s rights, immigration, the environment, and climate change AND offering hope and alternatives to Trump's political agenda.

I had decided about a week before the march that I wanted to carry a sign that shared a positive message from an inspiring woman. I therefore decided on words of hope and encouragement from Buffy! They're actually lyrics from her song "Getting Started" (from her phenomenal 1992 album Coincidence and Likely Stories). The image incorporated in my sign is one I took of Buffy when I saw her in concert in Bayfield, WI the previous summer. The original photo opens this post.

Womb-world paradigm
Understand in time
It’s a sweet investigation
We’re learning rope by rope
Climbing hope by hope
In every combination

And that’s okay
No, it’s not the way it "should be"
But that’s okay
It’s wild and it’s unique
And that’s okay
Yeah, love’s the magic number
And that’s okay
Come on, we’re only getting started . . .

– Buffy Sainte-Marie
Excerpted from “Getting Started”
(from the 1992 album, Coincidence and Likely Stories)

For more about the making of my sign, click here. For photos and commentary on the St. Paul Women's March, click here.

John Grissim, Jr.'s portrait of Buffy with her guitar, above, was taken in the early 1970s. At around the same time Victoria Coppe wrote the following for The Buffy Sainte-Marie Songbook (1971). They're words that are as true today as they were 47 years ago!

Talking to Buffy Sainte-Marie is listening to thoughts, touching emotions, running into moods before the music inside her finds them too and "the gods tap dance on her head" that night and the next day there's a song. "Until It's Time for You to Go," "My Country, 'Tis of Thy People You're Dying," "Soldier Blue," "Jeremiah," "I Wanna Hold Your Hand Forever." The stuff that her albums, sold internationally, are made of.

But she's not a songwriter she'll tell you. She's just someone who wakes up when the dancing starts, listens to her head, and writes down what she hears. "Songs go by the times when I don't. But it's hard not to get up. Hearing a song in your head in the middle of the night is like trying to ignore a whale in your bathtub. You have to do something with it. You think once it's out, once it's written, it's over. But it's not. You continue to retch."

Be there when she tells the story of man's inhumanity to man, "Now That the Buffalo's Gone," and you'll understand. The message reaches her audience, and the fragile artist's forceful delivery brings them to their feet. But Buffy Sainte-Marie – while the applause thunders – is stilling the storm inside her.

When she performs in concert across the country, records in Nashville, or listens as another artist renders the whales that keep her up at nights, she's angered, she's loved, she's hurt, she's warmed, she's made to laugh, she's made to remember anywhere from her childhood and on all over again.

That's what Buffy Sainte-Marie sings about in fragile whispers bearing love, and anguished, quivering cries that question, plead, haunt, and accuse. She bares her thoughts, her emotions, her moods, her experiences. And because of her sensitivity to the experiences of others, theirs, too.

I close this post with a video of Buffy singing her Oscar Award-winning song that she co-wrote with Jack Nitzsche and Will Jennings. Yes, it's "Up Where We Belong," from the 1982 film, An Officer and a Gentleman.

"Up Where We Belong" was, of course, made famous by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes. This particular performance by Buffy is, as she says, "the songwriter's version." It's from her 1996 CBC special, also entitled Up Where We Belong.

Who knows what tomorrow brings
In a world where few hearts survive
All I know is the way I feel
If it's real, keep it alive
The road is long
There are mountains in our way
But we climb a step every day

Love lift us up where we belong
Where the eagles cry
On a mountain high
Love lift us up where we belong
Far from the worlds we know
Up where the clear winds blow

Some hang on to used-to-be
They live their lives looking behind
When all we have is here and now
All our lives, out there to find
The road is long
And there are mountains in our way
But we climb a step every day

Time goes by, no time to cry
Life's you and I alive today

– Jack Nitzsche, Buffy Sainte-Marie
and Will Jennings

For The Wild Reed's special series of posts leading-up to the November 10, 2017 release of Medicine Songs, see:
For Acclaimed Songwriter, Activist and Humanitarian Buffy Sainte-Marie, the World is Always Ripening
Buffy Sainte-Marie: "I'm Creative Anywhere"
Buffy Sainte-Marie Headlines SummerStage Festival in NYC's Central Park
Buffy Sainte-Marie, "One of the Best Performers Out Touring Today"
The Music of Buffy Sainte-Marie: "Uprooting the Sources of Disenfranchisement"
Buffy Sainte-Marie: “Things Do Change and Things Do Get Better”
Buffy Sainte-Marie's Medicine Songs

For The Wild Reed's special series of posts leading-up to the May 12, 2015 release of Buffy's award-winning album, Power in the Blood, see:
Buffy Sainte-Marie and That "Human-Being Magic"
Buffy Sainte-Marie's Lesson from the Cutting Edge: "Go Where You Must to Grow"
Buffy Sainte-Marie: "Sometimes You Have to Be Content to Plant Good Seeds and Be Patient"
Buffy Sainte-Marie's Power in the Blood

For more of Buffy Sainte-Marie at The Wild Reed, see:
A Music Legend Visits the North Country: Buffy Sainte-Marie in Minnesota and Wisconsin – August 2016
Two Exceptional Singers Take a Chance on the "Spirit of the Wind"
Photo of the Day – January 21, 2017
Buffy Sainte-Marie Wins 2015 Polaris Music Prize
Congratulations, Buffy
Happy Birthday, Buffy!
Actually, There's No Question About It
For Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Well-Deserved Honor
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Singing It and Praying It; Living It and Saying It
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Still Singing with Spirit, Joy, and Passion
Something Special for Indigenous Peoples Day
Buffy Sainte-Marie: "The Big Ones Get Away"

Related Off-site Links:
Buffy Sainte-Marie, Jess Moskaluke, and The Dead South Lead Saskatchewan Artists Nominated for Junos – Spencer Leigh (The Independent, January 9, 2018)
Buffy Sainte-Marie: "I Constantly Ask Myself, Where Are the Great Protest Songs of Today? Are People Deaf and Blind?"Regina Leader-Post, (February 6, 2018).
Music as Medicine: Buffy Sainte-Marie Talks Politics, Sex Scandals and Her Brand New Album – Rosanna Deerchild (CBC Radio's Unreserved, November 19, 2017)
Buffy Sainte-Marie Takes a Stand with Medicine SongsET Canada (November 30, 2017).
Buffy Sainte-Marie Makes Music for a New Generation of Activists – Tom Power (CBC Radio, November 17, 2017).
The Unbreakable Buffy Sainte-Marie: A Candid Conversation with the Resilient Songwriter and Activist – Whitney Phaneuf (Acoustic Guitar, January 18, 2017).

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