Friday, February 20, 2009

Today we will listen to Buffy Sainte-Marie . . .

I was in eighth grade when I first heard Buffy Sainte-Marie, her music introduced by my English teacher. I can't remember the teacher's name. What I remember of her was that she had olive-colored skin and a mass of thick salt-and-pepper hair that she wore collar-bone length. She had dark-framed glasses on a chain and almost always wore slim-lined, dark skirts and sweater sets. Her probing questions about our reading sparked some real conversations. She had a quiet knack for bringing us out of our shells. But she never shared herself with us. Until this one Monday, the new week following a weekend death of one of our classmates.

Freddie was his name. He had died immediately when the car he was riding in slammed into a tree at high speed. He'd been a quiet one, the dark-haired, sulking bad boy....all the girls could tell that. Nothing special had been done by the school to guide the students through their sadness and shock, unlike now when cadres of counselors are brought in to support students when friends are taken suddenly.

We all were seated when our teacher walked into the classroom carrying a portable record player, a large canvas bag slung over one shoulder. Just a turntable with built-in speaker and a cord that she plugged in by her table at the front of the class and a worn LP that she gently pulled from the bag and situated on the platter. As she bent over to eye her positioning of the tonearm onto the record, she raised her eyes to us and said, simply, Today we will listen to Buffy Sainte-Marie. That was all that was said in class that day. Our teacher sat in her chair at the table in front and seemed to disappear with the heaviness and lightness weighing and playing in the songs.....and in our individual thoughts.

From Wikipedia:
Buffy Sainte-Marie was born August 2, 1941 on the Piapot Cree Indian reserve in the Qu'Appelle valley, Saskatchewan, Canada. She was orphaned and later adopted and grew up in Maine and with parents Albert and Winifred Sainte-Marie who were related to her biological parents. From the University of Massachusetts she holds degrees in teaching and Oriental Philosophy graduating in the top ten of her class and went on to earn a Ph.D. in Fine Arts. In 1964 on a return trip to the Piapot Cree reserve in Canada for a Powwow she was welcomed and (in a Cree nation context) adopted by the youngest son of Chief Piapot, Imu Piapot and his wife who added to Sainte-Marie's cultural value of, and place in, First Nations culture.

From the online biography Creative Native, that includes photos and a deeper background on this artist, and the link to her Official On-Line Art Gallery.
Buffy Sainte-Marie was a graduating college senior in 1962 and hit the ground running in the early the Sixties, after the beatniks and before the hippies. All alone she toured North America's colleges, reservations and concert halls, meeting both huge acclaim and huge misperception from audiences and record companies who expected Pocahontas in fringes, and instead were both entertained and educated with their initial dose of Native American reality in the first person.

By age 24, Buffy Sainte-Marie had appeared all over Europe, Canada, Australia and Asia, receiving honors, medals and awards which continue to this day. Her song "Until It's Time for You to Go" was recorded by Elvis and Barbra and Cher, and her "Universal Soldier" became the anthem of the peace movement. For her very first album she was voted Billboard's Best New Artist.

She disappeared suddenly from the mainstream American airwaves during the Lyndon Johnson years. As part of a blacklist which affected Eartha Kitt, Taj Mahal and a host of other outspoken performers, her name was included on White House stationery as among those whose music "deserved to be suppressed". In Indian country and abroad, however, her fame only grew. She continued to appear at countless grassroots concerts, AIM events and other activist benefits. She made 17 albums of her music, three of her own television specials, spent five years on Sesame Street, scored movies, helped to found Canada's 'Music of Aboriginal Canada' JUNO category, raised a son, earned a Ph.D. in Fine Arts, taught Digital Music as adjunct professor at several colleges, and won an Academy Award Oscar for the song "Up Where We Belong".

Buffy Sainte-Marie virtually invented the role of Native American international activist pop star. Her concern for protecting indigenous intellectual property, and her distaste for the exploitation of Native American artists and performers has kept her in the forefront of activism in the arts for forty years. Presently she operates the Nihewan Foundation for Native American Education whose Cradleboard Teaching Project serves children and teachers in eighteen states.

Video by

"God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot"

Song: Buffy Sainte-Marie
Lyrics by Leonard Cohen

God is alive; Magic is afoot
God is alive; Magic is afoot
God is afoot; Magic is alive
Alive is afoot.....
Magic never died.

God never sickened;
many poor men lied
many sick men lied
Magic never weakened
Magic never hid
Magic always ruled
God is afoot
God never died.

God was ruler
though his funeral lengthened
Though his mourners thickened
Magic never fled
Though his shrouds were hoisted
the naked God did live
Though his words were twisted
the naked Magic thrived
Though his death was published
round and round the world
the heart did not believe

Many hurt men wondered
many struck men bled
Magic never faltered
Magic always led.
Many stones were rolled
but God would not lie down
Many wild men lied
many fat men listened
Though they offered stones
Magic still was fed
Though they locked their coffers
God was always served.


Magic is afoot. God rules.
Alive is afoot. Alive is in command.
Many weak men hungered
Many strong men thrived
Though they boasted solitude
God was at their side
Nor the dreamer in his cell
nor the captain on the hill
Magic is alive
Though his death was pardoned
round and round the world
the heart did not believe.

Though laws were carved in marble
they could not shelter men
Though altars built in parliaments
they could not order men
Police arrested Magic
and Magic went with them,
for Magic loves the hungry.

But Magic would not tarry
it moves from arm to arm
it would not stay with them
Magic is afoot
it cannot come to harm
it rests in an empty palm
it spawns in an empty mind
but Magic is no instrument
Magic is the end.

Many men drove Magic
but Magic stayed behind
Many strong men lied
they only passed through Magic
and out the other side
Many weak men lied
they came to God in secret
and though they left him nourished
they would not say who healed
Though mountains danced before them
they said that God was dead
Though his shrouds were hoisted
the naked God did live


This I mean to whisper to my mind
This I mean to laugh with in my mind
This I mean my mind to serve 'til
service is but Magic
moving through the world
and mind itself is Magic
coursing through the flesh
and flesh itself is Magic
dancing on a clock
and time itself the magic length of God.



Wandering Alice said...

I LOVE Buffy St. Marie...When I was in high school I took all my mother's LPs from her hippy days and used to spend hours lying on the floor of my room, listening to Pete Seeger, Buffy St. Marie and all the other fab folk singers. It really opened my mind musically, and set me on a path of deep appreciation of folk traditions. Your story is really moving. What a powerful memory- what an appropriate soundtrack...I wonder if the hoard of counselors that flood schools after disasters these days leave such a lasting impression.

The Acolyte Tao said...

Nice story (your so enjoyable to read on any subject haha), but her music is strange in my opinion.

Looking to the Stars said...

What a blast from the past, I had all but forgotten Buffy Sainte-Marie, thanks for reminding me. A treasure like her is not to be forgotten.
I loved what your teacher did, I too grew up where you had to deal with death on your own, no counslers for our generation. Its good that future generations don't have to walk alone.

Kylita said...

A Kaleidoscopic Native American pictorial song ... thank you.

Hattie said...

Nice tribute!
She gave an absolutely riviting show at the Vancouver Folk Festival some years ago. Also on the side stage she appeared with some young folkie--Ani Di Franco--who was so thrilled to play with the great Buffy St. Marie!
Buffy St. Marie is now a "neighbor" of mine, living in Hawaii though on a different island.

Jennifer said...

Several people in my high school were killed in car accidents (I still remember kind David Anderson, who died after the senior yearbook came out, I remember his Catholic funeral, the incense and his parents and little sister and the sadness of it all). Boy, do I wish someone had played some Buffy Sainte-Marie for us. It would have been appropriate and beautiful.

As usual, this is a very layered post. Thanks for writing it and for including that song, which was quite stirring.

Lydia said...

@Wandering Alice- I enjoy visualizing this young girl in her bedroom listening to music from her mother's youth. Folk music is really something: it seems both timeless and yet very dated....... :)

@Acolyte Tao- Thanks :) Perhaps I didn't select the most representative of her songs. First, she didn't even write the words to this one. Some of her earlier work seems almost mainstream. Then there's Universal Soldier...

@Looking to the Stars- I hadn't thought of her for ages either. Interesting how songs/words/people surface from the depths of the past.

@Kylita- You said it! Glad you enjoyed.

@Hattie- Thanks much. It's strange that you'd mention Ani DiFranco because she was a topic of an earlier post here!
Ah, so Buffy Sainte-Marie is a neighbor of yours of sorts. Does she do concerts there ever?

@Jennifer- Your memories of David Anderson were poignant. I'm also sorry you didn't have Sainte-Marie music to stir and soothe the time.
My nephew will be 16 next week. A front-page article in our paper this week is going in his card. It's about an 18-yr-old rocker with a band, who looks remarkably like my nephew, whose music has helped him move on from the accident he was in with his girlfriend (passengers, both) last fall. She was killed. My nephew is madly in love with a girl now and I know this article will have a powerful affect on he becomes a driver on the rural roads in Indiana.

Rhiannon said...

Oh Gosh, here we go again Lydia!..:o) "serendipity" again?

About two weeks ago I went through all the Buffy Sainte-Marie songs on I wanted to download some of my favorites. There is one album of hers pretty sure it's called "Moonshot" I got in the late 70's..I've got this album packed in storage now, it's one of my favorites of hers. There are some great songs from that album that I went and downloaded two weeks ago from youtube and had planned to post them down the road.

"Moonshot" song is one of the songs..which is just great! Part of the lyrics that I always remember go something like this.."I knew a man from a tribe oh so primitive, he could call me up without no telephone".. "An anthropologist he wrote a book, he called it "myths of heaven", one day he just up and disappeared, his families all angel had come and got him, so up into outer space you go my friend, we wish you bon voyage...and when you get back we will welcome you once again and still we wonder at it all"..not exact words but you get the idea?

Jeremiah" is another one. "some will tell you, yes some will tell you, look it up, they say it's on the menu, on the menu...but don't you believe them, no don't you believe them, cook it up for yourself and then prepare to serve them, yes,prepare to serve, yes dance to the music in the sky"..etc..etc..

Now you have me getting these verses stuck in my head..

Wonder what musical artist you will post next that I love and relate to? I'm a Pisces and we Pisces so relate to music, songs, lyrics..I appreciate music tremendously for it's a huge part of my life..and helps to heal's very expressive..:o) I could not live without the "music".

In my high school down in the valley in Los Angeles there were so many kids per class the teachers never ever took the time to reach out to students like you a matter of fact I still have many memories of teachers making fun of me and trashing me (among other things) and calling me "stupid" when I knew I really was was just that I had dyslexia and such and in those days they had no clue. I hated high school couldn't wait to graduate..amazed I did!

I remember in high school having this really bad crush on this really tough guy. I was very shy then but seemed to be attracted to the "bad guys"..Derek was his name. I still think about him from time to time. When he graduated he joined the army and went to Vietnam. A year later I remember picking up the newspaper and reading the local headlines. Derek had been killed in Vietnam...he and his fellow comrades were in a cave and a bomb was thrown in and he saw it and jumped on top of it to save all his fellow comrades. I remember crying and crying..and it made me aware at that time that you really don't know who is capable of what..some you think might be an "A student" Football team leader, or cheerleader would always get all the attention, be popular or save the day or be "idolized"....yet..maybe often it's the underdogs that become the heros, not because they think they are but just because they had great courage to do what they thought was the right thing when something horrible happens "in the moment". I also found out that Derek had liked me quite a lot also! But he had told all his friends that I deserved a "better guy than him"..with all his screw ups and tough life..though I beg to differ. I guess I always knew that when he protected me from this mean man teacher that was always trying to look up my dress and always made sexual remarks towards me. Derek was in that class and he always just "took care of it" for me. It was so sweet.

When JFK was assinated the school came over the public speaker and told us and I thought how interesting it was that the so called "tough and bad students" were the ones that became so emotional, shocked and expressive with feelings of devastation..and cried..and I remember hugging and holding them and crying in each others arms. I sure learned a lot about life during that time and bonded with people I never thought I would.

Thanks for the great post! Sorry, rambling here, you gave me so much to think about and to "remember". It's funny as quite often I cannot remember what I did yesterday or 4 hrs. ago my memory fails me..yet I have so many memories from the past throughout my life that are very very special and important to me.



Lydia said...

Rhi- What deep and fascinating comments, friend. You know, I think that subliminally I thought of Buffy St. Marie after being at your blog. Some of your own artwork reminds me of her (did you go to the link that shows her art?).
If things had worked out differently it seems that you and Derek could have been a good pair. He's connected with you, anyway. I'm glad he was there for you as protection because your high school sounds like a truly awful place!
Now I will very much look forward to your future post(s) about Buffy Sainte-Marie. You know more about her music than I do, most definitely.
I agree with you about the importance of music. First semester of college English we had to write an in-class paper on What Would You Be Willing to Die For?. I wrote mine on Music. :)

secret, fragile skies said...

Beautiful post. Beautifully written. Love the song you chose, thought of this from Woody Allen: "I think if it's not magical, it's not going to happen, because all the other solutions I see around me-religious solutions, scientific solutions, intellectual solutions- you know, everything is too little too late and not good enough."

Lydia said...

@secret, fragile skies- Thank you so much for your comments and for the Woody Allen quote. I hadn't seen that one and I'm again reminded that he has been/is a genius among us.

Sarah Sofia Ganborg said...

Dear Lydia,
thanks for mentioning her, shall go to the library and get one of her CDs. I don't know, why i haven't done this before; I really love universal soldier and so do my sons, as a matter of fact this is probably one of the reasons why I have written die last three books, which I wrote during the past 2 years... they are about a female soldier who isn't all too happy about the things she has encoubntered on her path...
thanks for leaing you comments on my blogs!
Oh by the way: have you read my post "Do you know somebody who has a problem with drugs?" on:
I think, this might be something which you might find interesting. There are no comments on this particular post, so i guess, everybody thinks, taht this is definitely not something, which has anything to do with them at all. people tend to be very arrongant and ignorant about some things. And it's always "the others" and never ever themselves. And these others are so unbelievebly bad, that one doesn't want anything to do with them, but when you check things out for real, you find out, that almost everybody has a problem like this, they are just dishonest with themselves!
greetings from denmark, sarah sofia

Lydia said...

@Sarah Sofia- Thank you for being here and for your interesting comments! You have a wise understanding of the human condition, I think. I'll definitely be by to read the post you mentioned.
I hope the library has a Buffy St. Marie cd for you. I appreciate your shared respect for her.

laughingyogini said...

Beautiful video, L. thanks for posting. I placed it in my video library. It's a meditation.

Weird, I consider myself a buddhist...I believe in nondualism...but also believe in god/ the goddess / grace/ Maybe they really are all one and the same and that's the point.

Lydia said...

@laughingyogini- It's wonderful that you placed this in your video library.
I'm glad to read the short paragraph about your beliefs...very profound and helpful for me. I am strongly drawn to Buddhism but I believe in god and that works for me. :)



Related Posts with Thumbnails