BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE: The Au­tho­rized Bi­og­ra­phy

Say Magazine - - FEATURE -

“As a jour­nal­ist I want to pro­vide space for other peo­ple’s sto­ries – that’s what my pur­pose is.” – An­drea Warner

The first and only au­tho­rized bi­og­ra­phy about Buffy Sainte-Marie is com­ing out this Septem­ber, and SAY Mag­a­zine was one of the first to in­ter­view au­thor An­drea Warner in an­tic­i­pa­tion of its re­lease.

Warner is an ac­claimed au­thor, pop cul­ture writer and mu­sic critic who shares a close bond with Sainte-Marie. Warner joined Sainte-Marie on tour and spent more than 60 hours in­ter­view­ing the mu­si­cian to write this book. In this in­ter­view, Warner of­fers a more in­ti­mate, per­sonal look at Sainte-Marie’s re­mark­able life and ca­reer, in­clud­ing her com­mit­ment to Indige­nous ad­vo­cacy and ac­tivism, her lead­er­ship and her un­par­al­leled tal­ent as a song­writer, artist and en­ter­tainer.

SAY: Why was it im­por­tant to write this bi­og­ra­phy?

Warner: There has never been this close un­pack­ing of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s fa­mous and cre­ative life - that an­gle has never re­ally been told.

I re­mem­ber dig­ging deeper into the folk move­ment and the protest move­ment. It’s My Way! is such an im­por­tant al­bum and ut­terly crit­i­cal to the protest move­ment, the peace move­ment and the folk move­ment. What’s crazy is that I could only find one book that had been writ­ten about Buffy Sainte-Marie, but I could find 70 books writ­ten about Bob Dy­lan (who’s great and I get it). Dy­lan and the myth of Dy­lan takes up all the space and that is se­ri­ously com­pro­mis­ing the folk move­ment’s glo­ri­ous his­tory and eras­ing women, par­tic­u­larly women of colour, from a crit­i­cal time in our world.

I also started dig­ging into and un­pack­ing what it means to be a Cana­dian mu­si­cian. I started to lis­ten, ap­pre­ci­ate and un­der­stand more what “Cana­dian” has of­ten meant and why that might in it­self be a bar­rier for some peo­ple. The his­tory of col­o­niza­tion in this coun­try is dev­as­tat­ing and dam­ag­ing. I started to think a lot about what I was see­ing on the best Cana­dian mu­si­cian list, who qual­i­fied, who sprang to the top, and whose sto­ries were not be­ing rep­re­sented.

I’m a set­tler, I was born here in Van­cou­ver and I’m white. As a coun­try we have forced peo­ple to iden­tify and be a part of the mythol­ogy of Canada, and we con­tinue to erase Indige­nous voices and im­mi­grant set­tler voices. I spent more time think­ing about what it meant to be a Cana­dian mu­si­cian and who was not rep­re­sented or pur­posely erased by us­ing the term “Cana­dian mu­si­cian”. By de­fault, peo­ple con­stantly talk about Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, who I love and ap­pre­ci­ate, yet, the more I lis­tened to Buffy’s mu­sic, the more I started to won­der why she was not be­ing counted in the same way. She is a very cel­e­brated artist, espe­cially in Canada; how­ever, I feel like she never gets the same level of ac­knowl­edge­ment or ap­pre­ci­a­tion for how truly in­no­va­tive she is. Buffy is a bril­liant song­writer and ac­tivist and she writes about things that are truly im­por­tant and cru­cial to the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence.

SAY: What was it like meet­ing Buffy Sainte-Marie for the first time?

Warner: I was writ­ing a lot about Buffy’s mu­sic and we hap­pened to be fol­low­ing each other on Twit­ter. I in­ter­viewed Buffy for Power in the Blood, which I think is the most im­por­tant record of 2015, and we got along so bril­liantly - nei­ther of us wanted to get off the phone. We had such a great con­nec­tion and I thought, ‘if I can write her bi­og­ra­phy and have her be the one telling her story, I can help make space for it be­cause her story be­longs in this world’. I felt that up un­til now, her story had not fully been told.

When I asked whether she would be in­ter­ested in this idea, I was so ex­cited and hon­oured that she said yes. When we met to start the process, we clicked im­me­di­ately. She had said no to oth­ers be­fore, but she said yes to me. I am in­cred­i­bly lucky.

SAY: What is one of the things you ad­mire most about Buffy Sainte-Marie?

Warner: I love her cu­rios­ity about ev­ery­thing. Her brain is never re­ally quiet, even if her body is en­joy­ing the quiet and the soli­tude, her brain is al­ways rac­ing. I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate and love that level of en­gage­ment - it’s such an ex­hil­a­rat­ing thing to be in con­ver­sa­tion with her.

SAY: The two of you put in a lot of time to­gether to cre­ate this book; what was your ex­pe­ri­ence like tour­ing with Buffy and her band?

Warner: Prior to the tour, we had formed such a nice bond over the phone. We spoke twice a week for two hours at a time and cre­ated a kind of space where we built trust that deep­ened with each pass­ing con­ver­sa­tion. Af­ter two months of phone calls, I spent three full days on tour with her, in and out of a van with her and her band.

I sat next to Buffy in the van and we lis­tened to au­dio­books, she showed me pic­tures of her va­ca­tions and we talked about dif­fer­ent things hap­pen­ing in the world. We also dis­cov­ered we both share a love of pin­ball!

I didn’t record the whole time be­cause I

didn’t want to cre­ate any kind of in­tru­sion; I wanted things to con­tinue to flow and hap­pen around me. Buffy and I would hang out af­ter shows and do our in­ter­views, and that’s when I would take out the tape recorder. It was such an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence. When it was done, I didn’t want to go home.

SAY: What is one of your most mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences tour­ing with Buffy? Warner: Get­ting a chance to see Buffy and her band do sound check every day and just be­ing a part of it all. They in­vited me into their smudg­ing cer­e­mony be­fore they went on stage which was such a beau­ti­ful ex­pe­ri­ence. The whole team was such an invit­ing, ac­cept­ing and lov­ing group – they were so kind and gen­er­ous. I re­ally en­joyed wit­ness­ing what their col­lab­o­ra­tion looks likes.

Now I know all the words to all the songs, and I sing along to them all – I’m one of those peo­ple in the au­di­ence now! I never get tired of hear­ing/lis­ten­ing to their songs be­cause she [Buffy] has such a unique way of bring­ing them to life.

I thought about what it is to per­form a song you wrote more than 50 years ago and when the world is still very dif­fi­cult and in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult - to go out there and still be­lieve in its power and its mes­sage. The word “tire­less” is used a lot in ref­er­ence to Buffy, and I un­der­stand why. She is not some­one whose mes­sage has ever faded or been com­pro­mised. She has had a strong be­lief sys­tem cen­tered in her—prob­a­bly since birth—and she has al­ways been able to lis­ten to and cul­ti­vate it and share it with the world. It’s ex­tra­or­di­nary to wit­ness.

SAY: Was there any­thing that sur­prised you or shocked you through­out the in­ter­view process?

Warner: I was not aware of the ex­tent of the in­ti­mate part­ner vi­o­lence and the child­hood trauma that she ex­pe­ri­enced. I cried many times. She hadn’t re­ally talked about it or gone on record about it be­fore. I am grate­ful to her for trust­ing me with this part of her life. I know that peo­ple are go­ing to read this and feel seen and val­i­dated in their ex­pe­ri­ences. I think peo­ple will see a part of them­selves in this book that they didn’t an­tic­i­pate. The way in which she frames the re­la­tion­ship be­tween colo­nial­ism and pe­dophilia is go­ing to al­low peo­ple to bet­ter ex­am­ine the real costs of colo­nial­ism. If peo­ple haven’t been able to make it real through un­der­stand­ing res­i­den­tial schools, I think this is an­other way peo­ple can con­front colo­nial­ism and un­der­stand why de­col­o­niza­tion is so im­por­tant. Peo­ple will fur­ther un­der­stand why move­ments like “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” are so preva­lent. Our cul­tural his­tory is so rooted in ex­ploita­tion that I think this will be an emo­tional and eye open­ing read for a lot of peo­ple.

SAY: What did you learn about your­self along the way?

Warner: I was very priv­i­leged and wel­comed into cul­tural cer­e­monies and tra­di­tions which was a beau­ti­ful and emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence for me. I re­ally val­ued that. Buffy has such a ca­pac­ity for cre­ation – she talks a lot about cre­ation and the cre­ator, and I think that’s part of how she main­tains her en­ergy and her mo­men­tum – she’s very much an op­ti­mist. She has helped re­frame things for me and helped me think about things from more pos­i­tive view­points - I need to be part of a so­lu­tion. I hope that stays with me for­ever.

SAY: Is there any­thing else you would like to share with our read­ers - with young peo­ple read­ing SAY?

Warner: Buffy has an in­cred­i­ble love of learn­ing - she truly val­ues ed­u­ca­tion and learn­ing. She’s look­ing at ways to fur­ther dig­i­tize and re­vi­tal­ize the Cradle­board Teach­ing Project (www.cradle­board.org); mak­ing it rel­e­vant to Canada and to the United States. I think she would be ex­cited if young peo­ple checked it out and thought about how it could be use­ful in mod­ern so­ci­ety be­cause it’s an in­ter­est­ing way of ap­proach­ing ed­u­ca­tion.

Edited in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Sainte-Marie her­self, no book, ar­ti­cle or in­ter­view has of­fered as pow­er­ful or in­ti­mate of a look at the amaz­ing artist’s life, and Warner takes the reader on a bril­liantly emo­tional and en­gag­ing jour­ney. Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Au­tho­rized Bi­og­ra­phy by An­drea Warner, fore­word by Joni Mitchell. Avail­able Septem­ber 25, 2018, from Grey­stone Books.

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