Review by Tess Tabak
In this volume, Andrea Warner paints a heartbreaking-yet-inspiring picture of Buffy Sainte Marie, the folk rock legend who’s mostly been erased from music history. Blacklisted by two US presidents, Buffy was an outspoken woman of color, and an activist, exactly the type of person that gets willfully forgotten.
When my baby boomer aunt saw this book, her face lit up. “I love Buffy!” she said. “Whatever happened to her?”
This book answers that question. Buffy only had one or two records that achieved hit status in the US. She never stopped producing music after that. However, much of her later works were not commercial successes, deemed too experimental. Other of her songs were covered by, and later attributed to, more famous musicians, including “Until It’s Time for You to Go,” a song Elvis Presley famously covered and allowed his fans to think he had written.
There’s even more to the story of why Buffy exists in relative obscurity today, despite being one of the most inventive, original artists of the 60s and 70s. This work makes a case for Buffy as one of the musical greats of the 60s.
I’d never heard of Buffy before I picked up this book, but Warner’s complex portrait doesn’t rest on prior knowledge. Anyone interested in folk rock or musical activism can enjoy this book. However, Warner provides many details about Buffy’s life that will especially interest those who already know and love her music, such as her traumatic childhood and unhappy marriage to producer Jack Nitzsche.
Warner’s journalism goes deep. She snagged interviews with people close to Buffy, including one of her childhood best friends. Much of the book comes straight out of Warner’s conversations with Buffy. Now in her late 70s, Buffy reflects back on her contemporaries and her own life with frankness. She critiques some of her peers in folk music, such as Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, who cashed in on their music without talking about the “bigger picture … colonialism and the systemic greed … of the music industry.” (77).
Even if you’ve never heard of her, aficionados of 60s/70s folk have almost definitely heard Buffy’s music, or at least music inspired by her. Buffy worked alongside names like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen. As an activist, Buffy has been focused on environmental work and Native American rights for over 50s years, an issue we’re still struggling with today. She even appeared on Sesame Street in the 70s, teaching children about the richness of indigenous cultures.
This is an honest, unflinching look at a strong woman who stood up for what she believed in, even when it meant walking away from money, fame and success.
The Furious Gazelle received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.