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The Other Buffy

Crank Call


So, Jennifer Wilbanks, the runaway bride, still wants to get married. How's that for news? If the police had escorted me from Albuquerque back to Georgia, under the full glare of the media and with a striped towel over my head, I might want to get married, too. But don't count on it.

The best comment I've heard so far about Ms. Wilbanks came in a letter to C-SPAN last week, when a desperate (married) woman wrote in to say, "I wish I'd had the courage to blow off my wedding -- twice!"

Damn! It's always the same problem: whether to write about something important, such as Jennifer Wilbanks or Prince Harry, or something trivial, such as the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II and the liberation of the Nazi death camps. Either way, it's too late for the dead.

Nor do I use the word "trivial," so to say, trivially. Last week, more than 2000 banners were waving on the UVM green, each representing 5000 Jews murdered under Hitler. Please note: 5000 people for each flag. Five thousand actual, breathing people, whose lives were as important as yours or mine. On the front page of the local daily, a bewildered high-school student from South Burlington said it was "mind-blowing to think this many people died for such a trivial reason."

I don't think this girl really meant to say that the murder of the Jews was "trivial." I think she meant to say that they were innocent. (I'd also start teaching English again in the schools.) The right-wing nutcases who flood my email inbox every week talk about "dirty Jews," "sorry niggers" and "fucking fags." Six million here, two million there -- what's the difference? And the casualties in Iraq aren't even counted, unless the "casualty" befalls an American, and even then only "in combat." The rest are no concern of ours.

It isn't strictly true, as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared last week at Auschwitz, that "the world was silent" when the Germans killed the Jews. Rather, the world took no action, ignored the problem, until it exploded. By the time the extermination camps were in "full" operation, the whole world was at war -- fighting, as they say, for democracy. "The forces of decency always hope for the best," said Dorothy Thompson in 1938, "and almost always wait until it is too late."

When a war between nations is lost,

The loser, we know, pays the cost.

But even when Germany fell to your hands --

Consider, dear lady, consider, dear man --

You left them their pride and you left them their land.

And what have you done to these ones?

It was my privilege last weekend to hear Buffy Sainte-Marie singing at Higher Ground.any of you won't know who Buffy is, unless you watched "Sesame Street" in the 1980s. In her publicity, she is properly identified as "a folk legend," but she's much more than that. "Indian," "Native American," pick your term. How many of her own people died to make this nation great? She is a poet, born on a Cree reservation in Saskatchewan and raised, after adoption, in Maine and Massachusetts. She's an artist, activist, painter, mother, singer -- blacklisted under Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War and still riling audiences with her songs.

Don't believe it? Well, I nearly got decked at Higher Ground the other night, when Buffy sang "The Universal Soldier" -- a song recorded many times by other people but written, uniquely, by her:

He's five foot two, and he's six feet four.

He fights with missiles and with spears

He's all of 31, and he's only 17 --

He's been a soldier for a thousand years.

He's a Catholic, a Hindu, an atheist, a Jain,

A Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew.

And he knows he shouldn't kill,

And he knows he always will --

Kill you for me, my friend, and me for you...

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" I said to the man sitting next to me -- a complete stranger, with white hair, like most of us in the room.

"Fuck you!" he replied. "And fuck her! She hates America!" Whereupon, he stomped out. I figured he must be one of those Vietnam vets -- they aren't all like this -- who believes the only valor displayed in those days was "there" and not here. Anyhow, I was awfully glad he left. I felt like Jane Fonda without the breasts.

Later, backstage, I said to Sainte-Marie, "If you'd asked us for requests, I'd have given you one."

"Which one?" she said.

"Now That the Buffalo's Gone."

She laughed: "We did that last night in Montréal. You should get on the bus."

I asked her if I could quote her lyrics and she said, "Sure. So long as they aren't used to promote a product. Otherwise, they're free."

Oh, it's written in books and in songs

That we've been mistreated and wronged.

Well, over and over, I hear the same words,

From you, good lady, and you, good


It's here, and it's now, you must help us, dear man,

Now that the buffalo's gone.

Speaking of Crank Call