Ferron returns to Tampa Bay

06/20/09 Mary Glenney
From A Woman's Point of View

In addition to being one of Canada's most famous folk musicians, Ferron is also a songwriter, poet and she is one of the most influential writers and performers of women's music. Forget the comparisons to Dylan and Guthrie, look more to Yeats and Robert Burns.

Let's catch up with Ferron. Things she said 30 years ago have perhaps never been more true than they are today. The stuff of legends really is the stuff of our souls. She will be here for two concerts: Sunday, June 21 at 4 and 8 p.m. at the Craftsman House Gallery & Cafe, 2955 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg. Call (727) 323-ARTS or visit Ferrononline.com for more information.


Mary: Well, I am so happy to welcome, yes the legend herself , to the women’s show, Ferron. And Ferron is going to be here Sunday, June 21st. She’s going to be in concert at Craftsman’s House Gallery and Café. Two concerts: one at 4:00 and one at 8:00. So Ferron, what a privilege and a thrill to welcome you to the Women’s Show.

Ferron: Why thank you very much.

Mary: Well, we are catching you in San Francisco right now. I think you’re part of the Frameline San Francisco LGBT film festival, isn’t that right?

Ferron: That’s right, yea. And I didn’t realize it but someone told me that this is one of the biggest film festivals, the gay film festivals, around.

Mary: Yea and they’re going to be showing your film by Gerry Rogers, Girl on a Road, right?

Ferron: uh hum.

Mary: Oh, how exciting.

Ferron: Un hum. Gerry Rogers, who had done My Left Breast and Clifton Street. My Left Breast won many awards. Shown world wide, so we’ll see what happens with folk music videos.

Mary: Oh well, Ferron, you’re a lot more than folk music, in my opinion. You know, getting ready for you, I really had a thrill, it was really a thrill. To really go through your music carefully, and to me, you are a poet but on the level of a Yeats or a Bobby Burns, that you put your words to music. And so you know, it’s much nicer. I cannot say what a thrill it’s been to go back through your music.

Ferron: Okay.

Mary: No, I’m serious and Girl on a Road, I suppose in a way that’s kind of where it started.

Ferron: What do you mean?

Mary: Well, I mean that your life is so extraordinary. And I haven’t seen the video. And I’d love to because maybe you talk about your early life. But, I’ve read that it wasn’t all that easy and, you know…

Ferron: Yes, I know it really starts with me, my life begins, my film of my life, in my head, begins when I’m walking down the side road in the rain with a paper bag, and my stuff, just like I say in the song. And you know, and then it starts. And back then remember, it actually could start, you know. I mean you just sort of went out and decided to get a job or whatever. I don’t really know what it is like for young people now, but I don’t think it’s the same, I don’t think it’s as, as somehow simple or safe. Maybe it was safer for me out in the world than it was at home.

Mary: No, no, and I think that’s why it’s so fascinating because you know, I really, I don’t know that much about your early life. But, White Wing of Mercy, and anything I’ve read about the biography that it wasn’t easy, etc., so yea at 15 you put a change of clothes, a Leonard Cohen CD, you’re A&W uniform, and out you go.

Ferron: Well, I mean the thing about anybody’s life is you know what you do get a pearl from, from sand rubbing against sand. So you know, its okay, I mean now that I’m older I think well how could it have been any other way, how would I have written the song, if I didn’t have THAT education.

Mary: But you know what I find so fascinating Ferron, because, you know, so much of your work is really just frankly beyond extraordinary, you know Testimony. But Shadows on a Dime, you know if you’re talking, your song It Won’t Take Long or the title cut, Shadows on a Dime, you know that’s our lives today. I mean it really is, you’re looking at an economy that’s SO difficult and SO many people out of work or just barely getting by and you know you’re great line you know that “they’re on the line but they don’t have the master plan“. I mean I think there’s something really gratifying and hopeful in the sense that a person has lived through this in a way and is telling her experiences and that you know as you go on through your life you know in spite of all those difficulties, the beauty and the hope and the joy and the light, if you will, that comes through over and over again in your songs. I think it just gives enormous hope to all of us now.

Ferron: Oh, that’s great. I mean I was in the Toronto audience for the premier of the film and you know nailed by the anxiety really. I mean it’s not like I think I’m going to become a famous actress. It’s just you know having everything be exposed in a way. But I was amazed I mean that people were crying and you know then I got a standing ovation and I just think maybe that’s what it is, it’s that in a way, our lives, we were so busy living it that it’s only now when we get somebody reflecting it that we realize what we were all trying to do.

Mary: Yeah and luckily you know I’ve read so much about you and I’ve listened to your music that it’s just going through my mind but much more so your music goes to your soul and you know there are so many times that it comes to mind that you kind of realize that wow you know this woman really was there and it wasn’t coming out of certainties so to speak you know whether you’re saying is this the voice, is this the life you’re living, or is this the voice, is this the life you are or is this the life you want.

Ferron: Right.

Mary: And then the gentleness you know because you know so many of us is there in our own ways in those kinds of situations and we can go a lot of different directions you know bitterness, or anger or victimization, all of that comes into play. Yet there’s something quite beautiful in a song when you say well you know we’re all shards of crystals and you be gentle with us you know because this is what we are.

Ferron: Absolutely. That’s, I mean that’s what had to be. That’s what I had to learn and as I was learning it I had to face it but, you know, I still have these you know, the Black Panther issue. I mean you know do we pick up concrete to change the world or do we you now we keep doing our hippy dippy thing you know, George Bush and everybody can take over and run our lives and ruin it for awhile and you know it’s tricky. I just ended up in a conversation with my girlfriend you know about you know is the most important thing in life to be kind or to be known as kind, you know.

Mary: Uh huh.

Ferron: It’s a hard question. I mean I don’t always say yes to that because I think you know look at what’s happening in Iran, I mean people running around the streets. In 2000 when it happened here, you know and we’re all like you know its front page news and it’s all over the place you know and they’re like Bravo to the third world countries or whatever. Look at them, they have computers isn’t that profound. You know and it’s like well what happened here you know we were completely blown over you know even though we had our computers.

Mary: Yeah and I think that is such a superb question because you know in a way you know just in our country now that George Bush in a sense was the worst and you might say in a whole line that President Obama is the best and you kind of wonder is anything going to change though. You know maybe there’s something deeper at play here that there’s something basically that maybe there’s something human that’s been missing in this system for a very long time and I think that’s when as I say just listening to your songs just the comfort and the sense is that in spite of all the pain and you were going through a lot of pain I mean life can be an awful lot of pain and there aren’t easy answers, that you have the kindness or the gentleness to say hey you know as big and famous as you are go deeper because you’re a lot more than that. You’re a lot more than your worst day and I think to me that is a grounding that right now we need desperately.

Ferron: I like that when you use the word comfort and I think that what I didn’t understand but now I understand that I was my own parent. And I had to find a way and I didn’t do it well and it was really a struggle and I suffered from low self-esteem and anxiety and hollowness and terror and fraud. I mean just what I was a person with no family. You don’t have like the you know at all costs somebody is turning to you and saying I love you and I know you. I was like I wandered out into the street and started living and so the only family I had was the one that I could make and I was socially inept so it was very hard for me to make a family. But out of it the songs became the comfort and the way through, to write essentially a world that I could live in.

Mary: You know Ferron, of all of your songs I think two of the most beautiful that just move me totally Sunshine…

Ferron: I know.

Mary: And when you were saying that to me that is one of the most beautiful songs of love and redemption not only to your mother, at least to me it was your mother, but also to yourself and then to your father, your biological father, that you didn’t know in the meantime…

Ferron: Yea.

Mary: And to me that is the most, Sunshine particularly just moves me to absolute tears, that you are talking to the that gentle spirit of joy and light that I get over and over again in your songs, that we all have it and unless you close your heart to it, it’s always there for your. And that even if you’ve had a parent that because, not because they were being mean or nasty, but because life was pretty overwhelming for them so they did the best they could…

Ferron: Right.

Mary: And there wasn’t a lot left for you.

Ferron: Right.

Mary: For you to have given her those words, Ferron, I, as great as The Cart and Testimony all those songs you have are, I just found that just so beautiful.

Ferron: And you know it’s the first thing, I mean Sunshine was about my mother’s still alive.

Mary: Oh, she was.

Ferron: She is.

Mary: Oh, she is still.

Ferron: Yea, I mean oddly enough like I told you I didn’t have a family so that song actually was written around a time when I had to let go of my best friend who was also my manager and our lives had to take a change and I cried for days and days knowing that I was going to have to make a phone call and say we have to stop working together and in the process I wrote Sunshine. And that’s you know you probably have a huge romantic notion about me and my mother and everything but my mother and I are still working out our _____ but what I that was the first time I had to feel something die, you know…

Mary: Yes.

Ferron: And that was how I dealt with it by writing out that song. I mean feeling that song out, feeling both sides of it. The daughter who’s going to be left, the…just all the things that we want to have happen in life and mostly they happen in our head.

Mary: Well, and I don’t have really an overly romantic sense of it, it probably sounds like I do, but to me the beauty was because you know I’ve really come to think that most of use have to kind of be the parents to ourselves…

Ferron: Right.

Mary: And it’s not that, I think our parents try the best they can and they love us as hard as they can but…

Ferron: Yes.

Mary: I don’t think most of us understand life to tell you the truth and it happens so fast.

Ferron: Well, my mother just happened to…my girlfriend’s helping me sort of make it an avenue into my life before my mother dies and so it’s been kind of an interesting time the last couple of years. But my mother happened to see the Bravo film on me which was a little bit shorter than the one that’s in the film halls right now. But at one point, I just saw her a little while ago, and she just looked at me and she said “Was I really that bad of a mother?” And uh, I didn’t answer and we just kind of looked at each other. I mean there’s so much to say there, and then, ever since then I’ve been thinking of trying to answer that question. Like REALLY answer it. You know, did she really ask me that and if she did then she deserves an answer at age 80...

Mary: Yea.

Ferron: You know for me to say what happened and actually my opinion and my perspective is very much like the one that you’re saying like there are no bad people it’s just a bunch of stupid stuff that we end up calling a life but after awhile you think well it wasn’t even a life it was a hallucination. You know life is under my feet, you know, that’s the only place it is, it’s right under my feet and everything else is I’m making it up. And so in a way that’s what the songs are all about. The songs are me taking one step after another and writing it and sometimes I was writing where I was going way more than where I had been. You know what I mean?

Mary: Yea, I do.

Ferron: Because you know wherever our energy is where we go.

Mary: Yea, yea and Turning into Beautiful. I mean really, I mean I think it’s fabulous that you are turning your life into beautiful. I mean I really do and it’s not maybe as important for you as it is for all of us because we need to be reaffirmed that we are beautiful, that life is beautiful, full of light and joy because pretty much very few other things in our lives reinforce that.

Ferron: Right. And also that we’re enough. I mean I was in a you know quite a long term relationship but at some point it just turned into that just whatever I was wasn’t enough. And you know you’re desperately trying to make yourself enough and you know then that’s just kind of a weird thing. And so by the time I had written Turning into Beautiful I mean that’s what I understood you know it’s just really not about us looking at each other and saying you’re this and you’re that and you’re not this and you’re not that. It’s more like just let everything go and I don’t know if that’s probably some kind of spiritual perspective but I don’t know where it comes from but I understand it. If I’m going to hang with a person and I want to criticize them then I don’t love them. That is not love. Love is love. Love is “Huh, I wonder why you’re doing THAT?” And let them tell you, you know, because I was criticized and I tell you it hurts. It’s just one big suffering. So you know I’m learning about it all the time. And also in Turning into Beautiful the CD my foster mother dies. And that’s the song Goat Path and she died, and I had moved back to Certena is my savior it’s my island that saved me and helped me get sane and feel myself with the sun and the moon and the seasons. And I have always lived there but I bought a house there to be near my foster mother because she was getting on. And I thought oh well I’d just be around to help with the wood cutting and all that stuff you know. But it was very abrupt when she died very abruptly. And all of a sudden I have a house, I have the ghost of her because I moved next door to her and so then I never went up the path anymore. I never passed her house, I never went up the hill, you know a year, over a year had gone by since her death and then my producer came and you know he said “You have to go.” I said “I can’t, I can’t go.” And he walked with me, we walked that road, the mud path, and we walked past her house and we walked up the hill to where they have a bench for her and when I came back down you know it took me a couple of days. I mean I am not a person who knows how to cry although I ‘m a wreck. And so finally I fell apart and then I got to write Goat Path. And I had had a dream and in the dream she was wearing this red car coat and she just waved at me. And I had remembered being told that when someone waves at you in the dream they’re letting you know they’re okay. So you know that’s what songs are like for me. I mean if they seem you know they’re big. They’re big things. They’re big processes that I’m going through.

Mary: Yea and they’re prayers. Yea, I mean that Goat Path…

Ferron: That is so funny that you say that. Have you seen the film?

Mary: No I haven’t. No, I’m dying to see it.

Ferron: Because at one point, there’s this really, I find it, as sitting in the audience; it’s a very awkward moment because I’m afraid I’ll be misunderstood. But what happens is I say “Well,” somebody’s asked me a question and I say “Well, you know I’m singing the same songs for the last 35 years you know. I don’t know am I crazy or what?” But then I say “But you know why do we say the Lord’s Prayer?” Well, some of my friends have teased me saying I’m trying to like you know link myself up with Jesus. But it wasn’t that at all. It’s just why do we say things over and over and over. Because it makes us feel better you know. And that’s all we have to do is try to figure out a way. It’s the art form in life we have to figure out a way to take one step then another. It’s Tuesday, then its Wednesday then its Thursday. I mean someone just committed suicide in our friends’ circle a little while ago and it’s like well that’s not art you know. I mean, I believe of course if you have leukemia and you now you’re dying, that’s your choice. But to be afraid and to kill yourself is not an act of art. Art if figuring out another way to get from Tuesday to Wednesday and let me tell you, I had those days, you know, when I was in Sante Fe, I’d get down to $27, no more money, no nothing and I took the money and I went and bought Raymond Carver books. And just decided that I would get food a different way, but I needed these books. And I mean that was my last act, you know, I didn’t know what else to do. And I bought a book. And Raymond Carver you know he just opened up my mind. It was the best thing I had ever done. But those days, I didn’t know if I was going to make it to the next day, you know

Mary: Yea, you know, as I say just a privilege and a thrill of going through your music for about these last three weeks. Ferron, they are so powerful and really that I mean that Goat Path when you’re standing up on the mountain and the only thing between the earth and the sky you’re seeing the eagles. I, to me, I thought wow, I thought. And Misty Mountain, the kind of same thing in a way that you say where is the eagle in me.

Ferron: Right. Misty Mountain I wrote when I was like 19 or something.

Mary: Yea and I particularly love the way you know Bitch does it in Boulder. I just love that. To me I thought wow she’s just, I don’t know of any other way to say it. But to me you’ve been sending prayers out to the universe. I mean for a long time and finally I think for a lot of us the reverberations are kind of reaching us into our souls and our spirits and particularly when we most need them. That’s why I think Boulder is so good because in a way, you now, Bitch is taking the songs that she didn’t know before and she’s putting them out there in a way that…how do you feel about her…I don’t want to put words in your mouth but wow I mean what a tribute.

Ferron: Well, the thing about Misty Mountain on Boulder is that we weren’t in communication at that point. She was busy doing her life and she has the CD. She was doing it but I was also, I was connecting with my Ojibwe sisters, like not my blood sisters but my Indian sisters, and probably right around the time where she’s deciding that this is how she’s going to do Misty Mountain and later when we talked she said “I just felt that Misty Mountain was a prayer about belonging, about identity.” Of course it is. But you know we weren’t connected on that First Nation thing and it had just all come around at the same time. It was really weird.

Mary: Well, it was very special I thought. I really did, because you know, and I just you know, when I read and I hope you aren’t really thinking that hey I’ve said everything I want to say, I’m saying the same thing over and over. I thought, well, to me you aren’t Ferron; it’s never the same because life is never the same. Nor are you and so I hope and maybe this is selfish but that you’re doing some more writing because I want a lot more of Ferron’s wisdom.

Ferron: Yea, well, the writings, I’m in a very particularly odd phase right now which is that I actually have what I want.

Mary: Wow.

Ferron: And that is not something that I have ever experienced before. And you know I have a really have an honest, kind relationship, I have a garden, I’ve taken up quilting. I enjoy the grandchildren of my partner. I don’t know, there’s just something about, this is MY chance now to really just enjoy life. And I find that planting a garden is really an act of hope and I never saw myself as a particularly hopeful person. You know, I was paranoid and pessimistic. But to plant a garden is to be hopeful. And it’s to be eager and I feel it, you now, so it’s harder to figure out how to talk about that.

Mary: I would think so. I’ve been thinking about two of your songs my and Mia…

Ferron: uh hum.

Mary: You know, I mean because you…but to me, maybe there’s something strange about me but I don’t see you as pessimistic. I saw you as always, in spite of all kind of difficulties and hurdles which can be overwhelming, hopeful. And keep constantly turning to the light.

Ferron: Well, I kept turning to the light but I had to turn because I was so, I mean, I was so disappointed with the George Bush era.

Mary: Oh, well, who wasn’t?

Ferron: I mean I just couldn’t even speak really for awhile. I mean, that’s why all that came out was Turning into Beautiful was that CD not anything political in there at all.

Mary: Yea.

Ferron: Just how once again trying to take a look at power, you know the song Someone Should Do Nothing Now and the thing about the you know trying to talk to my dead father and then the being in the record business and that whole thing. It always comes down to a study in power and your relationship to it and what yours is. And I guess one of the things when I say I’ve never been here before, this place that I’m in right now is that, I’m at peace with my power.

Mary: Wow. Well, you know, I’m glad you are, because I don’t think we’d have a Bush or would’ve had a Bush if all the rest of us were more in contact with our power. I think he was a reflection of kind of a vacuous hollowness that unfortunately too many people feel and whether it’s in their religions or in their whole social scheme there’s just something that was very deeply spiritually missing and so you get the Bush’s you get the kind of actions we got in Iraq and Afghanistan or our economy because to me the only light that can turn that around is not going to come from above it’s got to come from all of us…

Ferron: Yea.

Mary: Yea, and in a way your music, your life, your poetry, because to me it’s all one, have kind of been there and turning toward the light you know you, I’m thrilled that you’re at a place and position of real comfort with your power because I don’t think most of us are. And I think until we are we don’t really change things.

Ferron: Yea, I mean there was that old question can you sit under a tree and if you do for fifteen years have you changed the world. Well, you know, about once a year I mull that over along with the Black Panther issue and a couple of things and how do we make it better for people. Just in the news the other day that Halliburton didn’t pay their punishment tax for the crimes that they committed overseas. It’s like oh well, we are so surprised. It’s like the left hand is punishing the right hand. And it’s going out to lunch…

Mary: Yea.

Ferron: But there is another way to live and most of us have lived it and are living it.

Mary: Yea, but you’re changing, you’re down with the archetypes Ferron and to me it’s kind of like a hundredth monkey, the hundredth and first then all of a sudden that which wasn’t very obvious really becomes how do we ever miss it. And to me that’s why your music and your poetry is so important because to me you’re of that basic milieu of the archetype. And I think we need a new, I think we really do need to create a different archetype and I think it’s in the process. I really do. I think that’s why it’s been so vacuous all these years. And while we’ve had all these extremes from all ends coming because somebody’s going to fill that vacuum so to speak even though it isn’t a vacuum but slowly it’s been building and being shaped and it’s come out of the poetry of the Bobby Burns and the Yeats and you and people like you. I’m serious.

Ferron: Well, the other thing that we can be hopeful about is, I mean, I’m happy about Obama but I really love Michelle.

Mary: Oh I do too. I totally agree.

Ferron: And I know that she’s back there, you know, and that’s what I’m banking on is Michelle.

Mary: I totally agree. I’m looking at the clock Ferron and I know you’ve had your friends walking around.

Ferron: Oh my God, they’re walking around in 80 degree weather.

Mary: I know. I really feel bad. So anyway I so thank you for giving us this time and I’m thanking you for your life. I’m thanking you for your courage and…

Ferron: Awww.

Mary: I’m serious. You are important and perhaps never more so than now.

Ferron: Well, thank you.

Mary: And so we will look forward to Sunday and I hope there’s a chance. I would love to see the film. I hope it’s going to maybe get a chance to be in our Gay Pride Film Festival, which is usually in late October or November.

Ferron: Oh, I hope so.

Mary: Yea, have your people work on that to get it part of the festival here.

Ferron: Ok well, I’m going to see you in a very few days.

Mary: Yes you will, Sunday the 21st. Ferron, thank you so much for giving us this time.

Ferron: Alright and thank you. We’ll see you soon.

Mary: You take care, bye bye.

Ferron: Bye bye.

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