Monday, December 14, 2009

BEFORE THE Riverboat Cafe: The PURPLE ONION, Buffy Saint-Marie, FrizzText and ME!

HAD A BIT OF CHRISTMAS shopping to do in Downtown Toronto this weekend so down we all went!

Simple, enough.

I drop my lot off at the Eaton's Centre, one of the last remaining remnants of the Eaton Company family empire, that ended with a fizzle in the early 90s.

Soon I'm flying up to Yorkville because of FrizzText, and this:

Donovan, the folk singer who sang Universal Soldier made it a hit BUT IT WAS always Buffy's song. Thought everyone knew that. Me was wrong.

AND yes, THAT Yorkville, where the Toronto International Film Festival descends every year in a lot of puffery, and makes it's base. YO is the upscale part of TO where one can get executive gifts, and a whole lot of snobbery.

I'm here, for neither.

I get out, my vehicle not entirely stopped.

I'm on Yorkville Ave. I see a short row of low-rise buildings. One of these IS the The Purple Onion Cafe.

I approach some of the locals. "Do you know the location of the Purple Onion Cafe?"

The Purple Onion predates the Toronto's famous Riverboat Cafe era, where all the Canadian folkies used to jam during the hippy-trippy Woodstock era, so we could in trouble here, folks.

The answers are varied.



"Hell, no!"

Finally, I get a break—

"Hey man, that was the 60s and I lived through it! Don't remember any of it!! Wait, the Purple Onion, you say… no, I do remember it. It was on a corner somewhere."

None of the pictures I have look anything like the buildings in front of me. So, I walk down to the corner.


Bingo, there it is, a match. The "Seen" now… but once the Purple Onion cafe.

Here, in the basement of the Purple Onion, in 1963, Buffy Saint-Marie wrote her classic anti-war song, "Universal Soldier". She was in LAX (Los Angeles airport) when she first saw wounded soldiers returning from Vietnam, and when she flew back to Toronto later that day, Saint-Marie penned her famous song. Personally, I thought her 1970 video ( ) was the best version of the song, but this rendering, sung from the heart, was never a success commercially.

In 1965, Donovan made a hit of it.

Universal Soldier became the anthem for the Vietnam Peace movement.

In the naive 60s, the hippies wrongly believed that if everyone would just lay down their arms, then the world would become this wondrous, peaceful place. That approach offered no real solution to those hostile types that would never lay down their arms. Those lunatics, worldwide, who forever think that America, or the Western world is responsible for their local woes.

Buffy Saint-Marie is a Canadian First Nations (Cree) singer-songwriter, guitarist and mouthbow player who shuns fame, and lives in self-imposed exile in Hawaii.

She was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005. Saint-Marie wrote Up Where We Belong, Until Its Time For You to Go, Universal Soldier, He's An Indian Boy in a Rodeo, and several native songs. Buffy was probably the first artist of note to use an Apple Computer to compose, and send her songs to her producer in Europe, through an early version of the internet.

© 2009 Paul Cardin - Special Projects in Research


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