Ferron Has Zero Tolerance For Hype And Glitz.
By Dave Irwin
FOLK MUSICIAN FERRON has toured the past few years with the Indigo Girls, who cite her as a major influence. Tori Amos guested on Ferron's last album. But in mid-life after more than 20 years as an artist, Ferron realizes that her wave may have already crested as far as fame and fortune. "I'm a writer's writer. I've always had my own style of music carved out," she states. "It just happened that at one point Warner Brothers thought that it was a good thing and they wanted to do something with it. And when they couldn't do something with it...now I need to get everything back home and keep going with it the way that it was."
Home, at least part of the year, is an island with 300 inhabitants across the Strait of Georgia from Vancouver, British Columbia. "I live a very quiet life, in a cabin with wood heat and an outhouse," she explains. "I'm sort of quietly trying to live in a 24-hour walking meditation. As I get older, I realize that there's a way you can set up your life so your needs are less, so what you do can suffice. Now that I'm living more in the country, I think I can slow it down a little bit."
Ferron's other home is at the Institute for Musical Arts in Bodega, California, where she is an artist-in-residence, conducting writing workshops. "I think the social responsibility of folk music is to remember where we come from and to keep going back there. The whole desire of folk music was that we hear from the common person about the common issues of life and sometimes the big business thing turns that into something inaccessible. So I'm very interested in these writing workshops to hear from regular people and just be with them. Touring is a way of going out and reaching people, but it's reaching them under certain terms, which is a lot different than sitting in a room--you're talking and writing and then eating dinner together, you know, waiting in line to go to the bathroom."
Ferron has been making highly admired personal albums since her debut in 1977. Her songs, full of vivid imagery and unabashed hope, have influenced newcomers like the Indigo Girls and Dar Williams, but the big breakout has eluded Ferron. Her two Warner Brothers releases, Phantom Center (1995) and Still Riot (1996), were well received critically, but not commercially.
"I'm not an industry-type person," she admits. "I can't crank out an album in eight months. It seems to take me three years to go through the process of writing, recovering from the writing, touring, recovering from the touring, getting down to that barrenness again. Because of the myth of fame, you think it's going to bring you something and it doesn't. So then you're left with your aloneness. Then something starts to happen again and the urge to create is wanting closeness to your God. I mean, that's why I create. I don't know about creating because it's time for the market to have something else to slosh around. I mean, it's a respectable business; it's just not the one I'm in."
Asked about her own influences, she demures for a moment, then confesses, "I love Greg Brown. I love him as a man, as a person and as a writer. I need his work. Listening to him speak his truth gives me strength.
"I toured with the Indigo Girls and I love them, I love their music, but more than that, I love their kindness. When you're backstage and you watch people, you find out if they're bullshit or not and they are not. They really are good people."
Still, doesn't seeing the opportunity for wealth and recognition fade bother her?
She laughs. "My big trauma in life is that I planted a whole garden and didn't realize that I left the gate open when I was on tour and the deer ate everything--leveled it to the ground. Nothing has ever devastated me more. The first time I saw a deer after that, I didn't really like it, and I thought, 'Ok, I've got to balance this out differently.' I mean, hostile thoughts about deer?"
Asked where she sees herself in the future, Ferron's personal vision is clear.
"Twenty years from now," she says without hesitation, "I hope to be making small little songs out of my house and have a retreat center that people come to and where they can write and open up their hearts and just sort of keep learning how to tell the truth from fiction."
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