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Spirit music: Bobby Bullet St. Germaine
 
By Teresa Peneguy Paprock
 

They're digging up my grandmother's grave

They want to study her bones

Put her on display in New York City

Why don't they leave her alone?

-- "Grandmother's Grave," Bobby Bullet

 

Bobby Bullet St. Germaine sits in the small living room of his Madison apartment, strumming a guitar he calls "an old friend" and singing a few bars, first of this song and then another. Bluesy, folksy, his songs make you want to move. What's more, they make you want to think.

 

St. Germaine is not a large man, but he seems to fill up a room - whether it's his own living room or the whole stage when he performs. Alone, as Bobby Bullet, or together with his rock/blues/country band Bobby Bullet and the Boys, St. Germaine commands attention. And yet he is so quiet, so unassuming. When you feel him, you get the sense that's what's reaching out to touch you is not just Bobby, but his spirit.

 

The Ojibwe (Chippewa) community, in which he was born, recognizes him as a holy man. As a sundance chief, he has been given a ceremonial pipe. Many look to him for healing, wisdom, and spiritual renewal. The white community, in which he was raised, knows him as a singer and songwriter, who "knocked around Nashville" in the '70s and even had a song in the Top 100 Billboard Charts -- "Gonna Get Your Lovin'."

 

St. Germaine lives in and reaches out to people in both communities, with his music as a common denominator. "I feel the Creator has given me the gift of music to help different people get along," he says.

 

Many years ago the Great Spirit said

People, we gotta live in harmony

Follow my path and you'll be happy

Don't turn away from me.

-- "Grandmother's Grave," Bobby Bullet

 


"I was doing a lot of drinking in those days," St. Germaine says of his Nashville stint. "I lost my job, I got a divorce. I wrote a lot of songs about those things that I never aired in public ... in the early 70's I wrote 'Two Faces in the Mirror,' about a man losing his wife to another woman. Nashville wouldn't touch it.

 

"Being shot down by Nashville, I came to terms with who I was," he said. "Maybe I didn't have enough talent. And then there was the drinking. I was finding out about myself as an Indian person."

 

The process profoundly altered the way St. Germaine looked at his life. "I was adopted (as a baby) into a white family," he says, adding that they had tried to "hush up" his Native American heritage. "No one talked about it. The government at the time had to assimilate Indian people to 'civil' society. My parents did not want me on a reservation, but I was being denied who I was."

 

St. Germaine said he always "acted different from all those around me. They thought there was something wrong with me. At 30, I watched a pow wow and I cried. I thought, 'This is my home. This is where I belong.'

 

The experience led him back to Wisconsin, the state of his birth. "I had something like a nervous breakdown, but it was a new beginning, a cleansing," he said. "The Creator led me away from that scene and back here. (And I got to see) what was going on with my own people - the lack of religion, the drinking and drug abuse."

 

When you put your lips to the bottle it's the devil's mouth you find

He'll crawl inside your body and then he'll steal your mind

See him standing, laughing while you lay down to die

When you put your lips to the bottle it's the devil's mouth you find


- "The Devil's Mouth," Bobby Bullet

 

>"Bobby sees himself as an agent of change," says his wife, Linda Maloney. "Peace is another thread that runs through his work." Maloney, who is white, takes part in many benefit activities with her husband. Bobby Bullet, alone or with The Boys, has played for the Rainbow Children Project (to promote racial harmony in Wisconsin), Sacred Sounds (for the Madison Area Interfaith Network), events to raise funds and awareness for drug and alcohol abuse, effigy mounds, child abuse, the environment ... you name it. More than 80 percent of his bookings are for charity.

 

His music has kept him busy traveling and performing, and has caught the attention of many. He's played throughout the Midwest and in Canada. Lyrics from his songs have printed in the books, "Down Home Dairyland" and "Walleye Warriors."

 

St. Germaine's band (which has also gone by the name "Custer's Last Band") now consists of Mike Sippin on lead guitar, Dave Punswich on drums, and Bill Powell on bass. "Band members come and go," he says; some have been Native American, some have been white. Does he prefer to have Indian band members? "I prefer to have people that play music," he says. "That is what is important. And if the ego gets in the way of the music, it takes the joy away."

 

I dreamed I am an eagle

Flying high in the sky

I hear the wind when it whispers

I see the thunderbird's eye

Beautiful Chippewa people,

The fire must never die.

-- "The Fire Must Never Die," Bobby Bullet

 

St. Germaine  believes he has been given the gift of prophesy. "One of the gifts the Creator gave to me is to see what's coming down the road. And I can see violence," he says.

 

For his part, he works to bring the races together to curb some of that violence. He is the driving force behind Gathering of the Peoples, a multi-cultural, multiracial event celebrating Native American traditions. "My wish is to teach white people about Indian people," he says.

 


Where in the name of God did love disappear

Someone take me where it's gone

Our children are crying, they're standing alone,

No one can teach them right from wrong.

-- "Where in the Name of God Did Love Disappear," Bobby Bullet

 

"I'm a fighter for children," says St. Germaine. "Somebody has to stand up for the children. Our children come to us and too often, we send them away." For the Ojibwe, there is a concept of the seventh generation. It means that your actions will have consequences for your children, your grandchildren, and so on -- for seven generations. "When you make a decision, you have to have seven generations in mind," he says.

 

Look at the little faces looking up at us

Like flowers weeping in the rain

Learn from the child

Trust in innocence.

                                    -- "Where in the Name of God Did Love Disappear," Bobby Bullet

 

Over the years, St. Germaine estimates he has written some 300 songs. "The one I wish I'd written is "Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goal Posts of Life," he says. He describes his process of writing music with his classic understatement: "Well, something will catch my eye or my ear generally." "What makes his lyrics unique are the depth of their content," says Maloney.

 

But for St. Germaine, music is only the vehicle for the message sent to him from a higher power. It's not for the money or for the fun. One rule holds true across all the different facets of his life: "My spiritual work is number one."

 

Feel the joy in a newborn child

There's no hate seen in their smile

We can live in harmony

The Rainbow Child is you and me.

-- "Children of the Rainbow," Bobby Bullet

 

Teresa Peneguy Paprock

This article originally appeared in Rhythm/Wisconsin State Journal and Explore Indian Country. Teresa Peneguy Paprock / words & stuff freelancing retains the copyright to this article and it may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without express permission. For reprint rights, contact Teresa Peneguy Paprock at words@chorus.net or P.O. Box 5207, Madison, WI, 53705.

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