Melanie, a Reluctant Superstar, Reflects: "I Never Wanted to Be a Celebrity"
|Melanie: the once and forever goddess of flower power.|
It's hard to believe it's been nearly 45 years since the public got its first glimpse of a once-budding singer, songwriter, actress, and screenwriter at what was supposed to be a modest music festival in upstate New York. There, standing alone at center stage in Woodstock, facing some 400,000 people, she immediately ascended to the throne of Earth Mother, Hippie Chick, and Flower Child Supreme.
"I can't tell you how terrified I was when I played Woodstock," she confesses. "I drove up with my mother. I had no clue. I didn't hear any of the hype or buildup or anything. We started driving, and we hit some traffic and then took a detour, made some phone calls -- no cell phones or emails back then, of course -- and I finally found my way to this little motel in Bethel. And there were all these media trucks and famous people. When I appeared at Woodstock, maybe a small percent, if that, had ever heard of me. I'd never been in a magazine or on TV or anything. I went up an unknown person, and I walked off a celebrity."
According to the woman herself, the "angstful Melanie songs" like "Peace Will Come (According to Plan)" and "Stop! I Don't Wanna Hear It Anymore" were about the stress that accompanied her fame. "I couldn't take a compliment. I didn't how," she admits. "I came from a family that believed the wheat that grows the highest is always cut down. We were taught never to stand out or achieve. So here I was, a famous person, and it was horrible! That's not what I geared myself up to be."
Somewhat surprisingly, then, one of her most famous songs of that era -- "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)" (later given a most rousing cover by that most unlikely of admirers, Mott the Hoople, on their Wildlife album) -- was supposedly inspired by the swarm of lighters and matches that the Woodstock audience lit to show their approval.
In truth, Melanie's acceptance reached far beyond those long-haired legions. From 1968, the year she released her first album, Born to Be, through to the early '70s, she boasted no fewer than 15 LPs and a dozen singles that established her imprint on the pop charts, among them the aforementioned "Lay Down," "Beautiful People," "Peace Will Come (According to Plan)," a spirited cover of the Stones' "Ruby Tuesday," What Have They Done to My Song Ma," and "Brand New Key." The latter, often referred to as "The Roller Skate Song," achieved a different kind of notoriety after being banned by several radio stations for sexual innuendo. Ironically, it resurfaced in 1997 as part of the soundtrack for the porno spoof Boogie Nights.
Indeed, despite the fact that her fragile finesse seemed deliberately out of sync with the hordes of underground outfits that crowded the airwaves in the early '70s, Melanie chalked up quite a track record. Three of her songs became hits for the pop group the New Seekers. She amassed two gold albums and one gold single (for "Brand New Key") and earned the distinction of becoming the first female performer to have two Top 40 hits on the charts simultaneously. She capped that accomplishment when the bible of the music industry, Billboard magazine, named her its top female vocalist for 1972.
"I never wanted to be a celebrity," she reflects. "I'm really bad material for a celebrity. I've gotten pretty good at doing interviews, and I've gotten a certain amount of professionalism, but as far as my natural instincts as a person, I'm the type who's even a bit uncomfortable walking through a crowded room."