Melanie, a Reluctant Superstar, Reflects: "I Never Wanted to Be a Celebrity"

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Melanie: the once and forever goddess of flower power.
Speaking on the phone from her home in Nashville, Melanie Anne Safka-Schekeryk -- better-known to Baby Boomers everywhere simply as Melanie -- sounds exactly as one would expect: personable, engaging, down to earth, and, in the slightest way, ever so fragile.

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."

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Broward Center for the Performing Arts

201 SW 5th Ave., Fort Lauderdale, FL

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2 comments
tarbabyjim
tarbabyjim

When Melanie says,""In the '80s, it became more about putting your guitar down and singing Barry Manilow songs," she recalls. "Every president of every record label wanted to superimpose my voice on the next schmaltzy ballad. I guess that became the choice, because the other choices were to become the next Neil Young, or to do the punk thing. The president of Sire Records gave me a song and said, 'You're going to make this a smash.' It was called 'Breakfast in Bed' and it was about giving a guy a blow job. (laughs) It's hard enough to get up night after night and do something you really love, but to get up and do something you don't believe in? It would be hideous", I had to laugh knowing that in the 80s she put out an album titled, "Am I real or what" with the title song being, "Who's been sleeping in my bed". It was disco album. On on song in the album titled, "Abuse", she sings, "Abuse is just a game I play in bed". When she says, "It's hard enough to get up night after night and do something you really love, but to get up and do something you don't believe in? It would be hideous." IT WAS! Don't get me wrong, I love Melanies music but, she can be so full of bull sometimes. I've been a fan for over 40 years so, I know what I'm talking about. I run the Melanie Safka Cult on facebook if you are interested in the truth about Melanie and her musical life. Peace-out.

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