Petticoat (UK) 21st October 1972


By Andrew Furnival

The days of wandering minstrels aren't lost, Today Melanie, armed with a guitar, enchanting all her audiences, still spends her time as a roving singer unable to settle down to a life of her own

Once Melanie was free. She could surround herself with the day's colours and forget if she wanted to. She could smile at the cares other people offered her, could love who or what she wanted, where and when she wanted

That was "once". Now she has responsibilities. Now she must be at a certain time in a certain place. She has a manager to think about thinking of her and just to think about. She even has a bodyguard -- just in case.

Now, when she makes a public appearance she is taken up to a Mount Olympus, transformed into a goddess, a larger-than-life reflection of what she is or ought to be, often nearly crushed by a crowd who wouldn't harm a hair of her head.

Yet amid the babel, the muttered desperate politeness at her presence the confusion, and the ballyhoo, the staring eyes, she remains curiously untouched, like a deserted beach. She walks slowly with her back straight and her head high through the crowds, ghostly, removed.

Nevertheless she is human and there is no doubt that her way of life shows her personality and temperament, as she confessed in her hotel room in London.

To begin with many of the things which we anonymous individuals take for granted are luxuries to her. For example, I asked her where she lived.

"Nowhere." She sighed. "I had a house but I don't live there any more, it was a house that nobody knew was there and it could take care of itself, but it didn't work out. To have a house you have to be there and 1 wasn't, so we got a family of organic farmers to live in it."

"When I go there I don't feel I live there any more - because I'm hardly ever there I'm an intruder," she said glumly.

She has tried keeping animals as a source of comfort either on tour or when she goes home, but to no avail.

"It's the same," she confided miserably. "I've got a lot, but because I'm not with them they're certainly not mine."

"1 got a dog the last time I was in England. l called him Roadie because I planned on taking him with me but now he's got too big and I just had to take him back to the house."

For a moment she stared around her, as if looking for the dog, a Springer spaniel incidentally. Suddenly she burst into laughter. "1 took him to Florida" she explained, giggling, and there was a man walking on the beach and Roadie bit him. The man started screaming, 'vicious dog, vicious dog " " She stopped, rolling her eyes in disbelief. "Really, he's the most pathetic, feeble little thing. He's just got these floppy ears. He looked all guilty and everything, I'm sure the man just wanted him to bite him so he could sue. He started shouting, 'I'm going to sue, I'm going to sue'."

I asked her whether she would give up singing, so that she could start to lead the life she seemed so much to want.

"l don't know if I ever will," she replied, "I'm making adjustments and I'm learning to live fully with what I'm doing- not fully in the way that I'd like, some day to get closer to a natural kind of life, but at being a little more successful at leading other people to live a natural kind of life. I think I'm supposed to do what I'm doing."

Though I'm not saying that I'm sacrificing myself," she hastened to add, "it's something that I feel right in doing, and I don't feel uncomfortable."

She certainly does have ambitions

I felt was losing myself but I've regained control of things so I'm able to do what I'm doing and feel good about it for her future outside singing, although it is obvious that she will rely on her singing to attain them.

"There are things I'd like to try, like farming. I really love planting things and seeing them grow."

"I think probably something that I always think of myself as doing some day is being self-sufficient, being able to supply what I need from the land and make my own pottery - just do a whole thing like that."

This desire to be self-sufficient stems from a feeling that the food that other people grow and the things that other people make are sometimes suspect, especially when they are mass-produced. Quite apart from her desire to create things, she mistrusts the commercial world. Not unnaturally (in view of this) her hotel room was littered with organic foods, pots containing peppermint tea, cottage cheese in wholemeal baps, and strange-looking bottles of herbal wines.

She recommended peppermint tea to be taken with "Hymettus" honey to me. I accepted and while sipping it I asked her how she had got on to health foods; she seemed to be a fanatic.

"My mother was suffering from arthritis," she explained. The doctor advised cortisone, but she said, 'I don't want cortisone I've heard something about that.' So he said, 'You have no alternative, either take that or you'll hurt.'

"But she just couldn't believe that she would have this pain for ever and ever so she went out and discovered that if she changed her diet, stopped eating bread and rich flour products white sugar and all those things - and stopped smoking - she wouldn't have arthritis any more.

"I just fell into it" said Melanie, gazing round. As a matter of interest her mother so believed in what she was doing that she made sure Melanie religiously took thirty-six pills a day to get the vitamin intake which her mother thought she should have!

But not for long. "I started to rebel a little bit and thought I was going to do without vitamins, as" she said with a smile "I got involved in a vegetarian diet, I was a 'fruitarian' for a while, then I was just a raw food person."

After that, life the healthy way didn't stop there. Not only did she stop cooking food she finally stopped eating it. ''I still wasn't getting healthy so I went on a twenty-five-day fast," she confessed.

Her dark eyes, heavily accented with eye shadow, assumed the proportions of planets as she went on. "I had nothing but water and I just cleaned myself out. I read a lot about fasting and I discovered that the best time to have a fast is when you really get hungry." It was such a reasonable idea that it seemed ridiculous.

It made everyone laugh, though. A little self consciously after a moment's hesitation Melanie joined in, but then she wagged her finger at us very seriously, like a school ma'am, saying: "When you fast you really get to know the difference between hunger and Advertising, so I fasted.

Now, alter these amazing experiments, she has settled for a mainly vegetarian diet, where possible only eating meat three times a week.

On of the advantages which she now has over the demands of her career is that she is now the chief artist on a new label, Neighbourhood Records, which was set up especially for her. She says that now she is not under any pressure to record as she had been previously, she intends to make the most of the opportunity and drift off for the summer to go camping in the desert, of all places.

"I had a great experience of the desert when I was in Los Angeles," she said. "I went at sunrise to a place which is called Joshua Tree because there are some very strange looking cacti there. I'd never seen the desert before. I thought the sea had all the power in the world." She hesitated. "Well it has but the desert has another kind of power and I want to go back and stay there for a while."

We got back to travelling. Surprisingly, when she is on the road, away from any domestic ties which might pull her back, she really quite enjoys being on the move.

"In a lot of ways it is nice,'' she admitted, "because you get to work in different groups of people. When you are travelling you're just a person looking, you're on a different level."

Paradoxically, she doesn't mind staying in hotels, in fact prefers it. "I've tried staying at people's houses but my schedule is such a thing that if you're with people you have to keep them awake, or not wake them - and you don't want that.

*'This way I'm not obliged to anybody. If I want to be in a room by myself I can be in a room by myself,'' she said.

"I like hotels. They are empty - they have nothing of me except me. Normally there are things all over the place that I have to be responsible for, having a great attachment to a lot of things, but when I start travelling I don't feel that way any more. I feel as free as a bird to do as I wish."

When Melanie does travel, she leaves her husband Peter behind along with the house. "There was a point when he always had to be there. Then we just got to know each other so well that it wasn't necessary any more."

It was Peter who gave her the opportunity to break into the big-time world of recording because at the time he discovered her, all she had was enthusiasm. Even now she can't quite believe that anybody would take sufficient interest in her, believe in her to the extent of devoting a lot of time and money to develop that interest.

"didn't have a career before I was married because I was very backward at putting myself in front of other people,'' she said. "1 just couldn't audition or do anything. Until I met Peter 1 didn't record - I sang all the time, on corners."

'But Peter took it seriously - he recorded me. Then I had a career,'' she said with something akin to relief in her voice.

Yet life did not suddenly become perfect. She had a few problems to sort out for herself and nearly didn't. "There was a time when I just felt that I was losing myself, but I've got over that and regained control of things so I'm able to do what I'm doing and feel good about it."

"But," she concluded, "if I feel that all of a sudden what I'm doing is stopping me from developing the way I want to and honestly experiencing, then I'm going to stop straight away."

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