Cosmopolitan 1971 US




by Nat Hentoff

Melanie has often been compared with the young July Garland and with Edith Piaf because she puts her life into her songs. And because, even when she comes close to whispering, her emotions are so strong and open. But Melanie, both as a writer and singer, is also so distinctively individual that after you hear her once, you will never mistake her for anyone else.

            At twenty-five, her songs tell us, she has retained the wonder of childhood while becoming a woman who often exorcises loneliness with fantasy but is a chronic optimist about the risks of reality. As she sings in her newest and most wide-ranging album, Gather Me (Neighborhood Records), "I want to give and ring the living bell.`'

            Growing up in New York and New Jersey. Melanie Safka began writing songs when she was very little. And she was always listening—to her mother. Who was a jazz singer: to recordings of Billie Holiday, Lotte Lenya, and folk singers from the Ozarks; to any vibrations of honest, life-affirming experience. Her family was not always together, but Melanie kept trying to be together in herself, measuring her years by what her music told her of them.

By the time she was fifteen, Melanie. More resilient than the waif she seemed to be, sang in Greenwich Village folk clubs, passing the hat around to see if she was connecting. She then scuffled through nights in a New Jersey bar, trying to break into the New York music scene by day, sitting for hours in a mid Manhattan drugstore between disappointments.

About four years ago, the magic, not all of it benign, began to happen. She started to record and make concert appearances here and in Europe (where her haunting innocence at first made a greater impact than in America). With success came attempts to polish her into a "star," but she broodingly resisted any changes that made her in any way a stranger to herself. For a while, she was lonelier than she had ever been. But Melanie has learned that she can survive success. "I used to be tragic," she said recently, "but now I like to laugh."

            Unlike many who have "made it," Melanie keeps looking beyond the lights to see individual listeners. "I love it when people call out requests. It's like a conversation to me."




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