Melanie remembers Woodstock. She should, because her appearance at the festival scared her half to death.
"At the time I had never performed in front of more than 500 people," she said recently. "I was so naive about the whole thing. I thought it was going to be just a couple of thousand people in the countryside. Then when I got there and saw Janis Joplin and Grace Slick walking around, my heart started to pound." Lay Down (Candles in the Rain), which rose to No. 6 on the charts. Two more hits followed: Look What They Done To My Song and Brand New Key, which was No. I in 1971.
Today, the thought of singing for a massive audience doesn't give Melanie (her full name is Melanie Safka Schekeryk) the dry heaves, as it did before she went on-stage at Woodstock. Melanie, 47, a resident of Clearwater for the past five years, is looking forward to being in Bethel this weekend on an unofficial pilgrimage to the Yasgur farm, site of the original festival. She also is scheduled to perform Sunday at Groovefest at the Pinellas County Fairgrounds.
During the last 25 years, Melanie has performed steadily. After Woodstock she played the Isle of Wight Festival in England and released
By then the music business was getting old for Melanie. Part of the problem, she said, was the way artists were being marketed as radical thinkers tackling serious issues in their music. that made her seem counter-revolutionary. It wasn't because she didn't have a social conscience; she travelled to Yugoslavia to be a spokesperson for UNICEF in the early '70s. It was just hard to take serious messages from someone who seemed so happy.
"I didn't fit into that, I am a political person and I am very serious' type of thing," she said. "Women, if you wanted to be in that groove, had to be angular and stern and not wear makeup and certainly not smile in your photos. With me, every time a camera came near my face, I smiled. It's the most natural thing to do, It's actually unnatural not to smile in a photo."
Melanie got labelled as a flower child. She wound up doing a lot of cause-oriented shows, but sometimes the causes turned out to be smokescreens.
"I worry about music being manipulated to suit somebody's political goals," she said. "My heart would be in anti-war demonstration, then I would find that the organisation I was supporting couldn't care less about ending the war. They had another agenda and the anti-war thing was just a way of attracting attention."
Brand New Key was the final straw, she said. It was a cute, offbeat tune that she wrote off the top of her head ("I've got a brand new pair of roller skates, you've got a brand new key"). She said her record company started rumours that it was about drugs and wife-swapping, ostensibly to increase its appeal.
During one five-year stretch, Melanie played an average of 300 dates a year. She has 29 albums to her credit, many on her own Neighborhood and Precious Cargo Labels. She won a 1989 Emmy for writing lyrics to The First Time I Loved Forever for the TV show Beauty and the Beast. In 1991 she reworked Ben E. King's Stand By Me into a tribute to soldiers in the Mideast War.
She believes songs should be able to stand on their own. "If you have to read a book about a painting or a song to get it, you're missing the point," she said. "A song is its own thing. "