The Scene - US 1972






"Melanie is very tired," Peter says. "She didn't sleep a wink last night worrying about what songs to sing tonight."

                Peter is Peter Schekeryk, husband - producer- business manager to Melanie Safka, the twenty-five-year-old Italian-Ukrainian (by way of Astoria, New York and Long Branch, New Jersey) singer, voted top girl vocalist in several polls this year after her reputation as the darling of Woodstock and Powder Ridge.

                Melanie arrives, wearing tight jeans (a great sartorial departure from her usual long exotic figure-shielding robes). They emphasize a twenty-five pound weight loss. She looks less the rosy-cheeked cherub, although still a rosy-cheeked doll.

                "Wow," we say shrewdly, "you've lost a lot of weight! You look great."

                Melanie still hasn't looked directly at us, focusing embarrassedly on her booted feet. "I haven't lost that much. But I guess it's beginning to show," she says.

                Peter looks over at us appreciatively. We said the right thing. The interview can be scheduled.

                Despite her enormous success, Melanie still seems like a frightened outsider, trying to convince herself that she really does belong even though she's already been chosen leader of the insiders. She sings about loneliness, different kinds of loneliness, but always about loneliness. And the sorrow in her soul seems to find the perfect outlet in a voice which first surprises you with its raucous strength, only to turn into a hoarse, weak groan of despair. Even her happy songs are sad:

                "Isn't it a pity that I'm not the prettiest girl in the world, 'cause sometimes I feel, when I kick up my heels in the sun, I'm the loveliest one." (Isn't It a Pity (P) 1971 Buddah Records.)

Melanie talks about her own image of herself:

                "Sure my songs are sad. But all my songs have something that gives me hope. That's why I write them. I guess I've always known that it will not always stay as bad as it is now.

                "I didn't enjoy any part of my childhood. I didn't enjoy junior high school. I didn't enjoy high school. We moved around a lot—Astoria, Bayside, Long Branch, constantly moving since my parents were constantly separating. So I never had any permanent friends. I guess not having friends causes your troubles to be magnified because there's nobody to laugh with you about them. I was always sure I was ugly. I felt faceless. I didn't think I had anything about me that anyone would ever remember. I was a blank.

                "I couldn't classify myself in those days. I didn't fit in with the cheerleaders; I didn't fit in with the brains or the tough kids. There were so many cliques . . . and I didn't belong to any of them. I was nothing.

                "Well, maybe I was something. A weirdo. Now, I guess, it's a type that kids look up to. But, then it was awful. It meant you were dirty and sick. Now, it's become a clique, too —the weirdo clique. But I was a weirdo before it was fashionable.

                "I suppose I used songwriting as a kind of self-analysis. It helped, too—even though it kept me alone. It saved me from falling into depressions. The first song I wrote—when I was thirteen—was called 'There Should Have Been A Rainbow By Now.' That tells you something, doesn't it?

                "I was always being called down to the principal's office for stupid things like wearing the wrong clothes. I wore sandals and Indian boots before they were an acceptable part of the dress code. I was the biggest offender. But I didn't really know I was being disruptive. Maybe I did and it was my way of getting accepted—or at least attracting attention.

                "Once I was going to run away to Mexico but only got to Los Angeles. After a week, my father came and took me home."

Melanie doesn't often talk about that episode and now she carefully skirts it. But, only a few months ago she had confided to a British interviewer the details of that incident. It was almost as if she had opened up a locked diary, then closed it again—it was too horrible to remember:

                "I just wanted to get as far away as possible. I was going to go to Mexico. I had read books about the place and was planning to help the natives by taking them the things they needed, like food, and I was going to tend their sick, the whole bit. When I got to Los Angeles, I called a friend of mine, but nobody was home. So, I was all alone in the city for some time just wandering around. In the end I wandered to the airport and hung around there until I was arrested. Before that a lot of bad things happened to mc I was raped, got pushed around and had a real bad time. I was placed in a detention center and shared a room with four other girls. Two were Lesbians and two were crazy. I didn't know what was happening. The people weren't brutal to me but they were cruel. When my father came to get me I was wearing this white coat thing with straps on it like a straightjacket. My eyes were all red and my father was crying. It was so sad. I promised to go straight after that."

Now Melanie picks up the story.

                "In high school I was always suspicious of boys who wanted to go out with me. Not that I had many requests. I was really paranoid about it. I attracted some of the strange ones, though. Then I started going out with one of the drama teachers in the school. It was the first comfortable relationship I'd had with anybody. He encouraged me to go into acting. Up till that time I had only taken a speech course where I had to get up and recite things--I'd never been in class plays or anything. It was hard for me to get up there in class but whenever I did I felt I was good and that people were somehow interested.

                "My math and science grades were bad, but in the things I liked—English and Lit—I did very well. So when I was graduating, I didn't really know what I wanted to do. At first I thought I would go to music school but my guidance counselor said I'd have to take up a 'legitimate' instrument—a guitar wouldn't do—and I didn't really want to risk taking anything that would be difficult. He suggested acting school and I was all set for Northeastern College, but I was afraid of all the other things I'd have to study. So, that summer my uncle —who was always artsy-craftsy—convinced me to go to a pottery school In North Carolina. I loved doing ceramics. And when I came back, I decided to try to get into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. It was agony for me to go through the auditions—but I did Telltale Heart and went into a frenzy. And I did a freaky Juliet. I was amazed when they accepted me.

                "I stayed at the AADA for the whole two years, and then I drifted around New York with my degree, which was really worthless, constantly scared about attending auditions. Through a whole series of errors and coincidences I finally ended up with a record contract. Of course, I'd been singing all of this time in coffeehouses and bars. My mother had been a professional singer and she'd started me singing when I was younger. Through the record contract I met Peter Schekeryk who eventually became my husband. And it all started happening. The good and the bad.

                "I guess my appearance at Woodstock was a turning point. And showing up at Powder Ridge and singing for the kids when the official show was canceled. Now, I'm afraid the festival scene is over. It just grew to a point where everybody had ulterior motives, including the audiences. To me the motive for a festival was for people to get together and celebrate. We can all reach a higher level on the road to something better and the idea was to go to a festival and find the way with other people. But then smoking became part of it. And heavy drugs. It was terrible. It was turning out all wrong. For some people the drug thing was the main reason for the festival. Until people become more comfortable in their environments, I think the festival scene is over.

                "And I think drug music is over too. People are tired of bashing their heads against the wall. It seems to me that hard rock is just background music for people wounding themselves.

                "And it worries me that there is now a strange fascination for flipouts and mental breakdowns among young people. They seem to feel it's a way to get farther out. But what so many of them don't realize is that it's just another separation when you're that far out.

                "One of the main reasons why the drug culture is coming to an end is this: people are realizing that what you put into your body has a direct effect on what your body turns out to be. You just don't live on air. And putting all sorts of strange drugs into your body is bound to have a bad effect on it sooner or later. I went on amphetamines once to help me lose weight but it made me so jumpy I had to quit. It could have been a lot worse because I began to feel I needed the drug to keep gong.

                "I was a vegetarian for two years and I didn't make it. I was getting very sick. You have to be a calm person to be a successful vegetarian. I'm not that kind of person, I guess, and I probably won't be in this lifetime. A doctor told me I needed to eat meat to ground me and that's what I do and It works just fine.

                But I love garlic. It's a soulful food. And I find that people who like It are people who have a passion for life. It's a natural purifier—it helps eliminate the toxins in your body. People who won't eat garlic probably unconsciously want to keep the poisons in their bodies. I don't trust them.

                "Sometimes I think I'd like to live In a commune. More and more people are seeing what a beautiful thing living in small community can be. In a strange way, I live in a kind of commune, I guess. Wherever I go now, there's this group of people who do the necessary jobs in my act. They're a kind of personal commune. I sometimes feel I'd like to stop what I'm doing and go live on a farm and produce my own food. It'd be great to see something I'd planted grow.

                "I'd like to act in movies eventually. Not the stage, but movies, because nothing you do is missed on the screen. And I'm planning to work with a symphonic orchestra soon. Somehow I believe that most of my recent songs— especially those in my Paramount album Gather Me—tie together like an overture or song cycle because they relate so closely to my life during the past year. I hadn't written for months and suddenly they started hopping out. I don't have a writing discipline. If I try to force myself it's awful. When the time is right, a whole song just comes out.

                "I think meditation helps the things inside of me to surface in my work. It has made me believe that the best I can do is to have a healing effect on other people. I just meditate every day on a series of symbols that tend to balance me. But you must be careful about meditating and chanting because there are certain chants that are harmful. Some people do Ooohm but it's very powerful, and if you keep on meditating by Ooohm for a long time it has a tendency to make you withdraw. It's the sound of a recluse.

                "I was always looking for people to be God to me. Now that I've started meditating I realize that God's very much inside me—and I automatically do the right thing and allow myself to go with it. I've really found something—I hope."





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