By Maureen Donaldson

Photography: Neal Preston

Slender fingers caress the strings of her guitar, coaxing soft and tender melodies from them. Head bent in concentration, her long, dark hair obscures her face much like Picasso's "Old Man with Guitar." The song "Beautiful People" fills the air around her but her audience is not beautiful people. They're children with a dull, glazed, faraway look in their eyes. Yet as she continues to sing some of the clouds clear, some of the faces come alive with self-conscious smiles.

The artist is Melanie. The children are retarded. Despite their wholly different worlds, right now they are very much together. Some children rise from their Seats and press into Melanie's hand a flower pulled from the school garden. The children themselves grow apart from the normal cultivated paths of our society.

The previous nights Melanie performed for thousands of people at a Los Angeles concert. All the proceeds will go to keep open this particular school, the Los Angeles Child Achievement Center. Melanie is quite active in work that benefits children.

"I have very vivid memories of my childhood. I know they're looking at me and they will see me as a memory one-day. I would like to affect them in a positive way" Melanie says wistfully, her attention on the children running across the playground.

The familiar look of angelic innocence clouds over as all her inner feelings are reflected in her face . . . compassion, love and concern for her fellow man.

Later that day, over lunch, Melanie talks about her own childhood: "I have happy memories of my childhood. My parents separated when I was young, but they still lived in the same house. Actually, I think they were very mature about it. I don't remember a whole lot of open arguments. I just remember thinking it was natural the way they lived and didn't realize there was anything strange about it at all. I'm sure that this situation had something to do with the development of my personality. However, I don't think I had as much trouble adjusting to their relationship as I did to my relationship in school," she smiles.

"My mother was interested in developing my imagination. My uncle was a schoolteacher who was taking psychology lessons. They were both sort of practising on me!! I remember I was always being read to. I listened to a lot of music and I had a lot of attention paid to me when I was a child," she concludes.

During her teens, Melanie ran away from home to seek fame and fortune in Los Angeles under the guise of Eve Dane.

"I told everyone I was an actress," she explains. "However, this plan was blown a week later when two detectives caught up with me and put me in a detention center. I hated it there! My father had to come and get me out. That's the last time I ran away!"

Melanie is glad that her teenage years are over. "I'm really glad, because those years weren't successful for me at all. I wasn't approaching being a complete person. At least that was the way it seemed then. It's just a readjustment stage in your life that everyone has to go through."

Adjusting to a musical career was also a difficult thing for Melanie to overcome. "There was a time in my life when I didn't know where my life started and where my career started," she explains in between mouthfuls of salad. "That was the time when I had the confusion and problems adjusting to what I was doing. I was taking things before I went on stage just to be able to get on stage. You know, grass, speed or whatever - even booze. I just needed a little something to boost me up for my show. I just didn't feel that I was enough by myself. I couldn't believe that people would want to watch me if I didn't have some extra thing going for me. All these weird ideas kept running through my head, that I was sacrificing myself for this thing I was doing. It was becoming an obsession with me. I was really getting messed up, but I just pulled myself out of it." She grins before adding, "That was three or four years ago, I guess."

Melanie married her record producer approximately three years ago. Was her marriage what straightened out her problems?

"Not completely," she replies with sincerity, "however, it did help me a lot. Everything came together to help me at the same time. I had Peter, I was meditating. I changed my diet. I really place equal importance on all these things. Now my life and my work are happy together. I'm just doing what I want to do and I have a control on my life that I like -- that I'm comfortable with.

"Before it was getting to the point that I thought I was losing track of so many things. I didn't know who I had talked to that day or where I had been. That can happen so easily especially when you're not taking care of yourself and you're allowing yourself to be pushed from one place to another. It is allowing. You do allow people to push you around and when people around you know that that's the position they're in, they take advantage. They're not being evil or bad, it's YOU that put them in that situation. You allow those people to manipulate you and in that way you're manipulating them.

"It wasn't until I started getting bit by bit together that I found that I had this control. I was writing everything down. It got to a point where I was afraid I was not functioning as a human being. I didn't really know what was happening. I had to write down in a book the name of every person I met, the places I went and the hotels and rooms just so I'd know I really was there, I'd really met those people and it really happened to me. I just had to document everything, because I just wouldn't have known that I lived those times otherwise. I can't put a finger on exactly how long this period of my life went on, because it was a gradual thing. Little by little I just kept replacing the bad traits with something more positive."

What kind of advice would Melanie offer anyone going through a difficult growing stage in his life?

"It's really difficult to advise someone. I have a younger sister who is going through some changes. It's not exactly what I was going through, because with me it was a career problem, but she's going through a time where she's self-destructive. She doesn't care about herself very much. When a person doesn't care about himself; he subconsciously tries to destroy himself. You see, so many people don't even realize that that's where they are. When I was into that period of trying to bash myself against a wall, nobody said to me, 'You're trying to destroy yourself,' because I gave every appearance of being basically okay. I didn't have those symptoms that people look for when somebody's going down. I didn't fail to show up for

Melanie's come a long way to success

performances or anything. I always was there. I don't know what I could tell someone or what advice I could give them except meditating really helped me a lot when I was messed up. Meditation is aimed at trying to make you feel attuned to your environment and feeling that spiritual thing alive in yourself. I feel that any type of meditation a person does could be a step closer to an answer."

Melanie feels that her career is now heading in the right direction. "As a matter of fact, for the first time in a long time 1 feel very positive in everything I'm doing. I think all the songs on my new album 'Gather Me' say where I'm at today. I've never felt that way about any of my albums before. Usually by the time one of my LP's is released, I feel that I've left it already and I'm into something else. If I hear it again I really don't enjoy it. This album, though, I really like. It's very much me at this point in my life. I would say that this LP is twenty-four years old, because I think it took that long to get there."

On the subject of her marriage, Melanie says, "We don't see too much of each other because I travel a lot, but I think that's a good thing. We appreciate each other more. Since I've gotten myself together, my marriage has been extremely happy. I think any time a person improves within themselves, the person with them feels that security in them. You're adding some thing to the relationship because you're becoming a stronger person."

She advocates living together before marriage as a wise move. "I lived with Peter for about a year before we got married. It doesn't really make any difference, I think, if that piece of paper is signed, but it happened at the time to mean a lot to Peter. That's basically why we got married. There'd probably be a lot fewer divorces if more people lived together before they got married," she laughs.

Melanie professes to having no special beauty secrets. "I always feel that I look my best, though when I am eating well and getting enough sleep," she exclaims as she pushes her hair away from her face.

"I try not to wear any skin makeup because I feel it's bad for you. I use mostly natural cosmetics and I wash my hair with herbal shampoo. I take a lot of vitamins every day and sometimes I break open a Vitamin E capsule and rub the oil over my face. That really helps my complexion."

A young girl steps shyly over to our table, asking, "Are you really Melanie? Wow, I buy all your records! Can I have your autograph, please?" she giggles self-consciously.

Melanie signs her name on a paper napkin and smiles warmly as she gives it to the little girl. Although this scene has probably been repeated many times for Melanie, she still reacts with spontaneous warmth. Perhaps this is the secret of Melanie's success. In the midst of this success, what are her ultimate goals?

"I don't think I really have any career goals," she replies. "I'm living very much in the present. I'm not planning a whole lot. I feel that what I'm doing now is really vital for me to do. I feel that I'm doing some kind of creative work and I'm just going to continue doing it."

Her work is unquestionably creative. Melanie seems to have won her way free of the forest of self-destruction that she used to be trapped in.

Perhaps from having been there, though, empathy and generosity toward people are evident both in her personal life and her career. You can feel her sincere concern for those whose lives are still shadowed as hers once was, or who, like the retarded children, may never completely emerge into sunshine. Melanie has succeeded in getting herself together well enough to have self to spare for others. Through music, she gives the best of herself to the world.

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