A Read reporter attends a concert given by a female superstar.

By Jacqueline Ball


Melanie, the folk singer and composer, arrived on a mild summer evening. The day had been warm and sunny, and the kids waiting for her outside Bushnell Hall glowed with new sunburns.

I was in Hartford, Conn, to report on Melanie's concert. I planned to include all the run-of-the-mill stuff -- how she sounded, what she sang. But another question was stuck in my mind: How would the audience react to Melanie, a female star? After all, hysterical, screaming fans are nothing new for male stars. Would the scene be the same with a girl onstage?

I stood under a rustling maple tree and searched the crowd for clues. Hundreds of teen-agers were milling around. Their hair was either long-straight or short-frizzy, and many wore nylon pastel Windbreakers or Army jackets.

It seemed that everyone, including the boys, wore appliquéd jeans. One girl had a chain of hearts winding around one knee. A long-haired guy had a tall, thin plant climbing up his leg. Sandals, clogs, and Army boots were the rule for feet.


So the kids looked normal. But there was something strange about the way they acted. They were quiet. They laughed and talked softly. And they were polite, saying, "Excuse me" whenever they passed by.

Some rock concert, I thought. These kids acted as excited as if they were waiting for a school bus, not a superstar. I sighed and joined the throng now moving calmly into the hall.

We had been inside only a few moments. The house-lights were still on, and kids were ambling down the aisles. Then, suddenly, the mood turned inside out.

"She's here! She's here! " The hall echoed with the sounds of sandals slapping and clogs clumping as kids raced to their seats.

"Melanie! Hey, Melanie!" A pretty young girl stood on the stage. She wore a purple and red floor-length dress. The tips of her red clogs peeked out from under it. Yards of brown hair spilled onto the guitar slung over her shoulder.


She nodded shyly at us. The houselights went out; the red and blue footlights went on. After a soft "Hello," Melanie sat down and began to play and sing "The Nickel Song":

They're only puttin' in a nickel, but

they want a d o l l ar song, Oh,

yeah, they're only puttin' in a little

to get rid of a lot that's wrong ....

I thought "The Nickel Song" was pretty good -- what I could bear of it. Melanie's fans kept drowning her out with whistles and "Yeah's."

Boy, that crowd loved her. No, I take that back. They worshiped her. They yelled out requests: "Peace Will Come!"? "Brand New Key!" They glowed quietly, like light bulbs in the night, when she sang a slow and soulful song. They clapped and stamped to the beat of her fast songs. Melanie could do no wrong, as far as they were concerned.

Well, as a reporter, I was a little more critical. I didn't think Melanie's voice was that great. It was hoarse and unclear at times, and much too loud at others.

But I had to admit there was something almost magic about her delivery. She seemed so sincere and honest as she sang that I couldn't help feeling personally involved and deeply moved.

When she implored:

There's a chance peace will come in your life, please buy one ....

I wanted to jump up and join a crusade to end all wars.

When she sang about loneliness:

. . . where did I put my friend?

I wanted to offer her my shoulder to cry on.

And when she wailed and moaned about the rip-offs of fame:

Look what they done to my song,

Ma .... They wrapped it in a plastic

bag and turned it upside down ....

I shared her scorn for the world of commercial cheapness.

By the end of the evening I was just as much under Melanie's mellow spell as the rest of the audience.

For the grand finale, Melanie swept us all together for "Ring the Living Bell." Even though she had been singing for an hour and a half with almost no breaks, she started chanting in a strong, firm voice:

Ring out the living bell,

Ring the living bell, la.

Her right fist pounded out the rhythm on the edge of her guitar, and the mike amplified it to a thunderous BOOM . . . BOOM . . . BOOM . . . BOOM.

I felt myself rise with the crowd. Clapping in time to the BOOM's, we chanted with Melanie:

Ring out the living bell,

Ring the living bell, la.

Melanie filled in the verses, and we must have sung 100 choruses. Then, palms tingling, throats aching and rasping, we all stopped. Melanie stood up, bowed, and turned to leave.

But the fans wouldn't let her go. Shouting, whistling, calling out her name, they rushed toward the stage. Some girls gave her flowers. Two boys jumped onto the stage and shook her hands until a policeman marched them off.

Melanie looked overwhelmed and flustered by the response. But she accepted the gifts, bowed, smiled- and then she was gone.

The audience drifted out into the peaceful night. There was no pushing, no shoving. I walked to my car, thinking about what had just happened.

Had there been hysterics? Not really. Ecstatic sobs? Well, no. Melanie had created a long, warm, half-funny, half-sad sigh. To me that was far better than a Mick Jagger howl or a David Cassidy scream.


Melanie is "Melanie" for short. For long she's Melanie Safka Schekeryk (sheh-KER-ik). She's 25 and gave her first performance at the age of four-- a song-and-dance act at the Westfield N.J., Moose Lodge.

The road from Westfield has been more thorny than rosy. Melanie always had a hard time making fiends because she was considered weird. She dressed differently -- wearing Indian boots and fringes long before they were the thing -- and other kids cut her out.

To make up for her loneliness, she taught herself how to sing and play the guitar. After high school she took off for Los Angeles, hoping for Hollywood glamour and instant stardom.

But LA offered her nothing but poverty and an arrest for vagrancy. She had no money for a room and had taken to sleeping at the airport.

Melanie finally headed back East and met her future husband, Peter Schekeryk, in New York. Peter liked her songs and style and offered her a contract with his record company.

That was six years, six albums, and lots of money and fame ago. But according to all reports, Melanie is unaffected by her fame. She and Peter live simply on a farm with lots of animals. She eats mainly natural foods and very little meat -- she believes meat makes people insensitive and hard.

Melanie loves natural things -- animals, sunrises, rainbows -- and she writes about these loves in her songs. The result is a collection of gentle pieces that have made her an important contributor to modern music. And, judging by her fans' devotion one likely to be around for some time

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