Caught any of those HP commercials lately? How could you miss them, right? Well, if you remember Woodstock, you also remember that Melanie Safka, the folk singer who launched her career at the famed 1969 "three days of peace and music" is the voice reverberating through the speakers again on her 1971 smash "Brand New Key."
Of course, that wasn't her only statement: She also sold over 80 million albums on the strength of other hits, like "Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)."
Now, she's 64 and back at it again, touring in support of her new album, "Ever Since You Never Heard Of Me." I was honored to nab a rare interview with the legend herself to talk about her new projects, the recent death of her manager/producer husband Peter Schekeryk and her thoughts on the current music scene — and she didn't hold back. Read on and visit melaniesmusic.com for all the Melanie scoop.
UsMagazine.com: I read that you live in Nashville now.
Melanie: I did live in Nashville and I still have a place there, but after my husband, who was my manager and produced all of my records, passed away on the road, my son and I still continued doing the gigs that he had booked. I found myself in Arizona and I've just been here and I don't really think I'm going to go back to Nashville.
Us: Too many memories?
M: Yeah, too many memories. It's just overwhelming. I'm okay, but grief is one of those things that comes in waves. It's bound to happen.
Us: I suppose you're putting that into your music. Is that what you're putting on the new record?
M: The new album is magic. My husband had a heart attack on an airplane coming from Germany. He had an emergency triple bypass and all was well — he changed his lifestyle and diet and was doing really great. As I said, we were on the road in the end of October 2010 and that was the last time I saw him. He died on that first attack. He actually said he saw what it was like and said he wasn't afraid anymore.
Us: So you're still really in mourning.
M: Oh my God, it's unbelievable. I probably won't remember half of this year. It's just foggy and I'm not taking any drugs even though people keep handing me things to feel better. I'm probably just better off experiencing it now and I'll go through whatever I have to go through. It's unimaginable that Peter's not going to walk through a door somewhere. We were married for 43 years.
Us: What did he say when he had that near-death experience?
M: He said he wasn't afraid to die anymore. He said it was really beautiful and that the only reason he came back was to make sure that our son Bo and I were okay. Unfortunately he did leave us in a big ol' mess. He loved playing the game of making the deal and making money, but he wasn't good at keeping it or accumulating. He loved artists. If every artist could have a Peter, there'd be world peace. I believe that art and music could change the world. But artists are so screwed up most of the time mostly because they don't have someone really supporting who they are. I was fortunate for the 45 years that Peter was in my life that I was buffered from a lot of what the industry has to dish out.
Us: "Brand New Key" was such a simple song, but such a huge song. At the time though, it was banned by certain radio stations because of sexual innuendo. Was there any intended innuendo in that song, and how do you feel about its longevity?
M: It's amazing, I can't believe it. This is the first year that I've been listening to it because of the HP commercial and having a million hits on YouTube. It's like having a hit record with it again. I hear it now. I think 'what is it about this song?' It really has its own little unique charm. When you ask about sexual innuendo, I don't know what I was thinking when I wrote it. I had just come off a 27-day fast on nothing but distilled water, so I think I was a bit out of my body at the time. It was just a one-off thing. Most of my writing has meaning. I do write a lot of quirky, funny songs, but you don't go out to do that. It was one of those things that just happened. I always blamed the hamburger that I ate after my fast for doing it. I had just broken this fast and then I went and had McDonald's!
US: How do you feel about all of the people that you've inspired over the years? And who, out there today, are you into?
M: It's difficult because so many people are doing what they think is interesting. I think the difference between the music from the 60s/70s was that people were doing things to express themselves and drawing from different sources. It wasn't to go out and be interesting. Now it's about the hairdo and the style and the look and how it all gets marketed and 'let me make this noise with my voice.' I always can detect that sort of fake thing that happens when people go to make a noise with their voice. Some people can detect it in writing. There's a certain stilted falseness in peoples' writing. There's that same thing that happens in the voice. There's a reality that you know the voice is coming from a place deep within themselves. I thought Michael Bolton was the first offender. I remember I heard him and I thought,'oh my God-this is evil!' And it's gotten worse, Now there's a whole slew of people. I'd rather hear Celine Dion than some of the more "interesting" people. At least there's a melody, and I can hum it later. I think marketing has invaded the industry as far as music because people are so concerned with what market they reach. They're much less concerned with what music they're making.
US: It's funny that your music is still around and still permeating. You mentioned the HP commercial which has revitalized "Brand New Key." How does it feel seeing that on TV?
M: It's mine, so I'm excited! Seeing it with that visual was amazingly creative, and I can't imagine any other song working as well. I called them and told them that there's more where that came from. I don't think I interested them, really. It's true though, I've got these quirky songs. On this new album, I've got this one called "Angel Watching." There's something very magical about that one. And then there's this one, "Big Big Bear" that's really funny. There's just a few that has a lot of Melanie. I see that now. Over the years, I didn't see myself as a person with a style, but I can now. I'm very proud of "Brand New Key," whereas when I was 19, I wasn't. I was like, 'oh my God, what have I done? I have this hit record and it's dooming me to be cute.'
US: Very true. Anything else you want to add? Anything more that you want to let people know?
M: I've always been a very private person. The whole social media thing, people expecting to know what you're doing before you go to bed. I don't call it social media, it's kind of voyeurism. It's invasive. I'm a reclusive person. But I do love people. I love humanity. I'm a humanitarian. I'm a people person. Somebody accused me of being a humanist, and I don't know what that is exactly, but I guess I am one. But I like to be in my own space with my own things, and I'm in this very strange position now. I'm in this house that belongs to this very wonderful person just letting me have her guest house, and I'm just trying to figure out what I'm going to do with my life.
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