I fall into that sad category of “too young for Woodstock and too old for Coachella.” So while at age 12 I missed Melanie at Woodstock, I did see her in summer 1974 at the Schaefer Music Festival in Central Park, shelling out a meager $2 for that privilege. I’ve always loved her — her surprisingly big voice with its occasional slight rasp, the way she stood up on stage with just her guitar.
Melanie performed last night at a house concert in Claremont, an intimate gathering of about 30 people. Before I went, I fished out my Melanie songbook and remembered my insufficient attempts to strum “Peace Will Come” or “Candles in the Rain.”
It was sad and slightly shocking to see that the years haven’t been kind to her. I anticipated a silver-haired version of the Melanie I’d seen 42 years ago, and winced guiltily when she recited a monologue from her 2012 musical, “Melanie and the Record Man,” in which she admonishes her audience for expecting her to remain frozen as that sylphlike, iconic version of herself.
She looks to be in poor health, helped on and off stage by her son Beau, whose solicitousness of his mother was touching. She spoke with a hint of wistfulness about performing for 500,000 people at Woodstock. Still obviously grieving her husband of 45 years who died in 2010, she mentions that he “took care of everything” and said that until recently, she’d been drifting on her own. I suspect that she struggles financially now despite two gold albums, a gold single and a Billboard award for Top Female Vocalist.
When she developed a tickle in her throat during her set of old and new songs last night, an obliging fan jumped up, dashed out to his car and retrieved a half-empty bottle of tequila. A shot was sloshed into a coffee mug and downed by the singer. “Did you drink the other half on the way in the car?” she asked her impromptu voice doctor, and the audience laughed.
Although “Brand New Key” sold 3 million copies worldwide, Melanie described coming to loathe it for years as a “silly” song that branded her as “cute.” She’s come back around now to appreciate the hit again, she said. It wasn’t the song’s then-risque sexual double-entendre that made it revolutionary, or even the supposedly sinister reference to “key” for kilo of drugs. When she sang, “Some people say I done all right for a girl,” that bit of social commentary went unnoticed in 1972.
The evening left me thinking about how fleeting the time seems, the nature of success, and girls who have done all right despite setbacks, sudden losses and things that can’t be helped.