MIC - Music Interview Corner

MIC article: MELANIE (SAFKA) in Soest, Germany


Interview with MELANIE SAFKA in Soest, Germany

Melanie Sakfa, formally known as "Melanie" is a phenomenon. She started her career at the legendary "Woodstock Music and Arts Festival", which should go down in music history as one of the biggest events. And which still makes people of generation wishing to have a time mashine.
Almost still a teenager Melanie stepped at the stage in August 1969 and left it as a star. Until today thereīs the myth that she had only gotten this gig, because she replaced "The Incredible String Band", who refused to play in the rain.
But itīs true that thousands of people were standing with candles in their hands in the pouring rain to listen to her and that this experience was the inspiration for the song
"Lay Down - Candles in the Rain".
At the moment Melanie is on an international concert tour, which lead her to Soest in Germany at the 20th of June. With her concert she fascinated the audience in the totally sold out venue "Schlachthof".
Beside her world hits like "Brand New Key" and "What Have They Done To My Song, Ma", she also presented songs from her new album "Ever Since You Never Heard Of Me". Like the energetic folk-rock song "Angel Watching Over You" and the ballad "Smile". She performes together with her son Beau Jarred, who isnīt only a virtous guitar player, but also the co-composer of a lot songs of the new album.
In this two hours Melanie demonstrated impressively that she isnīt any quieter even 43 years after Woodstock and that she hasnīt lost any of her voice, charisma and humour. A special highlight for the concert visitors, who didnīt only come from German cities, but also from the Netherlands, France and Belgium was, that Melanie fulfilled song requests for her audience.
In the following interview she told me the truth about Woodstock and revealed why she almost became an archaeologist and why she owes her career to her husband Peter.

In 1969 you did a gig at the legendary "Woodstock Music and Art Festival". Iīve heard the story, that you got this gig spontaneously, because another band dropped out, because of the weather. Is that true?

No, that isnīt true. I did it spontaneously, because I was in the same office building as the promoters, who were organising it. But way before. I had asked, if I could be there. When they answered, I was in England in a recording studio with my husband Peter and we were working on an album and on a movie soundtrack. It was very important and so I didnīt think, Iīd go back and do it, but a voice inside just said "Go back and do it". So I went back. I had no idea that it was a big deal. My mother picked me up and we hit some traffic and I didnīt know at all, that it was because of the festival. We had no cell phones, no computers, no texting, there was nothing... We finally made it to a place with a phone and when I phoned somebody, I found out, that this 30 miles traffic jam is because of the festival. They said, we should come to this other place. There was Janis Joplin and media trucks and cameras and crews. And then some guy came to me and said "You go in the helicopter". I had never been in a helicopter in my life. I had no experience, I was an unknown person. My mother and I were about to go into the helicopter and then they said "Who is she?", I said "Itīs my mother" and they said "No. No mothers, just bands and managers". So I said "Bye, mom" and I got in the helicopter and I went to the sight and they dropped me off. Then I went on the stage as an unknown person and I came off the stage as a celebrity.
Iīm really glad, I did it. It changed my life. Not only my career, but my thinking about performance, because there was so much of flow, of human connectedness. It was coming towards me. I believe really that being a performer, is like being a garden, that gets watered and when an audience sends you so much love, you become something else. It transforms you. You get this energy and it fills you and it helps you to create more. Itīs sort of a child with good parents. They make you do well. And itīs that thing for an artist. When I was at Woodstock, it was one of my first ever performances and from that I do very well.

How was that gig for you?

I was so terrified, that I actually left my body. Do you have heard of out-of-body-experiences? I walked on the stage and I wasnīt there. I was watching myself for a good part of the song and then I came back. I was sure, people would stone me or throw tomatoes or something. I mean, how would I possibly entertain all this thousands of people. It was just me and a guitar. And I wasnīt that great at the guitar and I had no songs that were known.

A few weeks ago you played in Woodstock again. How was that for you?
Did the old memories come back?

No, not really. I remember it best, when Iīm far away from Woodstock. I did a show there just a few weeks ago. But that was the town of Woodstock. What people donīt realize is, the festival didnīt happen in Woodstock, because the town chain forbid it. It was banned. So they went to another sight in Bethel. So people go to Woodstock saying "Where did it happen?". Woodstock is just the name. They called it Woodstock, because that was, where it was supposed to be. But Woodstock wouldnīt let it happen. So this farmer named Max Yasgur opened his field for it and became a hero. But that was not in Woodstock, it was in Bethel.

What is the story behind your song "I Tried to Die Young"?

Itīs not a story so much. I have a new definition for "old". Old is a condition that a occurs, when one continue to live. I was in that mind-set, when I wrote "I tried to die young". Because I think, there is so much attention on "oh, itīs young, itīs useful and soo young". But thatīs one end of the spectrum and thereīs the other end of the spectrum. And I think both have value. I did things, when I was 14 or 16, that are amazing. I wrote songs, that I would never write now. Iīm not saying, that they were better, but what I write now is from a different perspective. Age is nothing, itīs just a deal we make, you have to live it out. Being old is not for the faint of heart, thatīs for sure. Itīs definitely difficult and itīs heroic and brave, because itīs an amazing progression. You see things one way an then youīre seeing things from a whole other way. I never thought, that I was gonna be old. I thought, Iīm gonna be a pretty corpse. I never expected to live longer than other people. I assumed I would die young.

Why did you assume this?

I donīt know, I guess, because I was so careless. I didnīt take so much care and I assumed those people just died. But it didnīt happen. Here I am.
Sometimes I think, I wish, I died young. Itīs the deal. We make this deal, we are born, we live our live, thatīs what you have to do. I hope, there is a good purpose to it.
I think, itīs really funny. Life is so funny, because people take it so serious and it keeps going. You donīt take anything with you. You just live it and then it goes, wherever it goes. Thatīs why I love people so much, because we are so brave to continue living. Itīs so crazy. Itīs very brave to keep living.

In all the years of your career you also covered songs beside your own lyrics. What are your criteria, when you choose a song to cover it?

Itīs not a mental process, itīs more of an emotional thing, a songs hits me.

Like "Ruby Tuesday"?

"Ruby Tuesday" hit me, it was me. I was Ruby Tuesday, I donīt know why.

Most people connect this song with you and not with the „Rolling Stones“...

Itīs funny, I know. In fact, one reviewer thought that, too. I was singing in a concert and he absolutely hated me. He wrote, that Iīm so stupid, just an idiot, a bit of Woodstock-fluff and meaningless. And he went on with "And even that stupid song she wrote: īRuby Tuesday`..." So it was such a great thing, because they were criticizing "The Rolling Stones" and they didnīt know. It was funny.

Which bands and artists influenced you most, when you made the decision to become a musician yourself?

I didnīt make that decision, the decision was made for me. Peter was my husband, my manager, my producer. He produced the first record. I wanted to be an archeologist or in the peace corps. I pictured myself being of service to mankind. I had very lofty ideals about helping people and doing something of service to humanity. And I didnīt think being a popstar was it. But it turned out, that was, what happened. My husband was very determined, that the world knows what I do. He would always say "Melanie, you donīt know, who you are". Maybe he was right. But I didnīt make the decision to become a singer, it just happened. I was like Forrest Gump, just the feather blew on my shoulder... Now I think, that I did fulfill my purpose, I mean as far as being a performer, a singer. Tonight a woman came up to me, who spend 22 days in hospital in intensive care and she had my picture, because for 45 years she was into my music. And she said, it gave her strength to live. Thatīs why I do what I do. When somebody says to me "That was a good show", I always look at them like "A show?". I guess, to some people, itīs a show. But to me, itīs my life and I put my life right there. A lot of people donīt even know, that I exist, but thatīs not important. The important thing is the people I reach. There is something there. Iīm supposed to do this. Whether I like it or not.

Photo by Kati Rausch
Article by Kati Rausch