Melanie & Me
I met Melanie Safka in Canberra in 1973. She was playing at the Canberra Theatre and I summoned up the courage to ask the lady at box office if there was any chance I could meet her after the show. She told me she’d see what she could do.
I was very excited to be seeing Melanie in the flesh. I’d been teaching her songs to my English classes in Tenterfield, up on the border of NSW and Queensland. I taught her lyrics as poetry. Songs like Lay Down (Candles in the Wind), Beautiful People, Look What They’ve Done to My Song Ma and Brand New Key.
Beautiful People had become a bit of an anthem for my favourite 3E2 English class.
You live in the same world as I do
But somehow I’ve never noticed you before today…”
I wanted to tell Melanie how much her words meant to the kids in this tiny country town in NSW.
Of course, I also wanted to meet her. I dreamt of meeting her but I never thought I would. Or could. When I played her records to my classes I never imagined I would see her live. There wasn’t much chance she was going to play the Tenterfield Golf Club.
So, when I asked to go backstage I didn’t really expect it to amount to anything. I remember my girlfriend being slightly embarrassed by my request. It was like I was having myself on, dreaming as usual.
I came out of the concert on cloud nine. I was floating and I hadn’t smoked anything. The usher came towards me and told me to follow her. My heart leapt. Could this be true? Could I really be going to meet Melanie? I started to get nervous. What was I going to say? What would she be like? I’d never met anyone famous before, let alone someone who had played at Woostock. Someone who rubbed shoulders with Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. No wonder I was floating.
We were ushered in and there she was, sipping a cup of tea. There were one or two other people there. Melanie was very friendly. We chatted and I told her about teaching her songs. It was all very normal. The build up might seemed extra terrestrial but the occasion itself was very grounded.
I was reminded of this when I heard Melanie interviewed on Radio National this week. She is touring Australia and talked about her famous Woodstock performance. She thought she was going to play at a low key gig in the country. No one had heard of her. She wasn’t a headliner. She told of a wonderful moment when Joan Baez sent her a cup of tea. She had a cough and this great folk icon sent her something to soothe her throat. Joan Baez was Melanie’s hero. She’d never met anyone famous before.
When I met Melanie I was dreaming of becoming an actor. I had no training. I was living in a city with little in the way of Theatre and no Fllm or TV Industry but still I harboured that dream. I joined the local REP company and did a few shows. I played Ahmed in Alex Buzo’s Norm and Ahmed and received my first pay check for an acting gig. That was the beginning of a very unlikely career as an actor.
It was also the beginning of my writing career. When I missed out on a role in Equus I wrote a play called Us or Them that kick started my playwriting career.
I don’t know if none of this would have happened if I hadn’t met Melanie Safka but I do I’ll never forget meeting her.
I also know that sometimes the most unexpected encounters can spur us to follow our dreams. Even if we don’t realise it at the time.