I met somebody for the first time yesterday and I am going to be seeing him for a few hours each week for the next month or two. We are meeting indoors and so we are wearing masks when we talk to each other. It’s a very odd experience. How much of our non-verbal communication takes place through facial expressions and, in particular, by how much we are smiling? I found it much harder to ascertain what he was feeling just by looking at his eyes rather than his whole face. I haven’t really thought about this before but it must be inbuilt into us that we listen to the words that people say but also read the expressions on their faces in order to communicate. Whether or not someone is smiling is a key to understanding how well the communication is progressing.
Eye contact is an interesting issue. Too much eye contact can be interpreted as being dominating. Blinking and lack of eye contact can be regarded as submissive. I don’t think that I ever look into someone’s eyes when I am having a conversation. I feel that I look at their mouth and this may well be due to shyness. Some people I talk to never look at me and look away when I am talking which I interpret as them being disinterested.
Covering up half of one’s face when having a conversation suddenly breaks all the patterns of communication. I found that I was having to interpret the expressions in this person’s eyes. It all went well and he is obviously a lovely guy but it was a new experience.
In the second single from her 1975 album, “Stoneground Words”, Melanie (Melanie Safka) asks “Do you believe my eyes?” In this complex song, there has been a breakdown in communication between the singer and her lover. She believes him (“I do believe your eyes”) but she worries that he doesn’t believe her. It’s a gorgeous song which builds beautifully and showcases Melanie’s distinctive voice which Rolling Stone editor, Ralph J. Gleason, once described as “a mixture of a street waif and Edith Piaf“. A clever play on words but a bit smart-arse, (which is why it appeals to me).
Phoniks is the name adopted by a hip-hop producer who sampled “Do You Believe” in a remix of Wu-Tang Clan’s “Back In The Game”. Two things to say about the result. Firstly, it amassed over 70 million views on YouTube and secondly, it’s terrible.
Melanie first started playing coffee houses in New Jersey before moving into the Greenwich Village scene in the late 1960s. She signed with Buddah Records and in an interview in 2007, she stated that the producers of the Woodstock Festival had offices in the same building that she did. Due to this, Melanie asked to be part of the Festival. When it came time for The Incredible String Band to perform, they refused because it was raining and she went on stage at 1:00 a.m. to perform seven songs. (It’s not clear whether or not she would have gone on stage if it hadn’t been raining).
During her set the audience lit up candles to accompany the music. Later she wrote a song about that which was a great hit: “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)”. Other well known songs by Melanie include “Brand New Key”, “What Have They Done to My Song Ma” and a cover of “Ruby Tuesday”.
In 1971, after a dispute with Buddah Records, she formed her own record label, Neighbourhood Records, with her husband and producer, Peter Schekeryk. He died in 2010 and she is still going strong having now released a total of 42 albums. “Stoneground Works” was her 11th album. In 2007, Jarvis Cocker invited her to perform at the meltdown festival at The Royal Albert Hall. A review in The Independent said that “it was hard to disagree that Melanie has earned her place alongside Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell and Marianne Faithfull in the pantheon of iconic female singers.”
Amongst the musicians to play on “Stoneground Works” are Hugh McCracken (who played electric guitar on “Double Fantasy“, “Back To The Egg” and “London Town“), Bill Keith (who played steel guitar with Bill Monroe), Don Payne (who played bass on Loudon Wainwright’s “Album III”) and Roger Kellaway (who played piano with Stan Ketz).
“Together Alone” is, on the face of it, a simple love song to her husband, looking forward to spending a life together. The arrangement on the song is superb with drums, piano, strings and backing vocals used to create an emotionally intense song. Obviously, the key ingredient is her remarkable voice. It’s interesting to compare the lovely simplicity of the song when performed solo with the orchestral version on the album.
It’s quite common for one or two novelty singles to define an artist in the eyes (or ears) of the general Public. Certainly, the only songs I’d ever heard of Melanie before today were the above mentioned songs which give no insight into the complexity and emotional maturity that is on display on this sophisticated album. How can we communicate the full extent of who we are by just a few singles or the expressions in our eyes? The last song “Here I Am” describes someone existing entirely in the present, standing in the rain with an empty head and not going anywhere but, as the last line on the album states, “it’s okay”.