ST. PETERSBURG — Melanie leans in the kitchen, surveying the step-down dining room and den.
"If the kids come to visit, we could put them in here," she says. "Right?"
The kids are her grandkids. She has three but hopes for more. If this is where she moves, this is where they’ll sleep. That factors in.
"How much is this one?" she asks her real estate agent.
She mulls it over. Three beds, two baths, spacious kitchen, seller-financed, room in the yard for a pool. These are pluses.
But the location is a problem. Out beyond the dining room, through the windows of the unfinished house next door, trucks and buses zoom north on Interstate 275. For as much as she’s traveled in her life, she’s never lived so near a highway.
"It’s so weird to be that close," she says. "I have a song I wrote about that."
She walks up the hallway, singing softly.
Don’t want to live on the highway .?.?. don’t want to live on the road no more .?.?. ’cause I’ll be thinking of leaving .?.?. when I open my window .?.?.
• • •
To the world, Melanie Safka Schekeryk, 71, is simply Melanie, full stop. In the ’60s and ’70s, she found global fame as a singer and songwriter; she was, along with Joan Baez and Janis Joplin, one of only three solo women to sing at Woodstock. She notched one No. 1 hit, 1971’s quirky Brand New Key ("I’ve got a brand new pair of roller skates .?.?. "), but her witty and thoughtful catalog earned her a cult of fans ranging from Morrissey to Miley Cyrus.
For decades, Melanie and her husband, Peter Schekeryk, lived around the world. New York. Los Angeles. Austria. Germany. They adored one another. He was "impulsive, creative, charismatic," she says, and he made her idyllic gypsy life possible, handling the lion’s share of the business side of her tours, finances and recordings. He took her to the right parties, introduced her to the right people, made sure the bills got paid.
"There wouldn’t have been a Melanie," she says, "if there hadn’t been a Peter."
When the time came to settle and raise their three kids, the call was Peter’s: Florida. Melanie, raised in Queens, was skeptical. She would later write a song about it:
Let’s move to Florida
We can all be tan, brain-dead and pretty
Where people don’t seem to know what’s happening at all
Let’s move to Florida
They call Tampa a city
And all roads lead to the mall
But before long, she loved it more than she ever thought possible. From the ’80s to the early 2000s, they moved around Pinellas County — Clearwater, Pass-a-Grille, Safety Harbor. She biked and collected seashells and swam in the gulf, intoxicated by the sunsets. Her daughters graduated from Countryside High. She opened a restaurant and coffee shop, Melanie’s, in Tarpon Springs.
But Peter and Melanie were always itinerant, and when the kids grew up, they moved on, this time to Nashville, a real music city where she could revitalize her career. Peter, her biggest fan, never stopped believing it would happen.
But Melanie missed Tampa Bay. She kept her Florida driver’s license and 727 phone number. They talked about moving back, but never too seriously.
Early in their lifelong tour together, Peter gave Melanie a journal. It stayed blank until 2010. They were shopping when it happened — she at Whole Foods, he at Best Buy. He was recounting Melanie’s performance at Woodstock to a cellphone salesman when he collapsed and never recovered.
Melanie cracked the book open.
Sometimes you don’t know you have a story until it has an end, she wrote.
• • •
After Peter died, the ugly realities of the music industry set in. It had been so long since she’d had an outside agent. She’d never booked a tour, never looked after her own finances. She soon learned she’d long ago lost her most profitable songwriting royalties, including those from Brand New Key, in some unjust record deal or corporate merger. Peter never told her. She doesn’t hold it against him. She believes he was trying to protect her.
"That was a good thing and it was a bad thing," she says. "It was a good thing in that when he was around and I was living all those years, I was able to just focus on what I did, and not think about all those other things. It was bad when he passed away and I found out everything."
It’s been eight years. Some things, you never get used to. But she’s getting better at it, because she still believes so strongly in what’s to come. She’s booking her own gigs and drumming up her own deals. She writes new music all the time, songs she says are as good as any from her past. She wrote a musical, inspired by Peter, that she believes can reach Broadway. She wants to open another restaurant.
And for the first time in decades, she’s ready to find a home of her own, a place to start her life’s latest chapter. The decision, for once, is all hers.
• • •
She’s waiting outside another house in Northeast Park, leaning on her son Beau Jarred for support in the afternoon sun, as its occupant gathers his dogs for a walk. Beau Jarred Schekeryk, 38, lives with Melanie in Nashville and will move back with her to Florida, back to the one area that always felt like home. She just has to find the right place.
"There’s so many possibilities," she says. "I just have to see the sunset and sunrise again. The beach. To look out. The opportunity to see both is right there, and that’s what I want to do."
This home is smaller — two beds, two baths, just under 1,000 square feet. There’s a small fitness pool and workshop in the back. All of it’s cute, but it’s already finished. There’s not much room left to renovate.
"Not that I don’t appreciate it," Melanie says. "But I like to make my own improvements."
On to the next address they go. She isn’t home yet. But she’s close.
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.