Ruby’s Rap by Ruby Comer
Don’t cry out loud through the eyes of love, because you should only hear how she talks about you when my boyfriend’s back at midnight blue, so come in from the rain whenever I call you friend.
Can’t make this out? A little confused? Poor lambies. I was trying to cleverly stitch together some of the hits of the legendary singer-songwriter, Melissa Manchester! Good heavens, when Ms. M. ignites those pipes, her radiant, crystal-clear voice evokes passionate shockwaves all over my body. I never tire of listening to Melissa’s magic. And when she serenades with “La Vie en Rose,” it rivals the original songbird herself, Edith Piaf. Have a tissue ready….
When I was growing up in the Midwest and later at college in Boston, Melissa’s songs released a swath of memories and emotions in me. I discoed to her tunes, sang them in the shower, and even smooched on a frat couch listening to her love songs. By cracky, when I hear “Midnight Blue” today, it instantly zooms me back to BU necking and petting madly with Chip. Boy, that hunk was steamy!
Before amfAR was established and even before Rock Hudson’s death, which finally brought the epidemic to light, Melissa was there to help. In 1984 she appeared at A Night to Remember at the Metropolitan Opera House, which was the first major AIDS fundraiser in New York. Since then she has determinedly given of her time to numerous AIDS organizations, and she continues to do so.
Melissa has other charitable interests as well. In 2008, all proceeds from her song, “The Power of Ribbons,” went to breast cancer research, and she works with women in prison through a program called Prison Of Peace. This rock-pop pro is also a professor at USC.
Melissa and I meet up at Marmalade Café in Sherman Oaks in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, while she takes a break from recording her new album with the working title, You Gotta Love the Life. Melissa orders water with lemon, a beet salad, and a cappuccino. I have a veggie burger with all the trimmings on gluten-free bread, and chamomile tea.
Ruby Comer: My gosh, you started volunteering in 1984, just a few years after the first case of AIDS was reported!
Melissa Manchester: I was singing in the clubs in New York and realized that people were just dying left and right.
I was living down in Greenwich Village then and I do recall those grim days. Before we get too far I have to tell you that I loved your song, “I Know Who I Am,” in the film For Colored Girls. [She beams with gratitude.] What comes to mind when you think of HIV/AIDS?
The Plague of my generation.
That’s a fact; a wretched one indeed. What impact has the epidemic had on you?
Well, I first heard about the epidemic when I was told that a lovely young friend of mine died from AIDS. He was full of love, laughter,
and light, and then suddenly that light was extinguished. Since then I’ve lost several dear friends. [She takes a sip of java.] In the early days, I saw how ignorance compounded the ravages of the disease when parents and clergy turned against people who were already suffering.
That certainly was the Christian thing to do, right?! [I shake my head in revulsion.] You’ve been active in the community for years; why do you care?
I care because I have been given many blessings in my life, among them being told that my music helped people through hard times. If my music or performances can be of service to anyone then I am doubly blessed.
Lovely…have you ever written an AIDS-themed song? I know back in 2004 you sang “When I Look Down That Road” to a character who had AIDS on General Hospital.
Not intentionally, but I sang a song I’d written called “Help Is on the Way” at an AIDS benefit recently.
Inspiring. And speaking of inspiration, who inspires you in the epidemic?
Dr. Mathilde Krim [A&U, December 2001].
Your son and daughter [Nathan, twenty-six, and Hannah, twenty-five] grew up in the thick of the epidemic; how did you handle HIV prevention at home?
My parents raised my sister and I surrounded by lots of gay friends who became our extended family. I’ve raised my kids the same way.
You have worked with many talented people; who in particular stands out the most?
Well, having Barbra Streisand not only sing a song I’d written for her at her wedding [“Just One Lifetime”], but then recording it so gorgeously was a standout experience for me.
I can’t believe you and Tony have never sung together! That’s a match made in dreamland. Any last thoughts before you dash off back to the recording studio?
I can’t believe we’re still talking about AIDS. That said, the first known person cured of AIDS is on the planet. I pray for the day when that will be the norm and not the exception.
Get further in tune with Melissa Manchester on an episode of “In Bed with Dann & Kelly” at www.DANNandKELLY.com.
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected]