I wish I’d read “Mel, Julian & Me” A Memoir by Mel L. Green,
before I listened to Mel Green’s superb CD, I’m Taking My Time, because...
... the book not written yet, I wondered, “Who is this South African stranger with so much talent, to have created such musical and auditory perfection?” I thought I had a pretty good handle on music and performers from the far flung corners of the folk music scene. Rarely did I receive a CD out of the blue (and sleeve) that so moved me. I was floored. I wanted to learn more about this well-traveled South African stranger.
So, I asked my physician who hailed from Johannesburg, South Africa to have a listen. I handed him the CD. He looked at me, then kvelled, “Don’t you know? Mel, Mel & Julian were the biggest stars of the 1960s Joburg folk scene!” He had just booked a cross-country trip to watch Mel Miller do his stand-up comedy routine (when he toured in California a few years ago.)
Then, into my lap, fell this book.
There is much to know about Mel, Mel & Julian. Who better to tell the tale than Mel Green (“Little Mel”) an artist from a “Greenwich Village” on the other side of the globe, who gathered with his mates to ignite their own good-natured Folk Revival.
There was much to learn. “Mel, Julian & Me” gives a detailed account of this influential group, their development, and many exploits. This is a book about harmony; musical and otherwise. There is more to these members of the trio than their set list alone. The book is a charming discovery, a good read, an exacting documentation of the goings-on that unfolded in 1960s South Africa, on and off my radar.
In the book, the players are brought back for an ‘encore’. They are musicians that ignited and energized the Jo’burg scene with their home-grown and humorous brand of folk music. The book is the perfect companion to Mel Green’s album, (and also their other recordings, you may wish to peruse) as it contains a wealth of information seen through the eyes of a discerning and most artistic observer. And there is much to know.
As noted, the other Mel turns out to be Mel Miller, who early on at art school went duo with Mel Green. It didn't take too long before they recruited Julian Laxton to complete the trio. After the group's short but stellar career, Miller went on to become a renowned South African Stand-up Comedian and Actor. His liberal anti-government views led to his being arrested by the South African Security Police. But he reemerged in fine form to act, perform and tour again.
Over the years, Mel Green went on to produce and make his own catalog of superb music and creative work..which now included this book related first hand and well-written as only this artist’s eye and recollections could capture. Mel’s voice and palette (palate?) makes this book a true artist’s creation.
Mel Green settled in the Greater Boston Area in 1973 continuing to make music while working as a graphic artist both here and in his native South Africa. In addition to performing, writing, and recording, he is a superb watercolorist.
If you think you knew everything about this world of folk music, think again, then pick up a copy of this well-written and colorful book. It will entertain and inform you – as MM&J did back then. The book is highly recommended for those who do not know the pleasure of engaging Mel Green in conversation, and it will have a slot on bookshelves where this history of Jozi music should nestle and join other important histories.
Roger Deitz, columnist, Sing Out! magazine