Melissa Etheridge – The GayRVA Interview
For over 20 years, Melissa Etheridge has been entertaining fans worldwide. From her 1988 self-titled debut through her latest 2010 release, Fearless Love, she has won two Grammys, an Academy Award, and countless others celebrating her musical work and activism.
On Thursday, August 4, she returns to Richmond for Innsbrook After Hours and took some time from the road to chat with GayRVA.
Etheridge superfan Bill Johnson conducted this interview saying the singer was down-to-earth during their phone chat. ”For me, Melissa has been not only my favorite singer, but also my hero, and the one that made it okay for me to say, ‘Yes I Am’ in regards to my sexuality. Her honesty, her pureness, and her no-apologies approach to life is an inspiration.”
GayRVA: You have been in the music industry for over 20 years – when you look back how does this journey differ from what you had imagined it would look like when you were playing the women’s bars in the 80′s?
Etheridge: It’s completely different than what I thought and it’s definitely better. I think that the dreams I had in my 20’s were that I was going to get rich and famous and all of my problems would just fade away. I didn’t think I was going to become a big gay artist and I definitely didn’t expect the cancer journey. Those are the things that kind of just came along my path. I have always just wanted to write songs and sing, so that’s the best part of this journey, because that’s what I have done and still get to do.
You, k.d. lang, Ellen, Martina Navritilova, Indigo Girls – were the first stars really to come “out” publicly. People may assume that you are all close friends. Are these people that you socialize with and have close friendships with?
It’s funny, I have had close relationships with each of those people at different times. There was about a year that Martina and I were really close. I was hanging out at her house a lot – we went on trips. Then I did some work with the Indigo Girls. Ellen, k.d. and I were all really close for a time. Then I had kids and that all kind of changed. Also with work things change.
NO one ever sees Ellen – she’s just busy all the time. I wouldn’t say that we are all as close as we were, but if I ever needed them, I could definitely call them and they would be there.
You have collaborated and met some wonderful people. Are there any celebrities that you get star-struck for?
I still definitely get a little intimidated around Oprah. She is such a big personality and she is very tall, especially in heels. I still try to just relax and realize she is just a person, but there is so much more that comes with Oprah as a whole.
Are there any celebrities that you haven’t collaborated with that you would like to?
I’ve met most the musicians in my life that I have wanted to meet. I have done things with Bruce Springsteen, Joan Armatrading, Peter Gabriel, Sting. I’ve met and worked with a lot of people. I’ve been in the business for over 20 years – I’ve been lucky to have met a lot of people. At this point, I don’t really think there is any I would like to collaborate with.
Your two oldest children are teenagers now, what bands do they listen to? Do they ever put “Yes I Am” on?
You know, bless their hearts. When they were little I would put my music on in the car because I would be touring or in the studio and needed to refresh on the songs, but really the last few years they have really gotten to see what mom does and what my role is in the world. My daughter Bailey even named the last album. So they definitely are aware now and both listen to the latest album.
Now my daughter is definitely into pop, musicals- she loves Glee and she also loves singer-songwriters. My son is more into the older stuff, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and Green Day. He has a big vinyl collection. They both love music.
Do your kids have easier access to meeting the celebrities they like and admire, since their mother is Melissa Etheridge?
I really try to keep my personal life and the fame separate. I never want to use the “I’m Melissa Etheridge, meet my children” card. But occasionally, if a situation is right, then they will get to meet certain people. Most recently were were flying home and Lea Michele was at the airport and my daughter was like, “Oh my God mom, will you please say hello?” So since we were on the same plane I said ok. So we chatted and struck a friendship. When Glee was out here, I got to go backstage, so she got to meet everyone then. So if it’s appropriate then yes, they get to meet certain people.
With Fearless Love, you wrote a few songs from other people’s point of view. How did you channel those emotions or even come up with the ideas for those songs?
It was hard, very hard. I want to start writing more like that. I want to expand on my writing to reach other horizons. It was something that I intentionally set out to do on this album and I feel that I did a good job. I am proud of those songs like “Indiana” and “The Wanting of You.”
Being a cancer survivor, how has life on the road touring for you changed? Do you find that it is harder and more draining on you physically, mentally and emotionally?
Yes, definitely. I would be willing to say that cancer is not so hard on you, it’s the chemo, the radiation, the treatments that make you sick. The chemo destroyed my gastrointestinal system, it wasn’t the cancer – the cancer was out in one day. Since my digestive system has been affected, I do have a chef that comes with me on tour, I have to watch what I eat. I also have to work on staying more in shape – but that also has to do with the fact I just turned 50 this year. So overall health is important, but I do feel healthier than I ever have in my life.
Now speaking of touring, you have staples, songs like, “Come to My Window,” “I’m the Only One,” “Like the Way I Do” – these are songs you are almost expected to sing, that the fans love to hear. Do you ever grow tired of singing, “Come to My Window” night after night?
Mostly I can feed off from the energy of the crowd. They get excited and are singing along, so I can get excited as well. Ya know, by the end of a tour, “Come to My Window” – ok, I can get a little tired of it, but that song. That song. Thank you! I’m so grateful of that song. I am also so grateful that I can start a song and everyone stands up, cheers, and sings along. That’s awesome!
You have been a very outspoken activist for marriage equality. Do you feel that same-sex couples (especially those in the public eye) are put up to a higher standard of “making it work” because of the fight for equality?
You know, I feel and I have felt so bad for the gay community, because here I have had two very public divorces. I feel so sorry for the gay community that I haven’t done a better job at it (laughs). I feel in our society today that relationships in general are probably the hardest thing and the least taught about – then throw same-sex on top of that and it is just very hard. I’m still learning and learning everyday. I cannot love someone else until I love myself. If I can teach that to my community, then great.
What projects are you working on these days?
Lots of exciting things. I am currently writing for a new album. I am also working on a musical, which I am very, very excited about with my partner (Linda Wallem). I will be talking more about that a little but later, but it is very exciting. I am also doing a new radio show – as well as just raising my kids. So I am definitely keeping myself busy.
Melissa Etheridge performs Innsbrook After Hours on Thursday, August 4. For tickets and more information, visit http://innsbrookafterhours.com/.
Bill Johnson is a Detroit native. A Zoology major, Johnson has lived in many cities and states, but calls RVA home.
“You are mine” is about “one teenager dreaming about another, even though they’ll never be together.”December 16, 2015
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