Etheridge on ‘Fearless Love,’ Bowersox, BroadwayWritten by Vicki L. Kroll | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“I’d plug in my guitar and look out across the room,
And I’d dig into my heart and try to sing the truth”
— “An Unexpected Rain”
Her album titles say it all: “Brave and Crazy.” “Never Enough.” “Yes I Am.” “Your Little Secret.” “Breakdown.” “Skin.” “Lucky.” “The Awakening.” “Fearless Love.”
Melissa Etheridge is one rocker who isn’t afraid to bare her soul; she likes her music raw.
“Melody, lyric, rhythm and [a good song] has to have a spirit, a soul in it, something that connects with listeners and makes them want to sing it, feel it, hear it, dance to it — it gives something to the listener,” Etheridge said.
The singer-songwriter has shared her life through music. And it’s been a highly publicized story. As her career took off, she told the world she was gay. Then she and her partner, Julie Cypher, had two children, thanks to surrogate father David Crosby. Following their breakup, Etheridge wed actress Tammy Lynn Michaels in 2003. One year later, Etheridge was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2006, Michaels had twins. The couple split last year.
Through it all there have been songs: “Bring Me Some Water,” “No Souvenirs,” “Ain’t It Heavy,” “Come to My Window,” “I’m the Only One,” “I Want to Come Over,” “Angels Would Fall,” “I Want to be in Love,” “I Need to Wake Up.”
Her latest single, “Broken Heart Sun,” a duet with Serena Ryder, will be released in Canada on Feb. 15.
Etheridge will play at 9 p.m. Feb. 26 at Caesars Windsor. Ryder will open. Tickets range from $54 to $82.
The Grammy- and Academy Award-winning artist answered questions from her Los Angeles home for Toledo Free Press.
TFP: Is it true your daughter, Bailey, helped name your latest disc, “Fearless Love”?
Etheridge: Oh yeah. This was the first album that my kids were actually interested in and I told them from the beginning I was writing it, kind of showing them the process of what I do. And she said, “Well, have you thought of a title for your album yet?” And I said, “I’m thinking of ‘Songs of Fear and Love.’ ” And she goes, “Oh, Mom, that’s way too long.” And I said, “Well, I don’t know, how about just ‘Fearless’?” And she goes, “Mom, that’s Taylor Swift’s album.” And she said, “How about ‘Fearless Love’?” And I thought, whoa, that’s pretty cool, yeah. I’ll have to write a song because it sounds so cool.
TFP: It’s a great title.
Etheridge: The whole subject of fearless love is what the album is about. There’re only two choices: You’re either choosing love or choosing fear, and the stages of love are what move you ahead. So “Fearless Love” is a song, a statement: I want a fearless love; I won’t settle for anything less; I’m going to move, I’m going to reach for this and what I believe in.
TFP: Another song on the disc, “Miss California,” is about something you believe in.
Etheridge: “Miss California” comes from a very frustrated place in me. I’ve lived in California for 30 years. I love this state. I’ve always been here because I felt very comfortable and very accepted and it’s a very open, artistic place. When we went through the whole Proposition 8 [that banned gay marriage], I couldn’t believe what was happening; it turned me upside-down. I was surprised because I thought we’d all gotten over that here in California, but some people’s fear is deeper than you know.
So I decided I wanted to write a song that’s along the lines of — of course you remember Burton Cummings and The Guess Who’s “American Woman”? Now I remember as a kid listening to that song and kind of singing it, and my dad was like, “You know that’s a protest song.” And I was like, “What?” “He’s singing about the country of America, not really a woman.” And I went, oh, that’s interesting. So I thought I want to write a song that’s rockin’ and it sounds like a love song, but it’s really a political song.
TFP: What is “Drag Me Away” about?
Etheridge: It’s a song saying I’m not ready to die; I’m going to heal. I’ve got too much to do. It’s sort of about breast cancer and going through that and thinking about death and having a spiritual awakening after that.
TFP: People still talk about your tribute to Janis Joplin at the 2005 Grammys. What did that performance mean to you?
Etheridge: It was one of those fear and love choices: I had the opportunity to do this, I could love myself and go “OK, I’m going to be bald, but I love myself, I’m going to do it,” or I could have said, “Oh, I’m going to be bald and been fearful and said no.” And so I chose love and it was a triumph for me.
TFP: You’ve become a spokeswoman for several causes — gay rights, the environment, breast cancer. Was that a surprise?
Etheridge: What I find is the more I just live honestly and speak honestly, the more activist that is considered. I don’t attend meetings or go anywhere or do anything, I just stand up and say, “Hey, I’m gay, or hey, I think this is silly, why don’t we do this.” And it looks like activism.
TFP: You recorded a live version of “I Run for Life” with Crystal Bowersox last fall to benefit Komen for the Cure. When did you first hear of her?
Etheridge: I don’t watch “American Idol.” My kids came in and said, “Mom, there’s a girl auditioning who’s got your autograph on her guitar,” and I thought, what? And so I looked, and they were like, “She’s good!” And I watched it, and I could see the raw, real talent that reminded me of myself growing up in the Midwest, playing in the bars, playing in the bands, and so I reached out to her because I thought she had talent. Not like star-overnight talent, but the kind that sticks around, the talent that wants to create, to perform and to transmute energy and music. And I met her and she indeed is that, and she’s a friend of the family.
TFP: You filled in for Billie Joe Armstrong in “American Idiot” on Broadway, and you performed in “Million Dollar Quartet” last year. Is that something you want to pursue?
Etheridge: Not so much performing on Broadway, because I think that’s some of the hardest work that any performers do, and I don’t know if I want to work that hard [laughs]. But I am in the process of creating a musical for Broadway.
TFP: Offer a tease about the show?
Etheridge: It’s just a very classic Broadway musical; I’m old-school.
TFP: Would you say a few words about the power of music?
Etheridge: I think in this day and age where we thought technology would lead us to some sort of sterile, white place where we all talked and dressed the same, I think it’s so amazing to see one of the things that remains strong and important is music. People still love to be entertained, they love to take music and fill themselves with it, and that will never change.
On the Web: www.melissaetheridge.com