Patricia Sheridan's Breakfast With ... Melissa Etheridge
June 4, 2012 10:08 AM
Tammie Arroyo/Associated Press
Melissa Etheridge at the Rock For Choice Concert at the Hollywood Palladium in 2004.
By Patricia Sheridan Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
She has won two Grammys as well as an Academy Award for her song "I Need to Wake Up" from the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." Singer, songwriter Melissa Etheridge's hits "Come to My Window" and "I'm The Only One" propelled her to the top of the charts. The 50-year-old is almost as well-known for being a lesbian as she is for her music. Born in Kansas, she's been in two high-profile romances with former partners Julie Cypher and Tammy Lynn Michaels. She has children from both relationships via sperm donors. She was diagnosed in 2004 with breast cancer but continues to be cancer-free. She will be in Pittsburgh Saturday as the headliner for 2012 Pride in the Street to celebrate GLBT awareness. It is her first Pride event.
Since President Barack Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage, do you think the pressure is now on the gay community to get out and vote?
[Laughing] Why do you think they did it? Yes, of course. And is that a bad thing? No, that's a good thing.
Hmm, how do I say this? I think everything they do is a political move. You know I've been around long enough, and that's OK. It's all in perception, and what that means is think of the power we hold as a community. Consistently for over 20, 30 years we have proven to be a part of the community, the society of this country, and have proven to be working, contributing members. People know people who are gay, and they see that these are people they work with and are on their block. So the president is just saying I see that this is good for America now. I think he's always felt that way. I spoke to him myself. As the elected leader of America, yes it was a political move to say, "Elect me again for another four years, and I will help take us into the future, which is a future of recognizing the beautiful diversity of our country and how that makes us stronger as a nation."
Bullying has been in the news a lot lately. Were you ever bullied growing up?
Not -- not really. I've certainly been in a gay club where eggs were thrown in, and I have been walking down the street holding hands with my girlfriend and had someone yell out "faggot," which doesn't make any sense at all. [laughing]. But when I was younger? No, not really. I also think what we're seeing is the light being projected on -- they can't do these things -- we don't tolerate the bullying anymore. People aren't quiet about it.
So what about your own children: Have they faced any kind of prejudice? They are unique because you are famous.
Yeah, indeed. I don't think it's totally fair for my kids to represent what the kids of gay parents might go through because I have found that fame totally trumps gay any day. [laughing] So I've had a magical experience. The funny thing, especially with my older kids, oh they have two mommies. Mostly the younger kids under 12 years old would say, "Hey, I want two mommies! That sounds like a good deal."
Once you get into adolescence it's a little different. We live in Southern California, and it's much more liberal so it's certainly not the weirdest thing to have two moms.
You are known for writing songs from your experiences, so when you wrote your memoirs did it feel like writing a big, long song?
I don't know if I could ever do that again. It felt like it was one big cathartic oh my God therapy lesson. But it was good because I knew that people wanted to know the story, and if you don't go this is how I remember it now then it definitely changes. Our past changes as we get older. [laughing] We hold it differently.
Has music always been a place where you felt not just accepted but exulted?
Exulted! That's a wonderful word. Yes, yes it has. It was always the safest place. Always a place I wanted to be and always a place that made sense when nothing else did. Absolutely.
And once you get a Grammy or a number one hit, is it something you are always chasing?
[Laughing] That's an interesting experience. Let's say like '94 "Come To My Window" and everything. That was the biggest thing, and you kind of hold that place and think, "Oh I'm going to be here forever." Then it goes away, you know? It comes and goes in waves. It's just waves. You can't stay up on top forever or you'll go nuts. We've seen the ones who have. So I have learned to look at my career as one big, long, long journey. I have people buying tickets, and I feel great. I like my career.
I've read that growing up, expressing emotions in your family was not a big thing in your house. Is that part of why you are so open and vulnerable with your music?
I think the natural human state is of emotion. I don't think emotions are a sidebar to our lives. I think emotions actually run our lives. So I was getting very repressed versions of emotions and I think my own emotions -- wow, I've got to get this out somehow. That is what happens to a lot of us in adolescence. We kind of explode and go crazy because there has not been any emotion allowed. So that was my version. Instead of going crazy and doing crazy things, I went inside songs and pulled the emotions out and was able to write really sad things or scary things or dark things and get the emotions out.
Don't you think it takes a certain discipline to write about your pain instead of wallowing on the couch?
[Laughing] And be in the pain? Yeah, it's a discipline and it's a form of self-realization, self- understanding. It's enabled me to say "Wait a minute. It's not just that other person. It's also me. I have something to do with this here." It's a way of examining myself and my choices when I do write about it.
Have you ever written something in the book or in a song and later thought I wish I hadn't done that?
[Laughing] Oh, no, no, the songs, they stand up. There are no songs I want to take back. The book, that's a whole 'nother thing. I will probably write another book someday with a very different perspective. I think we just get older and we say, "OK, now I can look at that differently. I can hold that differently."
Do you see yourself as a perfectionist or a control freak?
I would like to say I'm an artist. I see a piece of clay and I say, "OK what's in that clay?" I will feel an emotion. I will go through an experience and [think] how can I use that to fuel a song. But it's not control. I just believe it. I just love it. I love rock 'n roll. Rock 'n roll is a wonderful form of expression. I love using that art form.
And it loves you. Your audiences pour out such affection and adoration for you when you are on stage. Do you find it harder for one person to replicate that in a one-on-one relationship?
[Laughing] Well, it's a good thing that I'm a Gemini because I can love that massive, energetic, beautiful response from an audience, and I can also go home and really love the experience of one partner and really, really enjoy that. I need them both -- how about that?
You have said we have a choice to live in love or fear. What did you mean by that?
Kind of after and during breast cancer and that whole experience, I really went deep into this kind of spiritual, psychological, life and death. I studied quantum physics and really got into the whole meaning-of-life thing.
We can manifest whatever we want. We can manifest from the light or the dark, from love or fear. There are really only two, call them vibrations, and that is where you learn to control your life force. It's when you understand how many choices you are just forfeiting to fear.
Did you have difficulty dealing with your parents after you came out?
When I came out to my parents I was 21, I think, but I only came out to my dad. I really wasn't talking to my mom at the time [laughing]. So I came out to my dad and he was like, "Well, I don't understand it but as long as you're happy." It was so incredible. I was like "Right on, cool." Once you have that in your life you can pretty much walk through and be a very solid person because you know "my parents love me no matter who I am."
That is why it is so important that a parent when they realize they have a gay child to say "whatever makes you happy." It's about happiness, and so many parents fear it is going to be such a hard, horrible life, but it's not. You give them that love and they'll be themselves and then they can be a beacon. I've always been grateful for that. And of course, later, after I did start talking to my mom, she was fine with it, too.