Still rockin’ after all these years
By: Tom Andrew, LBGTweekly.com
Photo: Lee Everett
Not many singers have the distinction of winning both an Oscar and two Grammy awards and have starred in one of Broadway’s most acclaimed rock musicals. Not to mention also being a cancer survivor, mother of four children and a political activist; but that’s exactly what life is like if you’re Melissa Etheridge.
Etheridge does all of this and still has the time to tour the country. She’ll be stopping here Sept. 8 at Humphrey’s by the Bay and while there are still are tickets available, they are close to being sold out.
She is a tireless force to be reckoned with. Etheridge loves talking about being a mother, about politics, about her kids, her music and how much music means to her and her life.
If you are wondering what you can expect of her current tour, well, honestly, no one puts it better than she does.
“You can expect a rock and roll show, that’s what I am doing,” Etheridge confided. “I do … it’s my favorite thing I do … are the shows. I have been making albums just to make perfect set lists. It’ll be the hits. I always do the songs we know and love and then we’ll go deeper into some older albums and a mix of stuff like that and some new tracks and then we just lose our minds and have a great time!”
It wasn’t until recently that Etheridge had a chance to think about her 25 years as a professional recording artist, when she was back in the studio rerecording some of her past hits and tracks and found herself flooded with memories from when these songs were first recorded.
“I gotta tell you, I was awash in memories here these last few months,” Etheridge said. “It has been overwhelming and it’s actually been eye opening. It has been a chance for me to look back over … it’s been 25 years since I have been doing this professionally and to look at the journey and go ‘Wow, I did a lot!’ I kept comin’ up with this stuff and jeez I did a lot. And, it’s nice kinda to sit back and look at the body of your work and go look at that and how I’m still doing it, still loving it and still vibrant as can be … and it makes me very happy.”
Most may not know this, but Etheridge is a self-proclaimed theater geek and she’s proud of it. She admits to performing in many musical theater productions when she was in high school.
“Oh I was a big musical theater geek; ya know … I’m a good gay!” Etheridge admitted. “All through high school I did all of that. I was in the Sound of Music; I was in Godspell, just everything. I even wrote a musical when I was in high school, so I love musical theater.”
So much so that in February 2011 Etheridge made her Broadway debut as St. Jimmy in Greenday’s American Idiot. Etheridge explained that while it was a great experience for her, it was also an eye opening one as well.
“I have always had such a deep, deep respect for Broadway,” she said. “And when they asked me to do this I was like ‘no, no … I can’t possibly, I, no not me, I couldn’t do that.’ Then my partner Linda looked at me and went ‘Really? What?’ And I thought well maybe I could. It was such an amazing experience. I rehearsed with them for a week, and ya know I can get on stage and sing my songs and do my thing, but to know that I have to be here at this certain time and say that at that certain time or else the whole thing is gonna fall apart and doing dance moves and stuff [was a lot].”
At one point in the show, her character St. Jimmy free falls from the top of the set into the casts waiting hands like in a mosh pit. When it was time to rehearse it Etheridge was a bit taken aback and remembers what was said.
“OK, it’s time to rehearse the death drop,” she recalled. “And I was like ‘excuse me, what are we doing?’ And literally I had to turn around and free fall backwards and trust that people are going to be there to catch you. There is nothing like that; it was as much fun as you can get … it was amazing. The cast was so great, the music was amazing and there is just nothing like a good story and good music on a stage. There’s no Internet, there’s no auto-tune that will ever replace that. It was truly one of my favorite experiences on stage.”
While Etheridge had a great time doing the show, she confided that the Broadway schedule, eight shows a week, along with her family and busy life is a lot to do.
“I could’ve done that in my 20s easily, but, um, I would probably do a very limited run or something like that. I would certainly love to compose and write a musical that then goes on, that’s my ultimate goal and I have been working on it.”
She credits her parents for her introduction to and love of music explaining how their favorite singers quickly became hers as well.
“My first was Barbra Streisand,” Etheridge said. “I mean holy cow! My parents took me to see Funny Girl in Kansas City and I just lost it. I just couldn’t hear the song ‘People’ enough; I would listen to it over and over. Then I got all of her work, so I was way into her. Then my father was a big Neil Diamond fan, and so when the two of them sang together it was like heaven.”
She went on to say her love of music grew from her parents’ music collection. She listened to a lot of really great singers as she grew up from Johnny Mathis to Aretha Franklin, as well as some of music’s most renowned songwriters like Simon and Garfunkel and Diamond. And while her children are still young, she is quite aware that all of them are “musical” in some way.
“They are all very musical because they are around it and it’s available,” Etheridge said. “I have a very open policy, I have guitars, and not my special ones … they don’t get to touch those! I have guitars out and pianos and a drum set. They are allowed to make music, it’s a part of the family, but I don’t see any of them having a big dream to make it their life because I think they have seen the backside of it. I don’t know about that yet though, because they are just starting to dream those dreams.”
Etheridge is definitely passionate about her music, but is just as passionate as an activist and pours herself into her work and her support for political parties. She is very supportive of gay rights, gay marriage and medical marijuana and took part in the 2008 Democratic National Convention. With all of this political time logged in, one might wonder if she has political aspirations of her own.
“I think about it every now and then,” she said. “But then I think, gosh that’s so much work. Seriously though, if somehow the stars ever lined up, and it was at the right time, I’d entertain it.”
It’s definitely not something she is actively going after. For the time being, Etheridge jokingly said, “I like having friends who are politicians and telling them what to do!”
Tickets for her show can be purchased online by going to humphreysconcerts.com or by calling 800-745-3000.