Grammy winning singer-songwriter-activist Melissa Etheridge is a multifaceted artist who is as passionate about the causes she believes in as she is about her music. She has been a champion for social justice, gay rights, medical marijuana and the fight against cancer.
Etheridge’s music is powerful, engaging rock ‘n’roll with captivating lyrics that cover the raw emotions associated with love and heartbreak. She won an Academy Award in 2007 for Best Original Song for “I Need to Wake Up” from the film An Inconvenient Truth. Her 12th collection of original material, This is M.E., is a collaboration with numerous talented artists. Etheridge surprised her wife, Linda Wallem, at their 2014 wedding by performing “Who Are you Waiting For,” a beautiful cut from the album.
I recently spoke with Etheridge who was in Nova Scotia on the solo leg of her current tour.
Jane Spietz: How much are your lyrics a reflection of your own life?
Melissa Etheridge: Very much so. I’ve always believed that the singer-songwriter was one who took their experience in life, their views, or their lens and then crafted and presented them in an art form. I certainly have artistic license. Often I would say I’m drinking whiskey when the reality was I was drinking apple juice. When you write what you know, it’s the most powerful.
JS: You were one of the first artists to come out as gay. How and when did you realize what your sexual orientation was?
ME: Very early on. I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s so it wasn’t talked about, and if it ever was, it was sneered at and was a very scary thing. When I first heard of homosexuality, it was an awful thing. Once I got into junior high, I realized that my friends were having crushes on boys. I just wanted to be with my friends and maybe there was something different with me. When I got to high school, I realized that my physiology and my whole emotional world was about women, and I realized, uh-oh, I’m one of those ‘things.’ It’s an awful feeling for an adolescent to have to go through that time anyway, but then to realize you’re somehow wrong – it’s very difficult. But I was able to go through it.
ME: I have always deeply believed in my country. I believe in what our forefathers built – the Land of the Free. I believe in what freedom is and the right to be who you are. I just believed that my country was the place where this could be worked through and happen. When I saw it go to the Supreme Court, I was very confident they would rule in our favor. Our highest court said we, the majority of us, believe this is a right, and this is a human right. If you got a problem with it, it’s your problem. You can’t take the right away from another person because you have a problem with it.
JS: You have stated that you were grateful for your diagnosis of breast cancer.
ME: I was on a journey of success and living life very fully, with a very high stress job and not really taking care of my body. When this cancer knocked me out, it shown a huge light on what health is, and how much I have a responsibility to my own health. The key to it all is inflammation, and about lowering the inflammation in my body. I realized it’s about diet and about what I eat. Now my whole focus is eating foods that are close to the ground. Whole vegetables, fruits and grains that are as close from farm to table as I can get. And exercise, like yoga and walking. Keeping stress levels low. Stress is a killer. Next week I’ll be eleven years cancer-free! They have been very healthy years. I’m very grateful for my cancer diagnosis. It turned my life around.
JS: You covered Janis Joplin’s hit “Piece of my Heart” at the 2005 Grammy Awards sporting a bald head from chemotherapy. How did it feel to represent such a powerful woman singing an incredibly moving song while you were going thru an extremely challenging time in your life?
ME: When the opportunity came my way, it was a very personal moment for me. I didn’t realize the social impact that it would have. In that moment, I wanted to stand up and say, ‘I’m beating this, and it is not going to get me down. I’m going to show you that a woman can be tough!’ Janis was singing and representing women in a time back in a time where it was very different. This was a perfect chance and opportunity for me. It was one of my favorite things I’ve ever done.
JS: You are an advocate of cannabis use and an entrepreneur with your own line of cannabis products.
ME: When I went through my cancer treatment, I was in California, a medicinal state, so I was able to get medicinal cannabis. This plant can do what five medications can do without the harmful side effects. It’s so not about getting high at all. It’s a medicine to relieve nausea, depression, pain, to stimulate appetite. It kept me out of the hospital. I felt I needed to become an advocate for this. I met a lot of people in the business and ended up seeing that it’s a business in desperate need of help and organization because they’ve been outlaws for so long. I started to become more involved with it as a business. I believe it’s the next big business because people are seeing all of the benefits from it. The main thing is the social stigma that we have to get over and the ridiculous laws that are placed on a harmless plant. The cannabis infused wine I’m making is a wonderful meeting place for people to relax with a glass of wine at the end of the day.
JS: Melissa, we look forward to your performances in Appleton and Milwaukee, Wisconsin in October.
ME: You’re going to hear the songs you know and love, some deep album tracks, and a couple of new tracks. I hope that everyone who comes to my show leaves feeling a little bit better.
Pabst Theater – Milwaukee WI
Wednesday, October 14, 2015 8:00 PM
Tickets: $75.50, $59.50, $49.50