MELISSA ETHERIDGE: THE FEARLESS JOURNEY CONTINUES


Photo Credit: James Minchin III

By Paul Freeman [August, 2010]

Grammy and Academy Award-winning artist Melissa Etheridge has been creating memorable music for more than 20 years. But sheís not resting on her laurels. The courageous singer-songwriterís latest album, ďFearless LoveĒ ranks among her best.

Itís filled with anthemic, powerful rock songs, reflecting Etheridgeís primary musical influences. Yet it contains bold, dramatic, original viewpoints. Fearlessness contributes to her longevity as an important artist.

The icon, an inspiration to millions, graciously spoke with Pop Culture Classics.

POP CULTURE CLASSICS:
On this album, you were conscious of honoring your influences. Can you elaborate on that?

MELISSA

ETHERIDGE:

I think I spent al ot of my earlier years definitely being influenced, yet thinking, ĎYou know what? I have to find my own sound. I donít want to sound too much like anybody else.í And the more I have studied and listened to my influences - Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, The Who, the great rock Ďní roll of the Ď60s and Ď70s - the more I realized how much they were playing their influences.

I sort of studied rock Ďní roll and realized, ĎWait a minute, thatís what rock Ďní roll is. You listen to what you love and then you make it your way. Thereís nothing wrong with me being inspired by Bruce Springsteen or being inspired by the drama of Pete Townshend and The Who. I can do this.í It was kind of nice to let go of the sort of guilt, maybe, that I was thinking that I couldnít really draw on my influences.

PCC:
And though itís kind of a return to your rock roots, then, do you view the album as the result of your evolution as an artist? That it couldnít have been created without building on all the elements youíve explored in your previous work?

ETHERIDGE:
Definitely, definitely, I could never have made this album without having made all the others before. And to let myself honor and be grateful to the work Iíve done and not say, ĎOh, I should have done this,í ĎI should have done that.í That would have been easy. Instead I was able to just honor it and say, ĎThat was the path and thatís what I had to do and here I am now. This is great.í

PCC:
Youíve been creating music for 20 years and yet this album sounds so fresh and exciting. What has enabled you to keep the music as relevant as ever?

ETHERIDGE:
Because I love it. Itís about keeping that fire, that inspiration alive. As soon as I stop worrying about what the record companyís going to think or ĎOh, is this going to be played on the radio?í ĎAre the kids going to like this?í Whatever those worries are. As soon as I let go of all that, I went, ĎIím going to just make music that I love, to where, when I listen to it, I go, ĎWhoooh! I canít wait to play that!í As long as I do that, then Iím trusting that thatís how I do what I do best.

PCC:
So that approach, that perspective, contributes to your longevity as an artist? The fact that youíre honest and have integrity in your music? Thatís something thatís hard to find these days.

ETHERIDGE:
Yes it is. What does that say about us? Yeah. But that approach is exciting and itís dangerous and itís fun. Thatís what rock Ďní roll is. Rock Ďní roll should be a little dangerous and outside the norm.

PCC:
The risks have never daunted you? Do you welcome them?

ETHERIDGE:
Iíve been daunted before. Iíve made some daunted moves in my life. And Iíve always ended up in the hole, going, ĎWhy am I doing this?í Just a couple of instances of hitting the brick wall like that and youíre like, ĎOh, I get it.í So everything Iíve created, especially after my bout with cancer, everything Iíve created after that, Iíve said, ĎIím never going to make a piece of music unless I love it.í And thatís what Iíve been living the last six years.

PCC:
Life changes, motherhood, surviving the cancer, those things alter perspective. Are they all reflected in the music in some way?

ETHERIDGE:
Oh, yes. My music is so autobiographical. Iíve always felt that thatís what a songwriterís supposed to do is experience the feelings, the emotions, the inspiration, whatever it is, feel it and then put it into the art, so that other people can feel your experience of it. Thatís what I always thought it was supposed to be. Thatís what I grew up with.

So I do that. So, after going through motherhood, oh my God, which is a mind-blowing experience, all along the way, I have teenagers now and I have little kids again. And itís a trip. It brings up your own stuff constantly. Youíre learning every day.

And having gone through chemo and having a run-in with cancer and mortality and going, ĎWhoah! Ď and having an awakening and enlightenment and the breakthrough and then putting all of that in the music, Iím having a lot of fun.

PCC:
The title track, where you sing, ĎI am what Iím afraid of,í have you learned to conquer your fears or to embrace them?

ETHERIDGE:
Yes and yes. Iíve learned that the key is what you fear and to recognize that every choice you make, all day long, from the second you open your eyes and youíre consciously awake, every choice you make is either love or fear - what you eat, what you think, what you say, what you wear, what you do, where you go - every choice you make, youíre making between love and fear. And if you can start recognizing when fear comes up, then you can start navigating around it. And then life gets really fun.

PCC:
And that song, ĎFearless Love,í you werenít sure you wanted to put it on the album? Itís so instantly grabbing. Itís hard to believe it didnít jump out at you.

ETHERIDGE:
You know what? Iím the worst. I almost didnít put ĎCome To My Windowí on ĎYes I Am,í so...what do I know, at all? [Laughs].Yeah, what happens is, I think, ĎOh, thatís too simple.í But what I miss is, sometimes an emotion can actually be put across more powerfully when you express it simply.

PCC:
The song ĎThe Wanting of You,í is that grappling with fears and changes, as well?

ETHERIDGE:
Yeah, well the whole album is about love and fear. Itís the choices between them and whether theyíre speaking of my own personal experiences with it or, in ĎThe Wanting of You,í I did something I donít do very often, which is, I removed myself from the story. And I want to do more of that. This is sort of my testing the waters. I know the story. I have been other characters in the story. But I wanted to write about an individualís struggle with fear and love and the choices you make and why and the struggle with it.

PCC:
In terms of the shadings of the lyrics, looking back now, how do you think your marriage coming to an end might have affected the subtext or tone of the album?

ETHERIDGE:
Thatís a question I can answer better later, because Iím still right in it. And I tend to find those things a couple years down the line afterwards, when I go back and look at my work and go, ĎOh, I was telling myself thisí and ĎI didnít know that!í And itís really still a process right now and these songs are new and I havenít been able to get away from them.

PCC:
When you do write such personal material, it must be really revelatory and fascinating to go back a couple years later and reexamine the songs.

ETHERIDGE:
I tell you, it is, because I keep seeing different layers. When I thought, ĎOh, I was writing thatí and then later realize, ĎAh, no, I was writing that.í And itís pretty cool. I actually enjoy looking at it. And it gives you another perspective of what your past is, what your memories are. It helps you sort of reshape the past.

PCC:
With ĎIndiana,Ē were you reflecting on your Midwestern background?

ETHERIDGE:
Actually, ĎIndianaí is about Tammy. Itís Tammyís story. It was inspired by her. She was from Indiana. And I just found myself being inspired by her story. Again, probably years from now, Iíll know more about the song than I do now. [Laughs].

PCC:
And it probably will inspire others, as well.

ETHERIDGE:
I hope so.

PCC:
You must hear all the time from fans who are inspired by various aspects of your life.

ETHERIDGE:
Itís my favorite thing, I gotta tell you. Itís a really cool way to go through life, to have strangers come up and tell you wonderful things.

PCC:
What sparked the writing of ĎNervousí?

ETHERIDGE:
Right now, I donít know exactly the moment in my life that inspired the actual event in that song, I just know I was writing about being afraid of something, nervous, afraid and wanting to fight it. Trying to understand that sometimes we, not understanding that we love it, that we want this thing, and fearing it causes us to lash out in anger sometimes. That explains a lot of things.

PCC:
Another of my favorites on the album is ĎWe Are The Ones.í Is that kind of an exhortation to shake off the apathy and be proactive and end the unproductive divisiveness weíve got going?

ETHERIDGE:
There you go. Thatís exactly it. And very well put. Unproductive divisiveness. I might have to use that. Thank you. Thatís exactly it. We chase each other around, like weíre chasing our own tails, trying the ĎIím right, youíre wrong.í The minute we can stop and go, ĎYou know what? Everybodyís right. There is no wrong.í Thereís enough and thereís space for everybody to have their own life, their own choices. You donít have to feel and think the way I do. And I donít have to feel and think the way you do.

PCC:
But do you think people are feeling the futility and frustration to the point where they are hesitant to get involved again?

ETHERIDGE:
Thatís a personal experience. As you go down your journey, as you go down your path, youíre going to pull things into your path that are going to help you get closer to understanding your own peace and your own self. Thatís what weíre here for. So people, as they start to understand the nature of reality, as they just walk along, theyíre going to find it in different ways, at different times, that hope is the same as love. And the minute you start forgiving what you consider to be wrong and harmful, when you can get your mind around a different perspective about it, then youíll start to find this peace. And then youíll understand that we are the ones weíve been waiting for. Youíll understand that we, each of us, are capable of creating a new future, a new life, a new world. Each of us can do it. We can. And we have that power. So thatís what Iím kind of trying to shake up.

PCC:
And in terms of the changes that still need to come, are people starting to realize that itís not just about a change in administration, that more is needed?

ETHERIDGE:
I hope so. Anytime I get asked now about politics, I say, ĎGuess what Iíve learned, that it doesnít matter whether itís Republican or Democratic, at all. Thereís a few social issues that I certainly represent, but, other than that, theyíre each owned and in the pocket of these huge multinational corporations and the way that we face that and change that is every day we vote with our pocketbooks what weíre going to put up with. And we put the oil companies in charge. We put the drug companies in charge. Because weíre willing to be sick and weíre willing to think that we need all that, when all we have to do is think, ĎOh, wait a minute, I can actually be healthy as long as I want to be and I donít have to have a pill. And I donít have to put oil in my car. We can change it. We have the power. Anyway, thatís my politics.

PCC:
And ĎMiss California,í itís just so baffling what happened in California with Proposition 8.

ETHERIDGE:
Threw me for a loop. [Laughs] I had to write a song about it.

PCC:
What are the issues now that most concern you?

ETHERIDGE:
I think it comes to, what Iíve just been saying, to this personal path. You can go out there and try to change everybody and fight, fight, fight. But itís time to say, ĎI need to start walking my path.í And the only thing I can do is inspire as I walk my path. I canít tell anybody to change, because Iím telling them not to tell me to change. Iím not going to tell them to change. So thatís sort of what Iím into now.

PCC:
You have such a clear view of the present. What excites you about the future?

ETHERIDGE:
What excites me about the future is that Iím constantly creating it in the present. Iím never going to get to the future, because Iím always in the present. So, if I create the present to be this joyous experience, then I can be excited about my future.

PCC:
And with all youíve already achieved, are there still goals youíre yearning to reach?

ETHERIDGE:
You know, itís funny how I look at goals now. I used to think being rich and famous was a goal. Thereís really not a goal there.

I ended up succeeding in what I love to do. And now I get to keep doing what I love. And that is success.

I sure put dreams in front of me. Iíd love to have a musical on Broadway. Iíd love to do all these things. Thatís just my fun creating I just hope that I can continue doing what I love.

For the latest Melissa Etheridge concert dates, visit: www.melissaetheridge.com/events