Melissa Etheridge may rank among the world’s most successful openly gay performers and a poster child for gay parenting, but until now the singer/songwriter has never directly referred to women in her songs.
“Even though people know exactly what I’m singing about it, sometimes the gay community gets like: ‘When are you going to sing a song about a girl?”‘ Etheridge, 40, told Reuters in an interview at her favorite coffee house in Santa Monica, California. “And I think, haven’t I done enough already?”
The musician from Kansas has sold more than 25 million records and has become an icon for the gay community since coming out at a 1993 presidential inaugural ball.
She and her former partner of 12 years, Julie Cypher, 36, have graced the covers of countless magazines, including a Rolling Stone issue last year in which they ended months of speculation when they identified rocker David Crosby as the biological father of their kids, Bailey, 4, and Beckett, 2.
But despite of all her activism for gay rights, Etheridge said she has always preferred to write her songs with a more general audience in mind. “It is intentional on my part to keep my lyrics non-gender-specific. Even when I came out, I didn’t want to narrow my music,” said the blonde songster, dressed casually in jeans and T-shirt.
“I love it when women and men, whether they are gay or whatever, can relate to the basic emotion because we all have the same emotion. That’s been important to me,” she said.
SHEDS INHIBITIONS IN NEW BOOK AND ALBUM
But Etheridge, who in the past had described herself as not being “completely at ease talking about herself,” seems to have shed all inhibitions with her latest album, “Skin,” due in stores this week, and her new autobiography, “The Truth Is…”
Creating both of these works was cathartic for Etheridge as she reeled from her high profile split-up with Cypher, a movie producer. While the breakup was a disappointment, the two are now on amicable terms and live in houses right next to each other, allowing their children easy access to each mom’s home.
While Etheridge regrets all the media attention that has focused on her book’s revelations of childhood sexual abuse by her older sister, Jennifer, she remains committed to sharing her truths, particularly if they help other people such as gay teenagers come to terms with their homosexuality.
“It seems kind of tell-allish and has become very sensational and it makes me uncomfortable, but I can’t control what people say about it,” she said, referring to her book.
“I don’t regret anything that I’ve done. Anytime you have someone like a teenager come up and say you’ve saved their life, and he truly meant he was going to kill himself, I know that by just telling my truth I can inspire people and I feel honored,” she said.
Etheridge believes she was “born gay,” but that her experiences with her sister and a distant relationship with her mother shaped her sexual orientation. Having patched up their differences, she said she now has an “open line” to her mother and sister but does not see them often and is not sure if her sister, with grown children of her own, has read the book.
“I know it is hard for my sister right now,” she said. “It happened long ago and it is something that she is not today. It has been lifted out and thrown on the front pages. I wish that our world was not like that, but it is the truth and I’m not going to protect that.”
It is Etheridge’s unrelenting dedication to telling the truth that finally caused her to cross her self-imposed gender line in lyrics. For the first time, she makes a sexual reference to a woman in the song “It’s Only Me” on the new CD.
She said she found herself in a bind when she came to a verse that refers to a fallen angel. “I’m writing the song and I sort of got myself into a corner because I’m talking about a woman in the second verse, which goes: ‘I found a little angel who had fallen from the sky and I took that little angel…”‘
For a while she thought about how she could make the verse “non-specific,” she said, but “I realized that would really compromise what I’m saying, so I’m going to put ‘her’ in there.” So Etheridge finished the lyric by adding: “I took that little angel and I taught her how to fly.”
“I’m making a sexual reference to a woman here and that’s really the first time and to me that’s a big deal,” said the singer, who recently got a tattoo saying “Skin” on her neck.
Etheridge called the album “Skin” because it was all about shedding old skin and starting anew. “This album has already served its purpose for me: complete therapy. It came about unexpectedly due to the events in my life and it came from inside of me to help heal,” she said.
She soon embarks on a solo concert tour, but the devoted mom plans never to leave her kids for more than 10 days at a time. She said the children appear to be taking the breakup and life as the offspring of a famous gay singer all in stride.
Etheridge and Cypher, the biological mother, each take the kids for four days at a time. “They’re comfortable with it and they also understand that most people have a mommy and daddy so it is requiring a lot of them, but there is complete communication,” she said.
Crosby has not taken a parenting role but sees them every two to three months. “They call him David, but when someone asks who their dad is, they know it’s David,” she said, praising Crosby and his wife Jan for their generosity.
“They’ve given us such a gift. David is willing to not take a parental role yet be open if later in life they want to know more,” she said.
Meanwhile, Etheridge confirmed that she has someone new in her life: Tammy Lynn Michaels of television show “Popular.”
“It’s only been a few months and I’m very happy and it’s very clean and wonderful,” she said.