By Tim Parks
Once upon a time, there was a young girl that dreamt of leaving her dreary existence in Leavenworth, Kansas, to find something better waiting for her over the rainbow.
In this case, the girl in question was not Dorothy Gale of The Wizard of Oz fame, but rather a young Melissa Etheridge, whom much like the heroine of the 1939 musical, had a song in heart, a head full of dreams, and the courage to push herself towards her goal.
And the dreams that young Etheridge dared to dream, really did come true, as her Emerald City proved to be Los Angeles. And all she needed from The Wizard was a break, circa 1982, when she moved cross country to make it in the music industry, with nary a twister involved.
These thoughts, the stuff of fantasy and endless daydreams, were what kept Etheridge afloat during her black and white Midwest years, long before the Technicolor of stardom transformed her world completely.
“See that’s just it, I had really wild dreams when I was a kid of being a rock star,” Etheridge said during her interview with me. “Now what I thought that meant though was I would just make records and sing, and be loved by everyone, and never have a problem again in my life. I didn’t actually realize that I would have to live a life, while I was being a rock star.”
Etheridge’s own Yellow Brick Road has been paved with professional triumphs, such as winning two Grammys for Best Female Rock Performance for the songs, “Ain’t It Heavy” in 1992 and “Come to My Window” in 1994. Etheridge also snagged a coveted Oscar for “I Need to Wake Up,” the theme song for the documentary An Inconvenient Truth.
As for her proudest achievement so far in her career, Etheridge was hard pressed to single out just one moment.
“Wow! You know that’s really difficult, because I have been so awesomely blessed,” she responded graciously. “And some just amazing things have happened to me – for every Grammy I’ve won to, of course, The Oscar was just over-the-top. And singing with Bruce Springsteen, it’s just been so many wonderful things that have happened; it’s hard to say which one is the best.”
Still that path inlaid with yellow bricks that led to golden accolades has also had its share of personal potholes, as well.
She had a breakup with ex-partner, Julie Cypher, brought into the public domain in 2000, and her bout with breast cancer in 2004.
Etheridge emerged not only a survivor, but an inspiration from that experience, as she made a triumphant return to the stage at the 2005 Grammy Awards, performing bald from her treatments of chemotherapy.
“It changed my life completely,” Etheridge said. “The whole focus of my life, the perception of what life is was changed by my diagnosis, and subsequent treatment. That, the treatment, was the part that really got me– because it’s a hideous thing they do, all the chemotherapy, and it takes you so close to death.
“And it really opened my eyes, because when my body was in this state of near death, I discovered my soul,” she recanted. “I started to see that there was a lot more to us than the television, and the clothes we wear, and the cars we drive. It’s what my whole new album is about.”
Etheridge and her wife, actress Tammy Lynn Michaels, have been married since 2003, and are raising four children, including daughter Bailey Jean and son Beckett from her relationship with Cypher, and son Miller Steven and daughter Johnnie Rose, who are twins and almost two.
So, how is family life for Etheridge?
“Oh my gosh I have four children! Oh my God!” Etheridge answered frantically with a laugh, before getting serious on the subject at hand. “It’s the best thing I do; it’s the greatest thing I do is to be a mom – it’s the most important thing I do. It’s my ultimate joy and happiness is being a wife and mother. I try to be my best at my professional world, so I can go home and do my best at home.
“It really does require an awesome amount of patience, and understanding of life and living in the now” she said of raising a large brood. “They really bring you right into ‘But I want it now,’ and you have to take charge of what’s happening right this moment.”
As for her taking the time out of her busy life to support a number of causes, Etheridge feels it is important for her to raise awareness to those charities close to her heart.
“I don’t consciously go and use my celebrity for this, but what I’ve noticed is being a celebrity, the opportunities are wide open,” Etheridge explained. “I am constantly asked, everyday, if I can do this or do that, and I have to say no to a lot of things.
“Yet there are the causes that are near and dear to me, because they are part of me – gay rights, you’re talking about my life there. Of course, I am going to be involved in that, it would be hypocritical of me not to,” the singer who came out publicly in 1993 exclaimed. “And then the cancer issues and the family issues and children – the things that I am are the things that I feel called to.”
Songwriting has proven to be another cathartic way for Etheridge to relate her life experiences to the masses, and songs such as “Bring Me Some Water,” “I’m The Only One,” “I Want To Come Over” and “Message To Myself” have certainly struck a chord with listeners.
Etheridge let us in on what sparks her creativity.
“That’s what it’s all about is the songs,” she stated. “That’s the thing that I do by myself, all alone in my little room. And I try to translate what comes into my subconscious, my higher conscious, and I try to bring it into this realm of understanding with music – and that’s my craft, that’s my challenge.”
For someone who has seemingly done it all, including penning the book The Truth is…My Life in Love and Music, the very humble and down-to-earth Etheridge would be subscribed career-wise to “see what comes along and what I want to do is keep making my music – that makes me very happy.”
Currently, the singer is making fans happy with “The Revival Tour,” which will be hitting San Diego on Saturday August 30th at Viejas Concerts in the Park at 8 pm.
Etheridge decided to call her latest concert, “The Revival Tour,” thusly.
“Because there are a lot of spiritual themes, not only in the album, The Awakening, but in this tour,” she explained. “And I wanted people to know there’s a little bit of extra sprinkles on top of this – you can come and rock out, we’re going to sing ‘I’m The Only One’ at the top of our lungs, and we’re going to talk about life.
“The way that the show is structured it’s actually my life story, from Kansas on out, and through the cancer – it’s a way to put all of these songs together in a cohesive manner. So I called it ‘The Revival Tour,’ and I try not to get too preachy, but I try to inspire and entertain, that’s my hope.”
And, if anyone knows about inspiration and hope, it is Etheridge, a truly remarkable human being. Once a girl from Kansas, who grew into womanhood and followed her life’s calling, not needing to click her heels together three times and repeat, “There’s no place like home,” as she found herself loving life over the rainbow.
This interview was first published in August 2008