June 13, 2013 at 6:00 am EDT | by Joey DiGuglielmo
Rippin’ & tearin’ & strippin’
Melissa Etheridge, gay news, Washington Blade

Melissa Etheridge (Photo by James Minchin III)

Melissa Etheridge
With guest Eric Hutchinson
8 p.m.
Wolf Trap
Filene Center
1551 Trap Road
Vienna, VA
$35 (lawn)-$65

When we talked to Melissa Etheridge last year the conversation turned — as one might expect in an election year — to politics. So this time we focused on music. The lesbian rocker plays Wolf Trap Tuesday night. Her comments have been slightly edited for length.


WASHINGTON BLADE: Last time you were here you played the Strathmore, which is kind of stately, whereas Wolf Trap is outside and more earthy. Does the venue affect the kind of show you play?

MELISSA ETHERIDGE: Yes, totally. One of the things I do before I even write out a set list is I go stand on stage and look out and really get a feel for what the venue is like. Is it indoors, outdoors, is the first row up close, will people be able to stand, are they soft seats, hard seats? I’ve been touring for 25 years so I’m very conscious of what kind of show can be produced at each place and it does make a difference in what songs I play. This will definitely be different from the Strathmore show. I love playing Wolf Trap and I don’t think I’ve ever sweated as much on stage as when I’ve played Wolf Trap. It was just so humid last time I was there, I was really soaked even before the show. But yeah, it’s gonna be much more rock and roll out there.

BLADE: How do you manage to do those big rock money notes year after year? Rock singing, of course, often doesn’t use proper vocal technique that they teach you in classical singing and some singers get vocal cord nodules while others, like Tina Turner perhaps or many gospel singers, seem to be able to growl and howl for decades on end with no problem. Have you ever strained your voice letting it rip so to speak?

ETHERIDGE: I learned a long time ago playing in bars how to make that growly rock and roll sound but not harm the vocal cords. It’s not really screaming, it’s like a stage scream. That and having a good understanding of how not to tax the voice too much in doing that style of singing, also helps. I usually don’t sing more than three night in a row. I can do four, but it will start to wear down after awhile and the shape of my voice is definitely related to everything. If I’m tired, if I haven’t eaten right, if I’m stressed, all those things affect it. But as long as I can eat right and sleep well, I can be on the road and do the rock and roll stuff out there every night.


BLADE: How have you found the right balance throughout your career of knowing when to play up the all-out rock stuff versus having enough of a commercial, pop/AC vibe on your various projects to get some radio and mainstream exposure? Have you given much thought to those sorts of things as you’ve been writing and recording various records?

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, it’s been a big part of understanding radio and the music business in general and then just when you kind of have a handle on it, of course it changes much like it did in the mid-‘90s when I was really at the pinnacle of it. As it should — young kids grow up and they have their own stuff and I get that. I stopped, I guess around the turn of the century, trying to make my music for radio because I think that would just have been selling myself out and I realized I had a strong live audience that was not going away and would still come see me play, so I really dedicated myself to making the music that I love and not trying to be so much pop. Which is fine — I mean, I love a good pop song like everybody else does, but I don’t limit myself to that anymore. The most important thing in my mind when I’m writing and recording is how is this going to translate to the live stage. That’s more the guideline.


BLADE: And yet many veteran acts who have that loyal fan base have great numbers the first week out with a new album and like you said, do fine filling decent-size venues, yet without any radio traction, the albums can come and go so quickly it seems. Has there been any frustration with that at various times? Any sense of a diminishing return for all the hard work?

ETHERIDGE: Well yeah, of course you always hope there’s maybe something there radio can hold on to a little and you would always like to make your record company a little money, that’s always nice. Yet I really have learned to let it go because I think the music does sort of manage to find its own way. I just stumbled on some online music site where these two rock critics were saying my last album “4th Street Falling,” that if it had been released by some up-and-coming singer, it would have really represented kind of the future of rock and roll or something so yes, there is sometimes an advantage to being not as established but I wouldn’t trade where I am at all to be up and coming. I’m very happy with where I am overall and I feel I have a great deal of industry respect and I’m fine with that.


BLADE: You’ve been on Island your whole career, which is almost unheard of in this day and age. I’m sure the whole staff has changed since you started …

ETHERIDGE: Not a single person is still there from then.


BLADE: How have you navigated all the changeover?

ETHERIDGE: It’s funny, there was a joke a few years ago there that everytime I had a new album out, “Oh, watch out, Melissa’s got a new one, there’s going to be a complete regime change.” Different times my options have been up we’ve looked around and, you know, Island and Def Jam and Universal — it’s one of the biggest labels there is. I always felt I had good relationships there so why not? The whole business has changed so much, it’s nice to stay someplace if you can.


BLADE: Last time you played here, the album was just out. Do you feel freer to sing more of it live now that it’s been out awhile and people have had time to let it sink in or do you skew more hit-heavy for the summer shows?

ETHERIDGE: Last fall I did kind of the “4th Street Falling” tour and I did a lot of new stuff but at that stage, I’m still listening to the new stuff, experimenting a bit and finding out which songs seem to pop more live. So I kind of play the new stuff and see which cuts were really fun for the audience and they tend to stay in the show. But yeah, it’s a summer show — we’re going to be doing all the hits too. We’ll be singing “Come To My Window” at the top of our lungs.


BLADE: You had so many great TV duet shows over the years in terms of collaborations with other artists — Joan Osborne, Sophie B. Hawkins, Jewel, Dolly Parton. Any of those especially stand out in your mind?

ETHERIDGE: Well singing with Bruce Springsteen was a dream come true. It was like, “Oh, please let time stop.” That one and singing with Dolly was just one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. I felt like our entertainment ethics were the same. She’s such a great entertainer and we kind of threw things back and forth. It felt like a good game of one on one.


BLADE: One that I really remember was when you sang “You Can Sleep While I Drive” as a duet with Amy Grant. Here she was this gospel singer singing a sweet duet with you, which sort of gave it a lesbian undercurrent. It seemed kind of shocking at the time. Do you remember how that came about or if there was any hesitation in her camp to do it?

ETHERIDGE: Trisha Yearwood had covered that song sometime in the ‘90s, so it had kind of been in the country world, then when Amy came in and we were talking about songs we could do, she said, “Well, I want to sing ‘You Can Sleep While I Drive.’” I’ve sang that with more people than any other song. It just kind of lends itself to that harmony duet feeling. I’ve known her for a long time. I met her in Europe back in ’88 and have been friends with Vince too. You know she kind of went through her own tabloid-y thing but she’s just so open and very very easygoing so that wasn’t even part of it. It was just like, “Let’s sing together and just enjoy it.”


BLADE: How prolific have you been in the studio over the years? Did you overcut tracks for very many of your albums? Is there going to be a killer Melissa Etheridge box set of outtakes and rareties someday?

ETHERIDGE: I can’t believe you asked that because yes, I’m working on that right now. The record company came to me and said, “You know, it’s been 25 years, let’s put out a box set.” But I didn’t want to just say, “OK, here’s my songs again.” I think my fans will enjoy some of these other things so I started going back into the vaults and into my storage space and found some tapes I hadn’t even remembered. So it’s going to be eight CDs and there’s live tracks, covers, solo demo tracks, a recording of me made when I was 14, everything that didn’t make it onto an album, pictures and videos. I even found a TV show I did back in 1982 in L.A.



ETHERIDGE: I don’t know the exact date right off, but it will be in November.


BLADE: Where do you keep your Grammys, platinum albums and Oscar?

ETHERIDGE: I have a lovely office I share with my gal, Linda.


BLADE: You and Linda (Wallem) are still together?

ETHERIDGE: Oh yes, yes, yes. I finally got it right. It’s a bunch of things. It’s a grown-up relationship.


BLADE: As a breast cancer survivor yourself, what did you think of Angelina Jolie’s announcement?

ETHERIDGE: I have to say I feel a little differently. I have that gene mutation too and it’s not something I would believe in for myself. I wouldn’t call it the brave choice. I actually think it’s the most fearful choice you can make when confronting anything with cancer. My belief is that cancer comes from inside you and so much of it has to do with the environment of your body. It’s the stress that will turn that gene on or not. Plenty of people have the gene mutation and everything but it never comes to cancer so I would say to anybody faced with that, that choice is way down the line on the spectrum of what you can do and to really consider the advancements we’ve made in things like nutrition and stress levels. I’ve been cancer free for nine years now and looking back, I completely understand why I got cancer. There was so much acidity in everything. I really encourage people to go a lot longer and further before coming to that conclusion.

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

  • Good interview

  • I am sorry but each persons decision is their own to make and no one cuts their breasts off because they were uninformed about their choice. Whether the choice was bravery or fearful is a mute point. The choice is what that person feels is best for them. I have breast cancer, my mother has breast cancer stage 4, my grandmother died from breast cancer and believe me if my child wanted to have this surgery to prevent going through this disease or at least to give them much better odds against it, I would support them and not tell them they won't get cancer unless they cause it them self. Stress and diet are wonderful things to get under control but they alone aren't enough to control DNA. Melissa dear you probably needed a support group or some better advise because you really are misinformed.

    • So she's saying she caused it?

    • Each person's choice is what is best for them. We have to choose our happiness or our longevity or that which is important to us. I have had Last Rites twice and I am still going. Part of what keeps me smiling is knowing that sick or not we are all terminal. At some point we all meet our maker. Our souls are immortals but our bodily vessels house us for an indeterminate period of time. Be good to ourselves and to each other. Respect, love, and ensure the welfare of each other.

    • Sounds like she's blaming the ex, which is doubly horrible and nasty.

    • The way I understood it she was saying that she believes she now knows she got breast cancer because she didn't control her stress and her diet was much to acidic. I have heard these things blamed before and although I would agree as I said they are wonderful things to control they do not change DNA. Bette it seemed to be what she was saying because the point was said that Angelina Jolie made the decision to have her breasts removed a choice made in fear. That had she been better informed she would have realized she could have controlled her DNA through making better choices regarding stress and diet. (By the way I did not know this had been posted to facebook. I hope I didn't shock anyone with a whole bunch of personal information.) My opinion however is very strong that we do not need to criticize anyone's choice of whether or not to make this very difficult decision because ultimately it should always be about what we deem best for our own situation.

    • Also I think it would be wonderful if no women had to have their breasts cut off to avoid or eliminate cancer. But unfortunately right now that is what we have.

    • Exactly why research towards more effective treatments continue. Have faith in your doctors, those who are close to you, and your Creator. Believing in health is an important step toward healing.

    • Hi Joanna, Well actually I am in remission but still have two years left on anti estrogen medications to help keep the cancer from coming back. My mother is terminal (like us all only sooner) but she is getting great care and we hope she will still be around for awhile. So it is an interesting introduction because we have (never having been in this situation before) not known what the correct way to bring it up was. We have been noticing that might be the case but weren't sure as I said how to mention it. Or if we should. So Great all out in the open now.

  • I have to say that I was a huge fan of Melissa Etheridge in the past. However, she seems to be a very selfish individual. To call someone's decision to have a double mastectomy "fearful?" Really? Ms. Jolie did what she felt was right for her children. She wants to be around to raise them. And diet and stress may help you to some extent, but it won't keep you from getting cancer.

  • I am generally not an Angelina fan, but in this case, she got it right. When your mother, aunt and grandmother all die of female cancers, you sit up and take notice, especially when you have children. I think she was "fearless", not fearful, as Melissa states. She is one of the most beautiful women in the world and she voluntarily removed a part of her body, that could, arguably, be considered the most womanly. As an RN, I do think that there are external factors, such as diet and stress level that can affect your prognosis, but BRCA is nothing to kid around with. Just because Melissa has it licked thus far, it doesn't mean she's an expert. Her life sounds pretty complicated/stressful to me, what with all the cheating and everything, so I don't think I would be so glib about it this early on.

  • Why would she go there and interject adjectives like 'brave,' or not brave – she just sounds resentful and snipey. Jolie didn't use the word brave, she used the words 'my medical choice.' It's perfectly fine if Etheridge "understands how (she) got cancer," (btw, please share that with the rest of us Einstein) – and feels she can control whether or not she gets it or not simply by force of will…but for the rest of us mere mortals who really can't control external situations, cancer genes and stress levels (btw Ms Etheridge, how'd that work out for you during the years post op when you went through a nasty divorce?), and feel a bit unsure about the Etheridge lentils and kale cure for cancer – why not let us do what we want without insulting us. Signed – an EX-fan.

  • yes helen agree with you.

  • Come on Melissa, everyone knows you're best buds with Jennifer Aniston. You've got a bone to pick and it has nothing to do with cancer.

    • More importantly, it seems Brad Pitt was her bud first, he hung around a lot during his 'lost' years even before hooking up w/ Aniston – Aniston became the last gf of his to close out ME's videos (Juliette Lewis, then Paltrow did one, lastly Aniston – first was inspired, 2nd and 3rd were awful)…then when Pitt split/divorced, fell in love with La Jolie, he hasn't kept in contact and it seems Melissa might blame Angelina and Brad's young family for it. Maybe she wanted to meet Angelina, or have her be in a video – and Brad wasn't returning calls. lol Not that Angelina does/did anything to keep Pitt from hanging around this particular ol' pal from the past – they both seem to want what the other wants – so I'm sure she'd be happy if he wanted to hang w/ Etheridge, but obviously he does not…but you know, Angelina exists, therefore Pitt is with her. Hence..meow.

  • I do research on how stress can influence biology relevant for cancer. Stress does NOT turn on the BRCA1 gene. We are still learning about the full extent of stress's influence on the body. We do know stress can influence many biological processes that are relevant for cancer (and other diseases like heart disease) such as immune function, DNA damage, lipid levels, blood sugar levels. If you want more information on the science surrounding stress and cancer, you can find it in one place for the next 8 days, our indiegogo site:
    We are building a scientifically-based web delivered wellness intervention for cancer survivors. Bonnie A. [email protected]

  • Prevention, Ms Etheridge. Prevention. Same concept as the vaccines babies are given.
    Angelina made the same choice as those women who went through and have gotten the hpv vaccines for cervical cancer. You survived cancer, and we’re happy that you did. You were brave. But not everyone will be as lucky as you. I bet if anyone would have a fighting chance and a choice not to have it, might as well try and do all means not to have it. It is not being fearful. It is about being conscious and aware of life’s possibilities.

  • I wonder what her risks were? Obviously not in the 90’s like some of us.
    Pretty sure she would become a brave face then.

  • I *BELIEVE* the woman was asked for HER opinion. She gave it. If you don’t agree, so be it. Stop being such bitches about it.

  • I do not understand what people have against her statement. She gave her opinion when it was asked for and I for one agree with her. I have had several women in my family who have struggled with breast cancer but would never do what Angelina did unless I had to. This is not to say she was wrong it's just saying that it's a individual choice. And yes I believe Angelina made her choice out of fear as Melissa said but a understandable one. The disease is very scary.

    • So is the surgery!

      My mom had it, and Melissa owes her and every other woman who has gone through it an apology for her petty, insensitive comments. It’s cancer, not a competition.And if she’s so concerned about toxicity, she should take more care with her cancerous words.

  • Making an absolute statement like — I completely understand why I got cancer — without scientific evidence to back it up is foolish.

    Etheridge believes she knows, but there’s not much evidence to back up her thinking. There’s a high degree of probability she’ll play the fool as a result.

  • Seriously Melissa, why would you question how someone else decides to deal with THEIR risk of getting breast cancer. Just because you had breast cancer does NOT make you the expert. You did what you felt was best for you as Angelina did what she believes is best for her. It is not a matter of being brave. It is a matter of making the choice after many discussions with medical professonals. It is a very personal and i would bet difficut choice. Keep to what you know and stay out of other peoples lives. And if you are a Jennifer fan and your comment came from your misguided loyality to someone who appears to only pretend to have moved on. Shame on you.

  • Hmm…regarding Angelina, all I can say is what parent doesn't have stress in their lives. Bravo for Angiedoing what's in the best interest of her children n Brad. My mother didn't develop breast cancer till in her 70's n if she would've been able to control it she would've.

  • My grandmother and one of my aunts died of breast cancer, and both were about as healthy living as you can be. One aunt is in remission. The others have the gene. My mom did as well, and had the surgery. That’s what I have against her statement. She owes women like my mother an apology. She also made factually incorrect statements regarding the gene that perpetuate the negativity toward people like my mother that have had the surgery, and endangers lives. There’s opinions and there’s providing misinformation. Also, insurance companies authorize this surgery for non-celebrities like us with the same mutation as Angelina Jolie not because they are in the business of handing money to hysterical females but because it’s medically necessary. Most people who get breast cancer do not have the gene, but most people with the gene WILL get breast cancer, and all the healthy living in the world won’t change that. I’m fairly certain our doctors and ourselves know a lot more about breast cancer, genetics and medicine than some musician who credits medical marijuana for her insights. It’s good for pain management and keeping calm, but it doesn’t increase mental awareness nor does it augment a medical degree.

  • I found this amazing site to make a living online…I’m now close to making $3500 a month. http://tinyurl.CoM/os9ok4y

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