Musician Melissa Etheridge

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Oscar- and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter—and breast cancer survivor—explains why her cancer was a gift and how being a parent has changed her music; she also talks about her newest project.

Veteran performer Melissa Etheridge is more than just a singer-songwriter. She helped pave the way for other female rockers and has a passion for promoting equality and tolerance. Adored by her fans, Etheridge has had a long and enviable career, including winning an Oscar and two Grammys. She was playing the guitar at age 8, writing songs at age 10 and has pursued her career her way. After successfully fighting cancer, her priorities shifted; but she's still making rousing music with her new and tenth studio album, "Fearless Love."



Tavis: Pleased to welcome Melissa Etheridge back to this program. The popular and prolific Grammy winner is out now with her 10th studio CD called “Fearless Love.” From the new project, here is some of the video for the title track, “Fearless Love.”
Tavis: So we’re back to these rock roots on this project, huh?
Melissa Etheridge: Yeah, yeah.
Tavis: Back to the rock stuff.
Etheridge: Yeah, I decided I’ve been doing this for 20 years now, I’ve been here and there and up and down and in and out, I’ve been introspective, I’ve been spiritual. I thought it’s time to put it all together and hit it as hard as I can.
Tavis: You did that. When I first saw the project come across my desk it actually arrested me for a moment and I just sat and looked and thought about that title, “Fearless Love.” It unsettled me intellectually, it made me think for a minute what does she mean?
Etheridge: Good.
Tavis: Yeah.
Etheridge: That’s what I wanted to do.
Tavis: But when you hear the title track, though, it makes sense when you hear the actual lyrical content.
Etheridge: I want a fearless love. I think the journey so far has taken me to a place of understanding that every choice we make in our life in this world, in this reality, everything from what we eat to what we say to the large choices are choices between love and fear.
As I’ve been trying to guide myself in my life to make the choice of love, and if you can keep doing that, if you can not fall into the fear and grab hold of the oh, but what if and the pain and the fear, if you can go in the direction of love, then you can actually live a life filled with love.
Tavis: What I was thinking was whether or not – see, now we’re in this philosophical exchange here.
Etheridge: It’s going to happen (unintelligible).
Tavis: Can we go there? Can we go there?
Etheridge: Yes.
Tavis: What I was thinking about was whether or not it is possible to have love, to experience love, in fact to be loved and still be afraid.
Etheridge: Well, if you are asking me, my opinion is that everything is love, and if you follow this road of okay, if there’s fear in love then when you choose love you’re going to find out that even the things that you do fear, there is a way to love them.
So you can definitely love, because that’s what we’re sent here to do every day, and if you can do that then when the fear comes in you find a way to perceive it, to bring it in and understand that even that can be love. How about that?
Tavis: I’m going to wrestle with that for – I’m going to marinate on that for a while.
Etheridge: There you go, marinate on it.
Tavis: I need to marinate on that. You mentioned earlier you’ve been doing this for a while now, two decades, which doesn’t seem like it. It seems like you just came out yesterday. But why, at this point in your life, at this point in your career, a CD wrestling with songs of love and fear?
Etheridge: That was going to be the title. At first I was going to say – it was going to be “Songs of Love and Fear,” and my daughter said, “Oh, that’s just way too long.” (Laughter) She’s 13, so.
Tavis: Too long for a CD.
Etheridge: So she’s very, very opinionated. Why? Because that’s where I’m at. I’m 49. I’ve been in this business –
Tavis: You say that so proudly, too – I am 49.
Etheridge: I am 49. It’s like yes, you get to this point finally where you’re not fighting whatever concepts we have about getting older. It’s a celebration, it’s like you have wisdom and this stuff that starts coming. I’m digging it a lot. (Laughter) Part of that is I’ve had this experience, I’ve had the success.
I went through breast cancer, I examined my life and have come out now with the thoughts that there are – to do songs of love and fear, to present stories. Some of these are even third person. I don’t usually write in the third person, but some of these are, and others are just myself and the experiences of love or fear and/or both.
Tavis: Since you mentioned that you are a breast cancer survivor – of course, I mentioned it at the top of the show – so how ironic that we have you on tonight when we just got through talking to Dr. Tuohy. What do you make of that research?
Etheridge: I tell you, it’s – the medical community, it’s very exciting. Everyone’s working very, very hard. I have been putting my time and energy into the space of the human body and how it is connected to the emotional body. Four hundred years ago when they told Descartes yes, he could study medicine but you have to leave the spirit over here to the church, we were separated.
It’s time for the spirit and for the body and the physical and the medicine, the science, to come together. Yes, we can invent immunizations, and I’ve seen some incredible stuff where they’ve been able to change the DNA of a T cell in a rat and it will eat a tumor up in 45 minutes. I’ve seen it; I saw it on a computer.
Yes, all that can happen. What is really going to save us is when we understand what health is. Health is a balance. Cancer, like he said, is not a virus that comes in and gets you, it’s when your body – we’re immunizing self is I think what he said, immunizing self – then that should give us the clue that it’s inside of us and maybe all this processed food and all this insane stress to work our fingers to the bone so that we can have some more stuff, maybe we need to re-examine sort of where we are in this new millennium.
Tavis: Speaking of reexamining, it sounds to me that your journey, your safe passage through your breast cancer scare caused you to do some introspective thinking about your own space, your own body.
Etheridge: Oh, yeah. I’m one of those people that will say my cancer was a gift.
Tavis: Not everybody can say that.
Etheridge: No, no, it’s true, and yes, it does take you. We lose people to cancer. My cancer woke me up, gave me a perspective on life and spirit, and now I’m the person if you come to me and say, “Oh my gosh, I’ve just been diagnosed with cancer,” I say, “Oh, that’s awesome. Now you get to change.”
Then I try to tell others if it hasn’t come knocking on your door yet, make the change now. There’s a reason that half of us have cancer, half of us. Our bodies aren’t defective. There’s something, there’s the way that we’ve been choosing our society to squeeze into this western crazy lifestyle that we have, is hurting us. Let’s re-examine it. That’s where I’m at.
Tavis: The song, you’re talking about it here now but you sing about it on the project, “Drag Me Away.”
Etheridge: Yeah.
Tavis: Tell me about that.
Etheridge: Ah, “Drag Me Away.”
Tavis: Track number five, yeah.
Etheridge: A lot of the songs on this album I really – like we said, I wanted to rock, I wanted to throw back to some of that old rock and roll from the ’70s that I love – The Who, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin. It’s just right in your face stuff. “Drag Me Away” is one of those and it’s a song about I’m not going to die. And not only am I not going to die, but I’m not afraid of dying.
In the first song, in “Fearless Love,” I say “I am what I am afraid of,” and I’m not going to be afraid of dying. I’m not going to now live my life, now that I’ve had cancer, thinking, oh, it might get me again. I’m going to celebrate myself, my life, and I’m not going to die, and that’s what “Drag Me Away” is about.
Tavis: I popped this in last night and I was trying to think – so why think when I can just ask you? (Laughter) Who cares about thinking when you don’t have to? I was trying to think of whether or not, since this is your tenth project, whether or not you were as introspective in your lyrical content prior to your breast cancer scare as you seem to be now.
I was trying to think – I was just going back through your discography, going back through your corpus in my head and trying to remember, and I –
Etheridge: Well, my work had been before very – to me I was being introspective, but that part of me, the only part I was examining, was the emotional life of relationship and whether it was pain or joy and desire, and it was limited.
Breast cancer definitely after that opened me up to wait a minute, I have a desire now for my life, for the quality of my life, just as I used to for a lover. So it’s a different sort of introspection.
Tavis: We’ve talked about how breast cancer changes your perspective on things. You mentioned your daughter earlier, and it’s because of her, your 13-year-old, because of her in part that we have this title, “Fearless Love,” when it was going to be something else, and she said, “Mom, that’s not going to work.”
Which raises this question for me, how – breast cancer set aside for the moment – how being a mother, how being a parent has changed your music, if at all?
Etheridge: That also is a life-changer. People ask me is being a parent the be-all, end-all, and I say oh, it definitely is up to the person, and it is difficult, it can be very difficult, and it can be extremely healing. That’s what I have found, that the children are mirrors. Everyone is a mirror but children especially because they’re day and night and all day long.
They will just give back to you what you are giving out, and so you can feel your own vibration coming right back at you from a child, and you develop more patience and understanding how life goes on, and your place in the world.
So yeah, probably having children has been even more of an effect on me on anything else, I think.
Tavis: When I got the project, as I said, I popped it in last night. I looked at it and I of course went immediately to the title track because I wanted to hear what this “Fearless Love” thing was all about. Then I started looking at it more carefully and I skipped down to track number six. Guess where I’m from?
Etheridge: Indiana.
Tavis: Ah.
Etheridge: He’s from Indiana, that’s right, I knew that.
Tavis: Yeah, track number six is called “Indiana.” So I’m glad we made the cut, but how did we make the cut? (Laughter)
Etheridge: Well, I’ll tell you, I’m actually from Kansas myself, a Midwestern girl.
Tavis: You sung a song called “Kansas” yet?
Etheridge: No, haven’t – I’ve mentioned Kansas in many songs. (Laughter)
Tavis: So how did we get a whole song?
Etheridge: Well, let me tell you. Well, now my ex, but my partner Tammy is from Indiana and that song is inspired by and about her. It’s my observing of her experience and I wrote it last year, and it’s about a girl growing up in Indiana, a very small town, poor, and having the big dreams, and it’s about – it’s kind of an American experience of you can grow up and dream those big dreams and the long nights in a small room with the big dreams, and you can go into this great country and make those dreams come true.
Yet it doesn’t always make you happy and experience the woman or she actually experienced having children gives her more clarity and more understanding in her life. So that’s why Indiana gets it, because it was about her.
Tavis: Forget Indiana, we’ll go to Kansas now.
Etheridge: All right.
Tavis: Speaking of Kansas, here’s the exit question. To your point about dreams, has your life, is your life, mirroring anywhere near what your dreams were when you were growing up in Kansas?
Etheridge: I’ve already made those dreams come true. Those dreams were the dreams of a young mind, of an adolescent or young adult reaching out for kind of what we are led to believe will make us happy, and I got there. I won the Grammy, I won an Oscar, I achieved those things.
Tavis: So what do you do when your life exceeds your dreams?
Etheridge: You dream more dreams. You dig down and remember what that felt like to desire, because that’s what we’re here to desire and create. If you stop creating, it’s over.
Tavis: Well, I’m glad Melissa is dreaming big dreams and still putting out good stuff. The new project from Melissa Etheridge is called “Fearless Love,” and we will thank her 13-year-old for that title. Melissa, good to have you on the program.
Etheridge: Thank you so much. Always a pleasure.
Tavis: My pleasure.

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Last modified: September 19, 2014 at 1:26 am