Melissa Etheridge talks about political fear, rock cruises, her favorite Christmas songs and more
Many see these as dark times for our nation and world. Melissa Etheridge knows it. She hears it from fans all the time.
And at the end of 2016, she’s here to tell you it’s not as bad as you think.
“After going through chemotherapy, nothing is as bad as chemotherapy,” the 55-year-old rocker said in a recent phone interview. “We always have an opportunity to be our best, and to make the choices that make this world a better place. This shift is an amazing opportunity for growth and for people to come together and feel what oneness, what peace, really is.”
That’s the spirit behind Etheridge’s new holiday tour, which hits the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Thursday (click here). Performing with a trio, the Grammy- and Oscar-winning songwriter will mix some of her biggest hits (Come to My Window, I’m the Only One) and intimate cuts (perhaps Pulse, her tribute song written in the wake of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting) in alongside holiday songs from her 2008 album A New Thought For Christmas, which she said was inspired by the general spirituality of the winter solstice.
“A few months ago, I was like, ‘Let’s do this. I would love to have an opportunity to do these songs and do my hits, but have it be a little bit more spiritual-based,’” she said. “That was, of course, before our country kind of went into a tailspin in the election. I think now, we need it more than ever. So I’m really looking forward to speaking on that level to people, saying, ‘This is when all good people come together and figure out how to end this year.’”
Here, Etheridge talks holiday music, the state of the LGBTQ universe and more.
You just wrapped a cruise that left out of Tampa, right?
Yeah, I was just down there. I love Tampa, and I had a great time on that cruise.
On a cruise like that, where you’re the namesake attraction, and everyone’s looking for you in the buffet line, how do you enjoy yourself?
(laughs) Well, one thing I had to do is get over the fear of that: “Oh my god, everyone’s going to recognize me and they’re going to know what I’m doing!” My wife, bless her heart, took my hand and really helped me relax and go, “Yeah, everyone’s going to know who you are, it’s your cruise, so just be available but (you don’t) have to be overcome by anything.” It didn’t take me long to realize everyone’s there because of their love of my music, and so it was all such a great feeling. Everyone should go on a boat with 2,000 people who love them. It’s pretty powerful.
After the election, have you heard from people in the LGBTQ community about their fears for what may or may not happen over the next four years?
Oh, yeah! Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah. We didn’t have long to celebrate our inclusion in this great thing before we feel like we’re in danger that it’s going to be taken away. Absolutely, there’s a lot of people very, very afraid. Yet I think we don’t go backwards. I think this might be a real blow to everyone who thought, “Okay, now the peaceful doors will open, and it’s all perfect from here on out.” It’s not. There will always be that contrast, and we need to understand how to do with our own fear.
What do you tell people to talk them off that ledge?
That so much of what you think is actually your own thoughts. (laughs) If you understand that fear is what’s driving all of this, even our own fear of “the other” that voted for this, that’s our own fear. We’ve just let fear take control of the wheel here, and it’s driving. If you believe we’re going in the wrong direction, then indeed, every day when you wake up, it will seem to be going in the wrong direction. When Ghandi said become the change you wish to see, this is exactly what he meant. We need to not be afraid, to show others how not to be afraid.
If Mike Pence came to one of your shows, would you have the desire or wherewithal to address him from the stage, like the cast of Hamilton?
You know, yeah, I would. I would also give him encouragement to be a leader for all people, no matter what his own personal thoughts and feelings are. If you’re a leader of it, doesn’t mean you control it; it means you have the honor of serving this great American experiment that has been going on for over 200 years.
Have you tracked what has happened with your song Pulse since the shooting? Do you keep track of how much money that song has raised?
You know, I haven’t. I wonder about that still. My whole purpose on that song was to find my own understanding and reckoning with it, and peace in it, and also maybe help heal others. My first thought was to put it out on the Internet for free, and then some people asked if they could buy it, so I said, okay, but everything goes to Equality Florida, and so I just really left it out there in the world. Actually, we gave some Pulse survivors cabins on the boat, and it was really, really powerful — singing the song with them there was just a moment I’ll never forget.
Apart from the songs on A New Thought For Christmas, can you give me a few of your favorite holiday songs?
Ah! Well, Bruce Springsteen’s Santa Claus is Coming To Town is probably my favorite. And so is Happy Xmas (War Is Over), John Lennon. And then Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is a pretty darn good song.
What’s your least favorite holiday song?
Uhg. I got a few. (laughs) There’s a lot of not-so-good ones. Probably Twelve Days of Christmas. Who wants to sing that? Except I will sing that with my kids, over and over and over.
Where do you stand on Wonderful Christmastime?
That song, I can listen to it once a year. It’s not my favorite.
-- Jay Cridlin