Melissa Etheridge’s list of accomplishments is long even for a celebrity: In the 22 years since her first major label album debuted, she’s released 10 studio records, come out as a lesbian, won two Grammys and an Oscar, become the mother of four children, survived breast cancer, and been an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights, environmental awareness and other issues.
But the rocker, 49, isn’t slowing down. In April, she released her 10th album, “Fearless Love,” followed by a tour that brings her to Atlanta’s Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on July 23.
“I love Atlanta. It’s always a great place to play — this mecca in the middle of the South,” Etheridge says in a July 5 interview from New York City, where she enjoyed July 4 fireworks the night before.
Etheridge says concertgoers can expect a mix of new songs from “Fearless Love,” her biggest hits, and “deep album cuts” for the diehard fans.
“I’ve changed as a person, I‘ve grown, and I hope my work has gotten better — that is really the goal,” Etheridge says. “I think when I finally started taking myself seriously, like I am a songwriter and this is my craft, it gave me permission to work at it, to try to be great at it.”
In 1992, Etheridge released her fourth album “Never Enough,” which included “Ain’t it Heavy,” which won her a Grammy for Best Female Vocal Rock Performance.
|Melissa Etheridge in concert
Friday, July 23, 7:30 p.m.
Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway
Atlanta, GA 30339
In 1993, she released “Yes I Am,” which went Platinum six times over and included blockbusters “I’m the Only One” and “Come to My Window,” which also won a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.
In between, she officially came out as a lesbian — obviously without hurting her career.
“It’s one of the best things I ever did — being open and honest about myself,” Etheridge says. “It gives you a lot of power. You don’t fear anymore. You don’t spend all that energy trying to hide so you have more energy for yourself and your work.”
While coming out is a personal choice, she says she would encourage other gay artists “to believe in themselves and that there is nothing wrong with them at all.”
“If you are creating a career but you are only halfway living it, you will only halfway feel it,” she says. “You won’t get the full feeling of success if you only present half of yourself.”
Of course, with celebrity comes public scrutiny of your personal life — whether gay or straight. Both tabloids and entertainment media covered Etheridge’s decision to have children with then-partner Julie Cypher, the revelation that musician David Crosby was their sperm donor, and their break-up.
The media also covered her relationship with “Popular” actress Tammy Lynn Michaels, their 2003 commitment ceremony, the birth of their twins in 2006 — and their breakup, which made headlines again July 2 when Etheridge filed to officially dissolve their domestic partnership in California.
“It’s just deeply difficult,” Etheridge says of the end of her nine-year relationship with Michaels.
That’s a bit of an understatement.
Her ex has taken to blogging in pseudo-poetry about Etheridge allegedly abandoning her without financial support after she gave up her career to raise the couple’s twins and Etheridge’s two children with Cypher.
And as mainstream entertainment magazines and blogs cover the messy split, commenters inevitably resort to homophobia and claims that the break-up is further proof gay relationships don’t deserve legal rights.
But Etheridge says that gay break-ups prove the need for not only gay marriage, but the access to divorce that comes with it.
Relationships are hard, whether gay or straight — “we’re all pretty messed up,” she says.
Gay marriage will “recognize and have a structure to not only help people who wish to combine their lives and become married, but also to untie those knots, and do it without hurting as many people, and have those rules and boundaries,” she says.
Personal and political
“Fearless Love” debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard 200, garnering Etheridge appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Ellen, The Tonight Show and even QVC, among others.
The album is a mix of rock and ballads that makes the most of Etheridge’s strong vocals and signature guitar style.
The title track, like many other songs in Etheridge’s discography, can be interpreted both as personal journey and a political anthem. The song’s quest to find a “fearless love” may ring especially true for lesbian and gay listeners, for whom coming out means learning not to be afraid to love who you love.
“I try to write especially that song, but all of my songs, in different layers,” Etheridge says. “If you are a gay youth listening to ‘Fearless Love,’ I hope it inspires you to be fearless and open about what your love is. If you are a straight person, the song could just be about I need to be fearless in the choices I make.”
“Miss California,” a hard-rocking comment on the Proposition 8 that banned gay marriage in the state, is the most overtly political track on the new album: “Miss California was I a little too proud / I’m standing in the streets now / And I’m screaming out loud / You try to shove me in the closet / With your skulls and your bones / I can be who I am you see / If I want to do it all alone.”
Yet despite the heartbreak of California voters turning back gay nuptials, Etheridge says she believes that in the long term, the debate will further the cause of gay rights by putting the issue in the public eye.
And as her multi-layered interpretation of the familiar phrase “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for” in the complex track “We are the Ones” points out, societal change starts with the individual.
“The only way change ever comes about is individuals changing hearts and minds,” she says. “You have to have individual peace and clarity before you can ever see it out in the world.”
Top photo: Melissa Etheridge takes on the personal and the political, including the fight over gay marriage in California, on her new album, ‘Fearless Love.’ (Photo by James Minchin III)