MUSIC :: Legendary superstar Melissa Etheridge‘s warm, heartfelt and personal new album, This is ME, is out now. GGN publisher Shaun Proulx spoke to the icon about her new music, the nature of risk, and how she points back to the cancer experience she had a decade ago as reason why she began seeing the world in a completely different light.
SP: How are you?
Melissa Etheridge: I’m doing good, so happy to be talking to you.
SP: As you get older do you find you’re willing to expose a little bit more of ME, as you would say?
Melissa Etheridge: I think as I’m getting older I’m realizing that indeed, this life is a journey. That you don’t ever get somewhere, and go, “Hey, I got here!”, and that’s it. It’s always unfolding and becoming, that I try to bring that into my music, I try to explain. Everyone’s here, absolutely to do what they do, but if my music inspires you in any way, let me share it with you.
SP: In the lyrics to A Little Bit of Me you’re saying: “we’re all one, and the world goes round and round” – that we’re all affecting each other, and I’ve got tell you, that’s a theme that I’m understanding now, at 46 more than ever. We are all connected, which kind of sounds like a telecommunications ad, I know. But we are. None of us are separate entities, none of us.
Melissa Etheridge: Yes, you can call it wisdom, or you can call it an awakening that is happening all over the world, and has been slowly happening for the last decades. There’s a sense of, “Wait a minute, there’s a little bit more going on here, that we’ve all got it. We’re all very diverse in how we’re handling this life, and we’re doing what our purpose is, and what our religion is, or our spirit, what we believe in. We’re all different, yet you can find this oneness, this commonality in everything. We’ve searched the whole world now, and there’s a commonness that kind of, if you really take it in, if you really think about it, there really is a oneness that I don’t ever have to be afraid or say, “that stranger might want to hurt me”. That’s also in myself too, it’s this very subtle line.
SP: I’m finding it’s harder for me to dislike people.
Melissa Etheridge: Yes! We have more empathy, don’t we?
SP: There are still people, don’t get me wrong, I pick my battles a little bit more. Empathy rises up faster in me. There’s a big scandal going on in Canada right now, over one of our beloved broadcasters who is accused of some terrible things, and I’m having a hard time not feeling bad for him, despite the things he’s been accused of doing. I’m having a hard time. I’m kind of worried for him, and I think that’s what you represent really beautifully in your music, and the output that you do. I told you this before off the air, you said something to me the last time we spoke, and I wrote it down. It’s being living in my office ever since, do you remember your own smart words Melissa Etheridge?
Melissa Etheridge: Oh boy!
SP: “The strongest, most powerful thing you can do in your country, in your town, on your street, in your family, is to love yourself. It’s to come to a place inside yourself, knowing that your creator made you perfect, you’re the way you’re supposed to be, and if you can hold on to that, and vibrate with that, you affect your family, your town, your country.” I get chills!
Melissa Etheridge: You’re so sweet! Sometimes, and this will start happening to you, your words will come back to you just when you need them.
Melissa Etheridge: Write that down, because I really needed to hear that – for myself – today. Thank you!
SP: When you began your career in ’88, if you had any idea this would be part of the trajectory you’re on?
Melissa Etheridge: Oh no, I just wanted to be rich and famous. I thought that was a destination, but alas, it is not. It’s not even a desire.
SP: Tell us, in this fame-obsessed world, as one of the more famous women in the world, what your feelings about fame are.
Melissa Etheridge: Fame is a crazy thing. Fame is a very, very potent flame! It’s a fire that consumes you, and can just turn you into ashes if you don’t know what’s going on. It’s a energy that comes off of a whole lot of people, and it’s everyone thinking one thing at the same time, and you can feel it energetically. I have ridden different waves of fame, and have learned, “Ok, that’s a part of me, and it’s all good, and there’s certainly a lot of benefits that come from it, and there’s a lot of negative stuff that come from it, and it just is. So fame is a part of my life, and in this day and age, there’s nothing you can hide.
SP: What are your thoughts and beliefs about the idea of taking risks, especially in the career you’re in.
Melissa Etheridge: It has to do with how you interpret risk. Risk is an emotion, risk is a judgment on something. Last year I made a huge choice to change my management, I changed all my people, and I felt it could be risky. I also got off my record label. I made a big leap that could have been risky, yet I took a risk.
SP: Were there fears leaving your management, leaving your people, changing things up? Those are tangible things. They are people with feelings, so you say it in an easy way, but there must have been anxiety or fear.
Melissa Etheridge: I had to walk into my manager’s office, and he’s been my manager for 30 years.
Melissa Etheridge: Believe me, for days, I needed to breathe, I had to meditate on it: I’m going to go in, I mean no harm, I’m coming from love about all of this, there’s no bad. I just walked in, and it came from love, and it was a beautiful experience, and he said thank you, and it was great.
SP: Have you always been someone who would meditate on it? Think about your intention? Walk in on management with love…were you always like that?
Melissa Etheridge: No, this started about ten years ago. I come from the mid-west. In Kansas I feel we’re in common with Canadians actually. There’s a politeness, you’re nice to people, you work hard, and you take care of your family and people around you. That’s just what we’ve grown up with, we’re raised with, so sometimes, if you take that too far, if you begin to take care of people’s feelings and you think you are going to make them feel a certain way, and you believe you have that power to do that, you can limit yourself – and I was doing that a lot. I was getting very far, yet limiting in my personal relationships, in my business relationships, myself on stage. It’s been such a journey, and ten years ago I was diagnosed with cancer, and I was just, Woah! Wait a minute! This is not the way the movie ends! What is this? I really took that as a wake-up call to find my power, find my strength, my life-force. That’s what keeps us moving through this life. I’m at age now, I see people passing away, and I understand it’s a force, it’s a life-force, and I intend to be around for a long time.
SP: Do you think the cancer was the sum of all the parts you saw before that, of not necessarily being your full self, not necessarily honouring yourself, not necessarily looking after yourself first? Do you think that those things dove-tail together?
Melissa Etheridge: I do, and I get in a lot of trouble sometimes when I talk about that, because people have a hard time hearing that maybe we have a responsibility in our health. We have a responsibility to ourselves, that what we think about ourselves, the emotions we feel inside, in the food we take in, absolutely dictates what our self is, that’s what my deep belief is. I come across some people who get very upset about that. There’s a certain comfort in thinking that disease just happens to you, and that you can get sick because of a gene, or something. I struggle with that.
SP: I was diagnosed HIV-positive in 2005, and for the last 10 years, almost, I’ve never been sick. I live a very productive, healthy life, and it’s in agreement with you, that I say this, it’s because of the way I think about it, the way I treat it, the way I treat myself, the gentle way in which I handle my life, and myself, the food I eat, the thoughts I think, the meditating I do, and none of it out of desperation or anything. I was always at peace with the diagnosis – I think that my first correct step, being at peace with it was one of the things that taught me to be responsible for this diagnosis that I had been given – so that all it ever was, was a diagnosis, and it wasn’t Shaun. I hear you. Before we stop, I just want to say this: I think that you carry a light that’s bigger than your music, and I’m feeling it right now, just talking to you for the second time. I think you’re just a wonderful person, and I want to say thank you.
Melissa Etheridge: Shaun, I think I’m going to call you, whenever I need a lifting up, because this is perfect! I was like, what is my life about, and you’re just how the universe can be! It can just give you what you need, right there. Life is happening for us, not to us. I love you, Shaun.
SP: I love you too.