Melissa

Rock's great dyke hope

BY Judy Wieder

July 09 1994 11:00 PM ET

Melissa, your parents were the children of alcoholics. Why is that significant? Etheridge: There comes a point in your adulthood when you separate yourself from your past and look at your parents as people. I looked at them, and I saw children of alcoholics—terrible alcoholics. They did not have a drinking problem, but they lived with that, and the emotional stigma was still passed down.

And do you feel it too? Etheridge: I used to never drink at all. I never was addicted to drugs or alcohol. But I was very scared of it. I’ve now learned that moderation is the key to life.

Your father died recently. Did that change you? Etheridge: Yes. I was very close to him, and I actually saw him die. It’s an amazing experience. Suddenly I was parenting him. It’s a cycle.

Did you discover anything about yourself as a result of his illness and dying? Etheridge: I believe that his illness was brought on by his difficult childhood. He kept his anger about his alcoholic parents inside himself. His anger turned to cancer. The body can only hold that stress in for so long before it becomes something else.

And what has that to do with you? Etheridge: I don’t want that to happen to me. I want to resolve that anger inside me. Cypher: Yeah, and sometimes it gets crazy because I’m stomping my foot going, “Doesn’t that make you angry—” And Melissa’s saying, “Well, it is unfortunate.” I’m screaming “No, Melissa, it’s not unfortunate. It’s maddening!” Etheridge: We balance each other out that way.

You’ve had a lot of girlfriends. Why is your relationship with Julie working? Etheridge: I met Julie the second night of my first American tour. She’s always known that although I may come and go physically, emotionally I’m always there. We have to be able to communicate and relate to each other on the phone and have it really count. The relationship that I was having before I met Julie suffered from my sudden stardom. I had been physically there in the relationship for two years, and then suddenly I was gone, out on the road. But it wasn’t the right relationship anyway. Julie is the right relationship.

How do you both think you are handling the emotional part of your relationship? Etheridge: Not very well. Cypher: Oh, very well. Etheridge: It’s a lot of work. What’s this “happily ever after” thing? They don’t tell you that you have to work at it every day.

If you had to give up something… Etheridge: I’d do anything for her. If I had to choose, the career would be the thing I’d give up. We’ve worked out the dynamics. She knows what the relationship means to me, and she comes out on the road whenever she can.

Do you both want children? Etheridge and Cypher: Yes.

What are you going to do about it? Cypher: Whaddaya mean “do about it”? [Laughs] Which part? It’s such an important thing.

Would both of you get pregnant? Etheridge: Yes. Cypher: By a donor that we both knew. You see, I’m adopted, and I didn’t know where I came from until I was 24, so I feel that it’s important for the child to know who its biological parents are. So there’ll be two mommies and Uncle Fred or Daddy whoever.

When do you want to do this? Cypher: I keep saying after I make two more movies. Etheridge: It’s tough for me. I always try to visualize my lifestyle professionally. Having a child would mean I would have to be ready to take a lot of time off—which I can’t do now. I’d wait until there wasn’t such a demand on my time.

What if that doesn’t happen? Etheridge: I know. It might just be Julie who gets pregnant.

So the ideal plan is that you would each have a child? Etheridge: Yes. But she wants about seven. Cypher: No, I want 20!

What about adopting? Cypher: That’s certainly an option, but I’d rather have the experience myself.

Why do you want to have children at all? Etheridge: Because I think the world needs the children of gay parents.

To show people what? Etheridge: I think one of the many fears that people have about homosexuality is around children. They think that we’re horrible to children, that we shouldn’t be teachers and parents, that there’s some horror going on. I think that the more gay parents raise good, strong, compassionate people, the better the world will be.

Do you want boys or girls? Cypher: It doesn’t matter.

What if the child is gay? Etheridge: I’ll tell them it’s hard but great! What else can we say? Cypher: We’d be more concerned if they wanted to be musicians than if they were gay. Etheridge: Hey! Watch it! Cypher: No, it is harder to be a musician than it is to be gay.

Melissa, do you think that as a woman in rock you’ve been more readily embraced than other female rockers because you’re a lesbian and therefore that supposedly makes you “tougher, harder, and rougher” in the minds of hard-core rock fans? Etheridge: Wow! I actually had a discussion with a Dutch rock journalist, and he made that point. He was saying that rock and roll was a male energy. And I said, “Well, I’m female, and I’m in rock and roll totally.” And he said, “Yes, but you’re a lesbian”—meaning that it’s still that yin-yang thing. So I guess that until a straight female rock artist makes it, it can’t be proved that it’s not male energy that drives rock. But I am a woman, period.

Why don’t you have any women in your band? Etheridge: I did. Last year I had a woman on keyboards for a good portion of the tour. I held auditions, I listened to women, and I chose the musicians who played my music the best—and the ones I could live with as people on the road. But I saw lots of women, and I felt like these guys played better.

Did the lesbian community ever give you trouble for not being more politically correct in your music and live performances? Etheridge: I played the women’s bars. And it was a very hard-edged crowd that came to see me. But when I played the music festivals where the other part of the women’s community was, I remember doing a monologue once where I talked about being with a girl and having her leave me and what I went through—gaining ten pounds and stuff like that. Well, after the concert I literally had to hold off all these women who were saying that the songs I sang were all about abuse and that the comment I had made about being ten pounds overweight was terrible and that they were going to come and string me up. It was my first PC call, you know. I realized, Oh, there’s so many things I have to be aware of. Cypher: Melissa’s sexy stuff often collides with being PC. She really runs it down! Etheridge: Yeah, I was left there saying “What? What did I do? It was always fun in the bars.” Sometimes it’s hard to be a lesbian.

How did you get chosen to open several of the Eagles’ tour dates this summer? Etheridge: It was good for them and good for me. I think I’m a new rock step. Even though they didn’t need help selling tickets, I think they wanted to kind of marry themselves to some cool, some hipness.

Tell me something about groupies. Etheridge: Oh, no! Cypher: You mean fans?

In a way, but I’m talking about fans who offer sexual favors to rock stars. It happens all the time with heterosexual male rock stars. Cypher: Like an entourage?

No, I’m talking about girls who come back to the bus and literally wait In line to fuck the rock stars. Cypher: Oh, my! That’s gross. Melissa, has that ever happened to you? Etheridge: Well, there are people waiting around the bus, and sometimes there is that energy. I have never chosen to go with it.

So are you saying that the women waiting for you after your shows are not offering you sex? Cypher: She’s not saying it’s not being offered. She’s saying she deflects it. Etheridge: But is it being offered? Yes, it is. Sometimes the guys offer it too. I get a lot of notes saying “Please call me. I want you.”

From women as well? Cypher: Mostly women. Etheridge: But I don’t respond to any of it. I think that if I did respond to that, it would get out immediately and I would have a big groupie situation on my hands. It’s not something I want now. Ten years ago it might have been a whole different story.

I’ve certainly seen them throw their undies and bras at you when you’re performing. Etheridge: Yes, and last night, during the gig in Amsterdam, there’s a part of my show where I ask everyone in the audience to “get lower with me,” and they all crouch down. Well, I looked up, and the women who had pushed to the front of the stage had taken off their clothes. They were all reaching out to me…naked! Cypher: Last night? Etheridge: [Laughs] Yes! But it’s a very sexual show. And there’s a lot of people who hang around the bus afterward wondering if it will go any further.

But I wonder if quick, hot sex between women would really work in the back of the bus. Etheridge and Cypher: [Pointing to their bed in the bus and laughing] Yes, it does. Cypher: Men like to fuck. Women like to have relationships. Etheridge: Oh, come now! Cypher: Well, women in their 30s anyway. Etheridge: Yeah, right. I fucked a lot when I was younger. When I was playing in the bars, I was very promiscuous in my early 20s. It was all these one-nighters and that sort of thing.

Sex, drugs, and rock and roll? Etheridge: Yes, sex was part of it in the beginning. I have since grown out of that. I have grown up.

What about safe sex? I assume you’re both monogamous, right? Etheridge: Yes, please assume that.

So noted. Have you both had HIV antibody tests? Etheridge: I’ve had a couple of tests for insurance purposes. I think I got my first one four years ago.

When you and Julie got together, was it important for you to share that information with each other before you got sexually involved? Etheridge: Yeah. We talked about it Cypher: And she talked about her past. She’d come from multiple partners, and I’d come from a relationship with one guy.

Do you like the word lesbian? Etheridge: I’m liking it more and more. I totally could not stand it before. I had less trouble accepting myself than I did that word. Sometimes I wish it had been any other island but Lesbos. We could have been called “Mauians” from the island of Maui. Cypher: Lesbian sounds like lizard.

You’ve been quoted as saying you’re the woman who wants to do it all. Are you going to act in a movie? Do you want to have a sitcom called The Melissa Etheridge Comedy Hour? Etheridge: No, I’ll skip television, but I would like to act in films. I want to play Janis Joplin.

I imagine that with Julie being a filmmaker, there could be some real opportunities for you. Etheridge: Oh, I don’t want to take advantage of… Cypher: Sleeping with the director? I think you should. She’d do a good Joplin. She’s the only person who should play it, but that could be ten years away.

Why wait that long? Cypher: There’s a big battle being fought between Hollywood and the people who own the rights to Joplin’s story. Etheridge: I think it better be resolved pretty soon or else I’m gonna have to play a really old Joplin. She was only 27.

Is it difficult being a couple and having two entertainment careers to deal with? Etheridge and Cypher: Yes. Etheridge: Her career is definitely up and down. She gets rejections, and you know, I’m patting her, healing her, and then—oh, something happens that I didn’t get. It’s like, “OK, Julie, can I have some time now?” So, yes, it is hard because there are two very competitive, seriously creative people here. It’s fucking hard. Cypher: There was a period before I got my first movie made—Teresa’s Tattoo—where it was so hard for me to be with Melissa because she was doing exactly what she wanted to do professionally. I was just hanging on, tagging along with no purpose in my life. Now that the film is finished and I have this sense of accomplishment, it’s much easier for me to tag along, to be on the bus. Etheridge: When she was making her first movie, I was making my last album, saying, “Where are you? You’re usually in the studio listening to me.” Suddenly I had to play wife; I had to feed the dog every day. Cypher: She played a really good wife though.

What do you think your image as a lesbian couple represents to other lesbians? Cypher: Oh, God. We’re not perceived as having problems at all. But we do have problems. We read in a Rolling Stone interview with Rose Troche, who directed Go Fish, that she said something like “Look at k d. lang. Isn’t she great? And then there’s Melissa and her girlfriend. Aren’t they cute? Aren’t they nice? I think lesbians should be perceived as more dangerous.” Etheridge: We are dangerous! Cypher: No, we’re perceived as too wholesome and too cute. Etheridge: So we were thinking maybe we should take you shoplifting or something just to prove that we’re dangerous.

What would you dangerous lesbians like to see in a lesbian sex survey? Etheridge: That’s such a male concept. Like, "How do girls do it?" Cypher: There are so many ways. We’re quite resourceful. Etheridge: We have so much variety in our sex, so it’s always “What fruit do we pick tonight?" It’s like our little lesbian secret. I think the sex that women have together is magical. All a sex survey would ask is, “Do you fist-fuck?” or something.

Are you pierced or tattooed anywhere? Etheridge: No. Well, I’ve had my ears pierced.

Oh, dangerous one! Cypher: We thought about tattoos. But we haven’t yet. Etheridge: Wait! Let’s get dangerous here. I’m going to say, “Yes, I’m pierced and tattooed, but I’m not telling you where.” Cypher: Yes, let’s answer everything dangerously. Etheridge: OK. Yes, I do have groupies. In fact, we both see them. We bring them on the bus with us and take them from town to town.

If you had to live without love or sex, which would you choose not to have? Cypher: Oh, please! So few women can distinguish between the two. Etheridge: Well, I’m going to say "love” because— Cypher: You’d rather live without love? Etheridge: No! I mean…oh, without? Cypher: Well, we could have sex and then pretend we don’t love each other.

No, Julie, you’re not allowed to lie or negotiate. Etheridge: Then it would have to be sex that we’d live without. What a horrible choice. Cypher: We could probably still masturbate to have sex, right?

She’s still negotiating. Never mind. Have you ever been verbally assaulted for being gay? Etheridge: I’ve played in gay bars, and people would throw eggs in the windows. Cypher: Really? Etheridge: Yeah, I’ve been walking down the street with another woman, and someone yelled “Fags!” I was like, “Hello? At least get it right, guys.”

Have you ever paid for sex, or have you ever been paid for sex? Etheridge: No, just paid for writing about it.

Have you ever done anything that you thought was really unsafe? Cypher: I thought it was unsafe of Melissa to go shopping by herself in New Orleans. Etheridge: I’m not afraid of heights, but just two days ago I played Albert Hall in London, and the building manager took us up to the roof. There was this chain-link fence you can stand on and look down into the middle of the Royal Albert Hall. Julie said, “Yeah, cool.” But I held on to the edge going “A-a-ah.”

But someone else would be horrified to perform in Albert Hall. Cypher: Exactly. I had to go onstage once and do a guitar change for Melissa. I wanted to feel the kind of shit that she likes to play with every night onstage. Oh, my God! It freaked me out.

Would you say that coming out is enriching—in spirituality, in love, in purpose, in career, in finances? Etheridge: Yes, it certainly is. And it has been for me. Yes I Am, the album that came out after I did, is my most successful album so far; my work has been more successful than it ever was before—my tours, everything. On a spiritual level I believe that confronting the fear of coming out loosened up and freed all other aspects in my life. I just think that when you do that for yourself, when you stand up and say “This is what I am,” then good things come to you. I believe that, and I am totally an example of that.

I read that you bought a $1.3 million house. Cypher: Oh, that’s a fucking lie.

Really? Let me read this article to you. It says you bought a “Hollywood Hills home for $1.3 million, which was owned by Edward R. Pressman, who coproduced Hoffa and Brandon Lee’s The Crow. It’s a four-bedroom, 3,000 square-foot hacienda-style house originally built in 1933.” Cypher: Do I get to say? That shit was released by Pressman’s publicist because The Crow was coming out and he wanted publicity. We didn’t want anyone to know where we lived. Also The Crow is an object of consternation with us because Brandon Lee was a friend. Brandon’s fiancée does not like it either. By the way, the price of the house isn’t even right.

What was the price? Cypher: Less than that.

What kind of car do you drive? Etheridge: I just gave up my incredible Jaguar XJS because my lease was up, and— Cypher: I hated it. Etheridge: It was my dream car. I drove it 140 miles an hour. We also have a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Cypher: We have three cars left. I have my original ’69 VW Bug, which Melissa hates, and we have a ’64 Ford Falcon convertible, which we’re trying to sell. Oh! Maybe we should try to sell it in The Advocate. Etheridge: We could lie and say we had sex in in it. [Pauses] Wait a minute. We did have sex in it. Cypher: Dangerous sex!

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