Mommy Melissa

Melissa Etheridge talks about her new album, the Joplin movie, narrating After Stonewall, touring with children, coparenting with Julie, and finding her true purpose in life: motherhood

BY Sara Miles

June 07 1999 11:00 PM ET

You haven’t been on the road at all since your first child was born. I’ve spent one evening away from Bailey.

Did you miss her terribly? Oh, terribly. I’m about to go away this weekend for the first time, for three days, because my new album’s starting up. I’m doing a video thing, MTV, in Toronto.

This morning I had a little talk with her and said, “I’m going away for three days. You’re gonna go to sleep and wake up, and I’m not gonna be here. But then I’ll be back, and we can play.”

These three days will tell me how secure she feels when I go away. And that will determine how much time I actually can spend on tour and what the road will be like. Or whether I’m gonna drag them around everywhere, which of course I don’t really want to do. But if for their state of mind it’s better to be with me, then I’ll take ’em everywhere, every city. So we’ll see.

I had an out-of-body experience at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when I was talking with Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney about taking kids on the road. [Laughs] I’m like, OK, I’m just going to try to keep my feet on the ground and have this conversation.

What did they say? They said it’s the best thing. Just take them on the road. Of course, both of them had a different experience in that their wives were in the band, and it would be both parents gone if they didn’t take the kids. Julie is not onstage with me. Thank God.

And she isn’t particularly enamored of touring? No, not at all. But she would do it.

Meanwhile you’ve been writing and recording. You have a new album, Breakdown; you’ve narrated the After Stonewall video; you’re writing music for a stage adaptation of Dorothy Allison’s Cavedweller; you’re narrating a new series on Lifetime TV.… But I still haven’t been in front of a group of people singing in a while, and I really miss that. Sometimes Julie will say, “Why don’t you just go find 10,000 people and sing to them?” Because there’s nothing else that can channel all my energy.

I wonder if the image is a problem—how can you be sexy and rowdy and a rock and roller and a mom too? We’re breaking that right now. I mean, look at Madonna. She hasn’t toured with Lola yet, either. But she’s definitely very sexy and very strong. And I have absolutely no doubt about myself [grinning].…

No worries that you’re going to stop rocking and shrink into apron-wearing suburban femininity? Definitely not. The opposite. I will run and fight and go the other way.

Have the kids changed the way you think about your music? The other day Bailey asked me to sing a song. I said OK, and I started singing her Elvis Presley. [Lowers her voice and croons] “Well bless-a my soul, what’s wrong with me?” And she said, “No, Mama, sing me a children’s song. Not a grown-up song.” She totally knew. I was like, OK. [Hums the Barney theme song] “I love you, you love me.…”

I know you wrote one song, a lullaby, for Bailey. There’s a song on the new album called “Truth of the Heart.” And I wrote it because if my children ever ask me what I did about changing the world, I don’t have much of an answer. All I have is my life and how I’ve lived it—and this truth I’ve tried to live by, the truth of the heart.

I don’t think anyone’s gonna find huge differences in my songwriting. A few friends listened to the new album and said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but your voice sounds more mature.” [Laughs] I guess I am more mature. But the music itself hasn’t changed. I haven’t gone easy listening at all, no.

But you are doing other things as well—this Lifetime series, How Could It Happen, starting in August. You’re becoming a narrator? It’s storytelling, basically. I narrate stories about women that extraordinary things have happened to—unusual things, coincidences. Or just anything. I was like, “Strong women? I’ll tell the story, sure.”

What about the Janis Joplin movie? Where is that? Ah. The trip of my life. It looks like it’s going to be made. I’m no longer attached to it or involved in it. You know, Hollywood is a crazy place, and films—I don’t understand how any films ever get made. I mean, this was something that started with Julie and me in our living room, writing and wanting to bring the story of Janis to the world. And yes, people come on board and get involved, and all of a sudden it’s going down the road without you. And you’re standing there, and you’re like, “Oh, OK.”

That must be kind of upsetting. It was because it happened so slow and just drug on and on and on. There was a point that I had to jump off and say, “Look, I gotta get on with my life. I can’t invest another two years in this.”

So no more of that. No, Julie is still producing it. So the family will be involved, but I’m just not involved as the actress.

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