Melissa rocks the R Family cruise

In these outtakes from her cover interview with The Advocate, Melissa Etheridge tells how she and Rosie O’Donnell punked their fellow passengers for an unexpected treat

BY Anne Stockwell

October 09 2005 11:00 PM ET

This summer
Melissa Etheridge, Tammy Lynn Michaels, and their family
celebrated her recovery from cancer by taking an extended RV
vacation across the country. For Etheridge, it was a
radical departure from her customary way to spend the
summer: on the road with her band, making everybody
else’s holiday more fun. “We drove from Los
Angeles to New York and took Rosie’s R Family
cruise,” Etheridge explained. “It was
amazing.” Here’s her account of a
magical time and what it sparked in her.

You weren’t booked to entertain on the R Family
cruise, but you staged a surprise performance
anyway. What was that like, to play for that crowd
at that place at that time?

Like a huge celebration. The way we did it,
everybody was so nice. [The stateroom setup] enabled
me to be private a lot so we didn’t have to see
many people, and we could go watch the shows in a place that
I felt safe—it was cool. Not that
anyone’s gonna hurt me…

But still, it must be nutty to have to be you.
Yeah. [Laughs]

Do you know what I mean?
Yeah. Especially in a gay place.

I imagine it’s sort of hard to be nice to gay
people who want your autograph.

There you go, yeah. That is hard, especially
when I have my kids—I don’t want it when
I have my kids. My kids don’t like it; it’s a
weird energy; it’s weird to see people going
weird about your mom. It’s uncomfortable. So if
I have my kids [with me], I’m not gonna sign an
autograph for you—it’s just not gonna
happen. But it was really, really safe with Rosie, and
as the week went on, I said [whispering], “Just let
me do a couple songs.” She was like,
“OK—we’ve got a little Broadway night
the last night.” Rosie takes pictures of all
the people—she loves to go around and take
pictures of everyone in iPhoto and make a little slide
show [which she shows to passengers on the final night of
the cruise].

So I said,
“Why don’t I—when you slip through your
slide show—I’ll just be playing guitar,
and they’ll think it’s just some nice guitar
music you’ve got going for your slide
show.” So I was behind the screen playing
guitar, and then this slide show was about 10 minutes long.
So I played and [humming in her distinctive voice]
hummed a couple notes, and I heard this [murmur] from
the audience. [Anne laughs] I sang, “Oh,
yea-a-ah,” and I heard [this louder murmur].
Then they go back to watching, looking for a face, and
it’s really sweet—all the pictures. Finally,
toward the end, as it went down to a “We love
you” and “Thank you for the cruise,” I
started singing. And the screen went up, and they went,
“Ye-e-eah!” But I could’ve just
bowed and walked off, and it would’ve been fine. But
when I perform for the community, especially now,
there’s just this big, warm, yummy hug.
It’s just this amazing thing. I could do anything,
and what a great feeling—any song I want to do,
anything.

So what did you say?
Since there were two shows, I said, “I’ll
do ’em both. I’ll do both
things.” So we did it twice. The first show had kids
there because it was earlier, so I think I
did—I don’t remember what I did. I remember
the second one was a little more bawdy, and I did an
acoustic version of “Piece of My Heart,”
because that’s Tammy’s favorite from a long
time ago—she had a bootleg of it. That was her
favorite thing, and she’d never heard me sing
it live until the Grammys. So I did it on the cruise.

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