Shedding her skin

By Dennis Hensley

Originally published on Advocate.com April 22 2001 12:00 AM ET

To say that
Melissa Etheridge’s new CD, Skin, gets off to
a provocative start with the song “Lover,
Please” would be a major understatement. She
puts an advance copy of the CD on her stereo, and her
voice fills the room: “A shot in the dark / I woke up
to find / You had broke all the rules / And you
changed your mind / Didn’t I love you good? /
Didn’t I love you right? / And where are you
goin’ / dressed to kill tonight? / Oh, this is
going to hurt like hell.”

Etheridge lowers
the volume, retrieves her visitor’s jaw from the
floor, then laughs the way you do when you fear you
may have revealed too much. “This CD is where
my personal and professional lives have truly
collided,” reveals the singer, reclining on the sofa
in the living room of the home she moved into in
November, in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles.
“All my work is autobiographical, but this is right
out of the headlines. It’s so clear and
so…ouch!”

“Ouch” is right, for the headlines
she’s referring to, of course, are the ones
from October, which announced that she and her partner,
filmmaker Julie Cypher, were splitting up after 12
years. The news, coming hot on the heels of the
Ellen-Anne breakup, sent ripples of shock and sadness
through the gay populace. After all, we had just seen them
on the cover of Rolling Stone, beaming like
girls in love, as they told the world that the
biological father of their two children, Bailey, 4, and
Beckett, 2, was in fact rocker David Crosby, a friend of
theirs. What happened?

This is the first
interview Etheridge has granted since the
breakup—and, boy, is there a lot to cover. In
addition to the changes in her personal life and
living situation (Cypher resides in a house just across the
back alley), there’s her ongoing gig as the
host of Lifetime’s Beyond Chance and a
book of lyrics and extremely personal reminiscences
called The Truth Is…, coming out on July 12,
the same day as Skin.

But what we
really want to know is, How is she doing? Is the woman whose
songs and activism have kept us fired up for over a decade
going to be OK? “In the last year, I’ve
learned that what doesn’t kill you doesn’t
kill you,” the jeans and T-shirt-clad rocker says
with a laugh, “and that I’m stronger
than I thought and that I have more power than I
thought.”

Etheridge cranks
up the volume—in time to hear herself scream
“Oh, God!” backward on the CD’s
emotionally raw fifth track, “It’s Only
Me”—then smiles. “And I like
myself more than I ever have.”


The Advocate:

Why did you name your new CD Skin?
Melissa Etheridge: Because there’s like
three or four references to getting out of my skin and
getting back in.

So how naked are you on the cover?
[Laughs] I took some pictures that showed my
shoulders and the new tattoo on the back of my neck
that says "skin" in white ink.

Did it hurt?
It hurt in that kind of good way, and at the end, the
guy put his hand on my shoulder and he said,
“Congratulations, now you’re one of
us.” It was a cool feeling, because I’d
been so used to “I’m gay and that’s
what I am.”

And you can’t be anything else.
Right, and he and I could not be more different.

This morning I spoke with David Cole, the
coproducer-engineer on Skin. He said to
tell you he was up till 3 a.m. remixing your single.
[Laughs] David saved my life. You gotta believe
in the universe of fate or whatever. [Last] summer,
when I felt like things were going to have to change
between Julie and I, at first I was like, “No,
no, no.” We were trying everything possible that you
do to try to salvage a relationship in the end. Then
in September we decided to split. Well, I’d had
these plans to do a one-woman show and a book about my
lyrics, and I just said, “Stop
everything,” and—like when I was a teenager in
Leavenworth, Kan.—I went into the basement and wrote
songs.

So I closed all
my doors and I wrote songs. I had no plans to make a
record, but in two weeks I had 10 songs, so I called my
manager and said, “I want to be in the studio
Monday—find me an engineer-producer who’s a
nice guy, because I’m going to be very
vulnerable.” David was the only one I met. I
looked in his eyes and I went “Yeah.” He
helped me through that whole period. He was there the
day we had to tell everyone we were breaking up
because The Star somehow found out.

How do you find out that the tabloids are going to run something?
They call you and say, “This is going to run in
two days. Do you have any comment?”

What does it feel to get a call like that?
It’s horrible. They must listen to cell
phone conversations, because they knew about us buying
two houses. So in one night we had to call everyone we
knew who didn’t know we were breaking up, which was
mostly everybody.

Did you leave messages for the people who weren’t home?
Uh-huh. Only our closest friends knew, so we had to call
my family, her family. It was really awful.

And you were in the studio during that time?
Yes. I remember that feeling of Well, today people are
opening their newspapers and reading about
me…and my failure. That’s how I felt. I
remember playing the music, and it was so healing, this safe
place I could go to when all this crap was going down.
I don’t care if anyone buys this record.
It’s served its purpose.

Do you ever have a lyric come into your head and think,
This is exactly what I’m feeling, but
it’s not fair to the other people involved
to put it out there?
Oh, no. No, no, no, no. I have complete artistic
license. I’ve always believed that.

Has that ever caused problems?
Oh, yeah. Julie’s been like, “Don’t
tell people that!” But it’s my job.
It’s my art. I’m sorry, it’s part of
the deal.

If Eminem can do it…
So can I! At least I’m not locking you in a
trunk.

Has Julie heard the new album yet?
Yeah. She hasn’t said what she thinks about
it.

When you made the announcement you were breaking up, did
you feel like you were letting people down who had
looked to you as role models? Like, “First,
Ellen and Anne, and now us?”

Yeah. I remember when we found out about Ellen
and Anne, we were arguing at the time. We were yelling
at each other.

That’s a perfect scene for the TV movie.
[Laughs] It was crazy. Ellen called, and we
stopped in the middle of our argument and talked to
her about how Anne was roaming around. This was before
we heard it on the news. It was just a wickedly
strange moment.

I don’t
live my life to be a role model. I realize that being open
about my relationship has put me in that position, but
I’m not going to not break up because
I’m a role model. I did see the waves that it sent
through the [gay] community, and it was sad. But I believe,
as people see how we’re dealing with our
family, that anything that they had believed about us
is still there. We’re still those people. We live,
grow, change. Unfortunately.

Do you have a sense of what couldn’t be solved?
Ask me in a year and I might be able to narrow it down
to a sound bite. I’m still in the middle of it.
I’m still struggling with why one person
can’t—what are the things that won’t
allow them to push through obstacles and keep
going…I don’t know. I don’t know.

What reactions from people have surprised you?
I thought that maybe it would be that thing where you
lose friends in a divorce, but our friends have done
really well. Because it’s not a nasty, ugly
thing with Julie and I, they’ve been able to maintain
both friendships. It’s new for me because Julie
always kept the social thing together, so it’s
been a real lesson for me. Now I actually have to pick
up the phone and go, “Um, you want to do
somethin’?”

Now, the Rolling Stone cover that called you
“The New American Family” came out
in January of last year. Looking back, do you feel
strange about the timing of that?

Yeah. When I went out to promote my last CD,
Breakdown, all that anybody wanted to talk
about was, “Who’s the father?” I
started feeling very uncomfortable because it was this
big, huge secret that had all this power.

It was like being in the closet again.
Right, and so much energy went into saying, “No,
no, no, no.” So Julie and I were doing OK at
the time, and we both agreed that if it ever did come
out, that it would cause something that we didn’t
want our children to be subject to that any older in
their life. So we were like, “Let’s just
put this out there while they’re young,” which
is exactly what we did. Then as the months went by, I
was like, “Oh, fuck, this is coming apart, and
that definitely sucks.” But it was done, and the
story of who the father is was a lot bigger than I
thought it would be. It was crazy. I think that I
really realized the scope of the whole thing when
Billy Crystal made a reference to it at the Oscars. When
they showed Annette Bening, he said, “I hope it
doesn’t look like David Crosby.” It was
strange because it came from such a private,
friend-to-friend thing.

Have you ever thought of recording with David?
We talk about it, but this wasn’t the appropriate
album to work with him on.

You’ve only been living in this house since
November. Yet, I have to say, the place feels like
a home.
That was very important. We wanted the kids to feel as
comfortable as possible as soon as possible. So we
wanted to make the move together so it wasn’t
one of us moving out. Julie’s place is right back
there [gestures to her backyard].

You could borrow a cup of sugar if you want.
Have done that. Have said “I don’t
have a pacifier.” It’s very important to
us that, even though our relationship changed, the family
unit stayed together. The kids actually are doing
really well. I certainly would rather be with them
every day, but now it’s four days [that
they’re with me] and four days [with
Julie].

This living arrangement seems great for the kids, but do
you ever think, for yourself, that you might need
more space to heal?

If we didn’t have children, we definitely
wouldn’t be living close to each other.
I’ve sacrificed a bit of that need for space in order
that I can still be close to my children. It’s
totally worth it.

Do you think that they pick up on tension between you?
Well, I think they know that it’s not
always fun when Julie and I cross paths. They see that
it’s strained, but I don’t see this
[arrangement] lasting forever. When the kids are
older, they will be better equipped for more space
apart.

It just seems like it would be tough to look out your
window and wonder “Whose car is that?”

You can’t see any cars, just the
backyard—and it’s a big fence, so I
don’t know what’s coming.

So I guess that means hot-tub orgies in the backyard are
out of the question.
Probably, yeah. But you never know.
[Laughs]

[Suddenly,
Etheridge’s dimpled and adorable 4-year-old
daughter, Bailey, charges into the room with her
caretaker. The pair are on a hunt for a missing
Barbie. After introductions all around and a kiss for
Mommy, they’re off.
]

As a modern woman, do you have any thoughts on the Barbie phenomenon?
Barbie is. And there’s nothin’ I
can do about it. [Laughs]

If you were Bailey’s age, what toy in this room
would appeal to you?

Those trucks. Are you kidding?

Meanwhile, I
would be dressing the Barbies and feeling ashamed about it.

I remember when
my grandfather gave me a blue steel truck for Christmas,
and I cried. Cried. And my family were like,
“What’s the matter?” And I
couldn’t say—

That he was on to you.
That he was on to me. It was my favorite toy,
but it was also like, “Uh-oh, my
secret’s out.”

What’s a day from your childhood you’d like
to go back and relive?

Boy, I don’t wanna go back. Maybe a day I
spent fishing with my dad.

What’s your relationship with your mom like now?
It’s been fun. We communicate much more
now. I’ve sort of forced that.

Your parents were children of alcoholics. What is your
relationship like with alcohol and drugs?
Fortunately, I’ve never been addicted to any
substance.

How the hell did you get a VH1 Behind the Music special then?
I think because I was queer. It’s like,
“She worked hard. Her dreams came true.
Doesn’t sound that interesting.”

“Thank God she’s gay!”
Exactly. [Laughs]

When you drank for the first time, were you conflicted
about it?
No. I was playing in bars and watching people get drunk,
so I saw what it can do. By the time I got to high
school my friends were like, “Let’s get
a six-pack!” I’m like, “Yeah,
I’ll drive. Not interested.” It
didn’t hold any mystery for me at all. The first time
I was ever out of my mind, it was mescaline, which is
just this side of acid. I’d never been high or
drunk, and it was a total trip. I was in a club in Boston
and I was out of my mind. I didn’t not do drugs or
alcohol, but it was very recreational.

Tell me about your upcoming book, The Truth Is.

I started it last year when things were
different. I found with my last album that people
wanted to know more about me personally, so I thought
maybe I can include lyrics and answer questions about
growing up and coming out. Then the breakup happened,
and it became something else.

Was there a part of you that was dealing with the pain by
working? Like, I’m going to lose myself in work?

I think that’s what happened. As I felt
things starting to unravel, I just tried to make
myself very, very busy. But it was also healing. I
would sit down for hours with my cowriter, Laura Morton, and
it was like therapy. It was a major self-realization.
Huge.

I think a lot of people would do the opposite in your
situation and keep everything inside.

I kind of wish I could have done that, but
that’s not where I am. I’m definitely
into purging, getting it out.

What was your process like with your cowriter, Laura?
She would just take me down roads, like “Who was
your first girlfriend?” “What are you
going through right now?” We finally had to get
to that.

I read in the press release for it that you talk about
being sexually abused by your older sister.

Well, the press release was not a press release
of mine. It was very unfortunate what happened. Laura
put out an outline that we sent to seven publishers.
It’s an unwritten rule that they are not for public
consumption. We made a deal withour publisher, and the next
week that outline was sent out to the media by someone
at one of these [other] publishing houses. I still
don’t know. I mean, there’s one small part
about my sister and being sexually abused, but it’s
not what the book is about. Of course, the media
zeroes in on that one thing. I had to call my sister
and my mom, whom I hadn’t talked about the book with.

How did they react?
Not good. It’s the truth, so I can’t say
it’s not, but unfortunately, my mom and my
sister think I’m writing a tell-all book where
I’m gonna slander my family, and that’s
not it at all.

But it is in the book?
Yeah. It’s interesting, people’s
perceptions about that issue. I know that my sister
thinks, “Oh, I was just playing doctor.” But
to me, it was definitely abuse and fear and control.
In the book, you’ll see the theme that was sort
of set up with that in my relationships—my taking
care of people.

How old were you?
I blocked a lot of it out, but I believe it started when
I was about 7 or 8 and lasted until I was about 10. My
sister’s four years older than me.

When you were sitting down to work on the book, did you
think, Is it right to talk about this?

I knew that I would. I knew that it would not be
like me to leave something like that out. I’ve
gotten this far by speaking the truth. How could I not
speak the complete truth because I’m ashamed or
something?

Because you don’t want to hurt them.
But that would be protecting them, and that’s
part of what I’m trying not to do. I’m
speaking the truth, and if they can’t handle it, they
need to deal with their own truths. It’s my
path and my lesson to stop taking care of everybody
else.

Do you hope that it will help people that have gone
through similar things?

Yes. And I know that it will open debate in my
life about “What is
homosexuality?”

Like, “Is that abuse what made her gay?”
Yeah. I’ve always had my own theory that some
people are born with leanings a certain way, and then
circumstances in their life might help push them. I
think I was definitely born gay. The experience with my
sister pushed me further that way. The experience with my
mother being very distant pushed me more that way. I
don’t think that I’m gay because of
those experiences, but I think that it definitely set me up
to go down that road.

Do you think it affected the kinds of people
you’ve been attracted to in relationships?

Oh, yeah. Distant, unavailable people. “I
need to make this work!” Yeah.

Do you feel like you’ve been able to break that?
Uh, not yet. [Laughs] We’ll see what the
next relationship is like. It’s so funny being
single and looking at what I’m attracted to and
just laughing at myself. As far as Julie, I don’t
have anything bad to say about her. I spent 12 years
with her, so there’s a lot of good there. But
when you get down to the bottom line, certain parts of her
emotional life were unavailable to me.

Do you wanna fall in love again?
That’s my next single, “I Wanna Be in
Love.” I’m built for it, man. This is
the first thing people are going to hear from me.

[Etheridge
cranks track number 6, a remarkably unjaded ditty about
the joys of new romance:

In front of total
strangers Won’t you kiss me
Flowers for no reason But you miss me
Oh, I wanna be in love…

While the song plays, Etheridge picks up the phone,
dials, and waits. “I just asked this woman
out,” she whispers, “and I have to check
my messages to see whether she said yes or
no.” She listens for a while, then hangs
up, clearly happy.
]

How long has dating seemed like something you’d
want to even consider?
Just the last couple weeks. It’s weird. I
haven’t really ever dated.

Well, guess what. It’s a nightmare.
[Laughs] I know. I just asked somebody
out. I was like, “Do you wanna go to some
pre-Grammy party on Tuesday?” They said, “But
I’m not really ready to get my picture
taken.” There’s stuff that goes with it
that I don’t even think about. I have to be aware
that there is nothing at all normal about me.

If you’re interested in somebody, are you good at
initiating, or do you wait to have them come to you?

I tried waiting, but I got kind of lonely
there.

Is the woman who called famous?
No. That’s really good. I’m not
going to be serious for a long time. This is
just…company.

What qualities are you attracted to in a person?
I like a person who likes themselves. That’s
probably the main thing.

If somebody has all your records and is a big fan, is
that a plus or a minus?
I’m probably not gonna date fans.

So if you met a hot chick and she was like, “Oh,
yeah, I think I saw one of your videos once, but
I’m not sure—”

It would so turn me on.

Then you have to win her over.
Yeah. Yeah.

Does it turn you on if a girl can dance?
Oh, yes, if they can dance, that goes a long
way, yeah.

How long do you wait to call somebody back that
you’re sweet on?

Oh, God, please don’t ask dating tips
from me. I so don’t know. I’m just doing
this one step at a time.

You want any advice from our readers?
Could they give me tips on dating? We could call it
“Help Melissa.” I mean, this is the
craziest time in my life, being single. It’s good for
me because the energy that I used to put into another person
is just hanging around me and I’m like,
“OK, I’ve got all this energy. What am I
going to do with it?”

What kind of women are throwing themselves at you?
Unfortunately, it’s mostly married women.

What do they say to you?
Oh, they’re very safe. [Laughs]
Women are more bisexual, I think, than anybody thinks.
I think that married women just wanna try it, and
it’s not really cheating. But I’m here to put
in print that I’m not going to do that again,
period. Learned my lesson. No. No, no, no. It’s like,
“You’re pretty, but you’re married.
Bye.”

Did the fact that Julie had been with men before add
stress to your relationship?

No. We were definitely in love. It wasn’t
a man thing. It was the breakdown of a relationship
and it was falling out of love. I never felt stress
from a man, or jealous or anything. At all.

There was never a part of you that thought, Well, she
might go back that way.

She might. She’s just sexual. I think
she’s just open to both.

But it wasn’t something you lost sleep over.
No. But I would not be surprised if she dated a
guy. I believe she’s a person that falls in
love with people and is attracted to the soul,
totally.

In the past you’ve talked about the volatile
relationship you had when you were a teenager. Is
that going to be in the book?

Yes. My first girlfriend was from 17 to about
19. It was dark in some ways. I think it raised some
red flags like, Oh, I’m attracted to this.
Uh-oh. I was never involved with anyone abusive after
that.

Was it physically abusive?
Maybe twice physically, but psychologically,
really.

Did you end it?
Yes.

Was it hard to do it?
Yes, because what did I know? I was 19.

Do you have any idea where she is?
We E-mail each other now.

I think E-mail is great for people you don’t
really want to hear from.

[Laughs] Because it’s not like
I’m talking to them. They just come on your
screen and you’re like, Well, all right. I
don’t remember who wrote the first one. I think
someone asked if it was OK if they gave my [E-mail]
address to her.

In spite of these early experiences, you’ve
always seemed to have a healthy attitude about sex, like
you were never uptight about it.
No, no. It was a way out. I definitely took it the other
way. I did not want to close it up. It was power. It
was part of me that was very alive and very, um,
awesome.

I think that’s part of why gay guys dig you. We
wish we could be sexual in the way that you are onstage.

Come on!

I’m serious. Do you notice a lot of gay guys at
your shows?
In the last couple of albums, yes. At first, I
didn’t.

Because they’d rather blow their CD money on
The Best of White Party, Volume 8. What can
you do?

[Laughs] The ones that I do get in my
audience are into it all the way. The biggest compliments
are when I see myself done by a drag queen, which is
really difficult [for them to do] because I’m
so not drag-queeny.

For starters, there’s no heels.
They put on a leather jacket and sing “Bring Me
Some Water.” It’s barely being in
drag.

Did you ever go backstage afterward and say hello?
I did once in Chicago. He didn’t know I was
there. [Laughs] He’s like, “Oh, my
God!”

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever autographed?
I’ve been asked to autograph undergarments, but I
don’t.

Much has been made about the bras that fans throw
onstage. Where do they end up?

I never see them. My crew takes it, and they
have to permission to do with it what they like.

That would be a cross-dresser’s dream job.
[Laughs] Right. I want the people that
throw things to know that I do not receive it. That
some sweaty guy gets it for his collection.

Do you high-profile gals ever feel like the male
half of our movement isn’t pulling our weight?
You can tell me.
No, we don’t. People either ask me that question
or they ask, “What about the other celebrities
you know that aren’t out? Doesn’t that make
you angry?” No. It’s such a personal
experience. There are people, straight and gay, that
don’t even want to talk about their personal life,
period. When you come out, half of your interview is gonna
be about your personal life, so if you don’t
like talking about your personal life, then coming out
terrifies the hell out of you.

You seem to have a very positive outlook on life.
Do you have a dark side?

We all do. I struggle with my own self-image and
really feeling comfortable in my skin. I was always
attached to somebody else, so it was, Well, the two of
us together make a good thing and not being
comfortable in me.

What have you learned about yourself in the last
couple of years?

That what doesn’t kill you doesn’t
kill you. And that I’m stronger than I thought
and I have more power than I thought. And that I like myself
more than I ever have.

The pop music landscape has changed a lot in the
last few years. Do you put a lot of thought into, How
can I fit in in the world of Britney?

I’ve always tried to make radio come to
me. Nowadays, you can’t do that so I’ve
agreed, to give my single a chance, to remix it for radio.
My album is a different entity.

I think you should do a duet with Christina
Aguilera on “What a Girl Wants”
onMTV’s Total Request Live.

There you go. [Laughs] I know what a girl
wants! Don't think I didn't laugh when I first heard that
song.

Where were you the first time your heard one of
your songs on the radio?
It was in ’88. I was late for a train, riding in
this car with a record company guy in London, and I
heard the beginning of “Similar
Features.” I said, “God, that sounds
familiar…Wait, that’s me!” The
feeling was so strange because the radio had always been
that other land.

What are the musical milestones you still look
forward to?
I think I’m entering a different phase.
I’ve been around for ten years now. I’m
sitting there with Aerosmith, and we’re going,
“OK, we’re the old folks here.”
[Laughs] I always hoped that I’d have a
career that has ups and downs, but that stays around,
like Elton John’s. I’m starting to feel that
change over now and it’s very
interesting.

When things were breaking wide open for you, was it
fun or was it insane? Do you look back and go, “I
wish I had enjoyed that more”?

I wish I knew I was in it when I was in it
because I didn’t know until after it was over.
But I’m glad that that sort of thing doesn’t
sustain, because it’s intense. I’ve met
people that want that all the time and you
can’t have it. The world just goes on.

I’ve interviewed stars whose journeys were so
about, “I’ll show you, I’m going to
make it” and then once they do, they
don’t know who they are anymore. Did you
experience anything like that?

The thing for me was if I could be a big famous
rock star, then I wouldn’t have my problems so
all my energy focused towards that.

“If I could just get a number one record, then I
won’t have to deal with this shit.”
Right. And you have a number one record and
there’s so much shit. So then I had to grow up.
You can’t run away from it anymore. It becomes
about, “OK, I’m here and now. How can I be a
better person?” But I like performing, that
energy, that connection, and fame is part of that. But
if I had to choose between being famous or doing my music,
I’d do my music.

But you don’t have to choose so serve it up.
Serve it up! And because I am a hundred percent
myself, I don’t have to put energy into
creating an image. It’s just me.

What I like about you is that you’re
down-to-earth and a big show-off at the same time.

[Laughs] I’m a big ham. I love
what do and I love that I get to meet the most amazing
people.

And sing at their wedding, as in the case of Brad
Pitt and Jennifer Aniston.
Love it!

When the possibility of singing somewhere is first
mentioned, how long do you act embarrassed and hem and
haw before going, “OK, I’ll do it.”

I don’t. When they said they were getting
married, I said, “Oh, I’ll
sing!”

You’re like, “‘Come to My
Window’ in E flat. Hit it!”

Exactly. [Laughs] Sheryl Crow said
I’m just a little show business whore because
I’ll sing for anybody anywhere. I’ve
played bowling alleys, supermarkets, the Kawanis Club. But I
have to say, there’s something scary about a
room full of people in the same hats.

Were you always a ham?
As a child, that was the place where I could
express everything. Couldn’t do it anywhere
else. It was OK to sing angry or sing sad and then started
to realize people like to see that, and I thought,
“Oh, that feels good.” Now I’m
making a darn good living at it. Laura Morton, the woman
writing the book with me was like, “Do you
realize that your perfect safe place is on the stage
where most people are scared to death to be?”

Have you learned to express your emotions more in
real life as you’ve gotten older? Can you be the
bad cop when necessary?

Yeah. I’ve been in a lot of therapy to
learn how to do that. I insist on it for my children
so that they will learn by example how to express
one’s emotions. I have to consciously do it, or else,
it’s “Everything’s
OK.”

What about your work relationships and with the
press, are you able to draw lines?

Yeah. I truly am the boss. But I am pretty
accommodating because there’s nothing that I
haven’t talked about. I know that this is part of it
and I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing
any part of myself.

Have you ever looked back at an interview and
thought, God, I was too open. I should have shut up.

No, I’ve looked back and said, God, I
wish I was more open. That’s one of the reasons
I came out. There were a couple of interviews that I did for
Never Enough that were just were ridiculous.
It just seemed like I was trying to not say
everything.

When you’re part of a couple, do you draw lines
about the press together, like, “OK, we
won’t talk about B & C, we’ll
talk about A, B & D,” or do you just play it
by ear?

We played it by ear. When we had children, we
agreed we were not going to do is say who the father
is. But then that line becomes what everything’s
about. To truly be as empowered as I can be, I can’t
make my little boxes that no one can talk about
because those become the only thing that anyone wants
to talk about.

And you and she were on the same page about that?
Yeah.

Have you ever been accused of using your personal life to
promote your work, like, “Let’s
announce who the father is when my new album comes out.”

I’m sure some people have thought of
that, but I’m not that clever. If I’d
have been that clever, I’d have broken up this month.
[Laughs]

Do you think you, as parents, are going to have different
set of problems than heterosexuals?

You know what’s funny? I used to think
the world was split between men and women. And then,
gay and straight. And now I know the world is truly
split between parents and non-parents. No matter what kind
of parent you are--single, straight, gay, divorced,
together forever--you love your children the same way.
Yes, I believe there will be that my children will
have to deal with any prejudice of their mother’s
lifestyle. But if preschool is any signal as to
what’s coming, the kids get it. “Oh, Bailey
has two Moms.” Easy. Simple. My kids know that most
kids have a Mom and a Dad. They also know that they
have a Dad who doesn’t live with them. You give
them those tools of knowledge and truth and love and they
can answer to it at any time.

You host the Lifetime show Beyond Chance.
What’s the coolest thing that’s come
out of that for you?

I’ve reached a new audience. There are
people that watch that show that don’t know
I’m a musician. I got this letter from an elderly
woman that was addressed to Melissa Eldridge and it
said, “I watch your show every week. I’m
sorry to hear about the break up with your best
friend.” It was how she was able to say it.
I’m sure in her life she could never say that
“l” word, but it really meant a lot to me that
she acknowledged my “best friend.”

You were attached to the Janis Joplin movie for ages. Do
you still want to make a movie some day?

Yeah but I don’t have a dream of being a
movie star. I’m actually working on something
with HBO right now.

“If These Vaginal Walls Could Talk III”?
[Laughs] I will say that it’s gay
and HBO loves gay.

What movie stars did you have a crush on when you were a kid?
Anne Bancroft. I’m so into the strong
woman thing.

I take it you didn’t have a Farrah poster.
No. It was all about Kate Jackson. Another signal I was
queer.

You’ve said that before you all came out, there
were many drunken nights where both you and Ellen
sat around and talked about coming out. What did
you talk about after?

What we’d like to do, because it opens up
a lot of doors. And we talk about our experiences with
people. I remember being at a thing for Ellen, and we
were onstage answering questions and this fifteen year-old
girl thanked Ellen in a way that just brought tears to
our eyes. It comes down to that. It’s really
quite powerful.

Have you talked to each other about dating?
Ellen and I have completely different personal
relationships. We couldn’t be more different,
except we like gals. [Laughs]

Is there any truth to the rumor that you and Ellen and
k.d. lang are going to do a lesbian First
Wive’s Club?

[Laughs] That would be funny! You know
Ellen, k.d., and I, we all just went through breakups.
There’s an opportunity here that someone’s
not taking advantage of! C’mon!

Should I get [First Wives producer] Scott Rudin on
the phone?
C’mon, get him on the phone.

Do the three of you hang out?
Ellen and I do. kd has a tendency to hide out,
but Ellen said she just to talked to her last week, so
I think I might see her soon.

You’ve said that coming out was only a positive
thing for you professionally. Ellen seemed to have
a different experience, a lot of positive reaction
and then a backlash. What was it like for you to watch
that happen?

I went ‘ouch’ to some things every
now and then, but also could kind of see the set-up. I
think if you talk to Ellen in the next year or two,
she’ll have a different insight on what that whole
thing was, and the experience of it.

Speaking of famous friends, I understand there’s
an interesting story about your background singers
on one song from Skin.

[Laughs] Well, when we got to the song,
“Heal Me,” David was like, “You
need backgrounds in the end. Why don’t you just call
your friends?”

Which friends are these?
Laura Dern and Meg Ryan.

Who I would guess can relate to the theme of “Heal
Me” in their own special ways.

[Laughs] We feel like we’re part
of a club now or something. We’ve all gone
through this huge public change so we could all get together
and help each other. It was just a fun, good,
cleansing experience.

[Melissa hits
play and “Heal Me” begins:

Ain’t it
crazy? For a moment there, This felt
just like dying But now I see that
Something inside is coming alive…]

Meg and Laura sound great. Did they work for scale?
[Laughs] It was so funny. I was like,
“Are you OK with me telling people that
it’s you?” They were like, “Are you
kidding? This is one thing we want credit
on.”

Did they show up in rocker outfits?
Oh no, but it was funny. I said to David before,
“I’ve not really ever worked with
background vocalists.” He goes, “Background
vocalists always show up a half hour late and when
they come in, they’ll immediately start talking
about their clothes or their shoes.” It was a
joke between us. And then when Laura and Meg got there, they
were half an hour late and immediately they start to
say, “Oh, look at your coat.”
“Oh, look at your coat.”

Your straight women celeb friends must feel pressure to
be young, and thin and hot in Hollywood. Do you,
as a lesbian, feel that kind of stress?

I’ve never thought about it that way. I
just think I have less of a talent at looking good
than they do. Hanging around with the people I do hang
around with, I have to find my own confidence. Some of them
can put something together and look just head to toe
“Pow!” and I’m fashion impaired.
But they’re not the type of women who struggle with
their age or that they have to look beautiful. They
struggle with how beautiful they are and sort of
accept it. I see the energy that I get from people is
completely different when I hang around with someone like
Meg. It’s just a whole sort of straight male
energy she picks up on. It’s a big
burden.

Now what about this one-woman show you were going to do?
I pushed that back. We’re basically going
to adapt it from the book so it’ll be like
2002.

Do you plan to tour with the CD?
I just ache to be performing. It’s such a safe,
healing place. But also I don’t want to be away
from my kids. I refuse to be away from them for more
than ten days.

Vegas is just a plane ride away. You could be the new
Wayne Newton!

[Laughs] Bruce Springsteen and I were
talking about how jealous we were that these country
artists can have a Branson or Vegas where people come
to them. Why can’t we have our own little rock
n’ roll place?

Is it going to be different touring as a single woman?
Oh yeah. Before it’s been, “Yeah,
this is very sexual, but I’m going home to
that.” Now it’s like, “This is real
sexual, and—possible.” It’s really
gonna be different. Talk to me in a year.

It kills me that I missed Equality Rocks. What was it like?
It was such a perfect moment in time. Normally,
I’m all about inclusion in my music. This was
the first time that I really felt like I was walking
out in front of a gay audience. This was a big gay thang.
And that was a different feeling. I felt I
didn’t have anything to prove so I just jumped
on it and flew more than I ever ever have. I didn’t
have to win. I’d already won. It was the
victory lap.

What was it like to sing “Scarecrow,” your
song about Matthew Shepard?

I’d never sung the song before and I was
a wreck. I lost it. I basically spoke the song, the
parts that I could. I was completely raw.

Writing that song, did it just pour out?
Yeah. I was supposed to be writing a song for the
women’s soccer World Cup but I kept going back
to “Scarecrow” and it just
happened.

What’s something you’ve seen recently that
made you think, The world’s changing for
the better?

Any time a young person comes up and asks me for
my autograph, I’m surprised. The big thing
about the Grammys this year was this big, out,
homosexual guy singing with a guy that has homophobic
lyrics. That’s it, Elton. Wear a big pink,
polka-dot thang, and heal it, man!

The last line of the CD is, “Let everyone know
that I’m comin’ home again.”
Is that the message that you wanted to leave with?

Yep. That’s the way I leave it.