Melissa rocks the R Family cruise

By Anne Stockwell

Originally published on Advocate.com October 10 2005 12:00 AM 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.