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Lucky for Life

By | 2005-10-27T09:00:00-04:00 October 27th, 2005|Entertainment|

By John Polly

“How are you? That’s how people greet me now, and I keep forgetting that they don’t want just an ‘Oh, I’m fine, thanks’ answer, they want details.” Melissa Etheridge, the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter and “out” lesbian celebrity, is laughing on the line from her Los Angeles home. “So, to answer that, I’m completely cancer free. I’m 100 percent back now; back from the treatments that wiped me out. That all started a year ago and I’m much better now.”
Etheridge’s grueling battle with cancer has prompted renewed interest in her, from all manner of folks. And for Etheridge, the buzz around her show-stopping performance of “Piece of My Heart” during the 2005 Grammy Awards with her head still shaved following chemotherapy, created the perfect opportunity for her to take stock in her career and put together “Greatest Hits: The Road Less Traveled,” which was released this month. This 17-song collection contains Etheridge’s biggest hits some of her personal favorites, new songs, and some amazing covers, including her take on the Tom Petty’s “Refugee” and the aforementioned “Piece of My Heart.”
“I sort of entered my career full-speed, and I just put my head down and went straight forward for 17 years,” explains Etheridge. “When I got pulled off of that track by cancer and the treatments, I got to stop and look at what I’ve done and how far I’ve come. Before, success and rock ‘n’ roll were the most important things in my life. That’s changed and what I write about has changed. In those songs from the first 17 years there’s a lot of betrayal, a lot of aching – but I’m done with that now. I still love playing those songs, like ‘I’m the Only One,’ but thank god I’m 100 miles away from that emotion that I wrote it from.”
Etheridge shares her life these days with actress Tammy Lynn Michaels and two children, son Becket, 6, and daughter Bailey, 8, of whom Etheridge shares custody. These days she focuses on the positive in her music and life. That optimism led her out on to that Grammy stage back in February. Etheridge says, “It was all so intensely happening in that moment. I was … thrilled to be doing it because I’d been lying on my back for months, in misery. So it was like stepping back into my life in a big, big way. I was just praying that no one would laugh at me!”
No one did. In fact, soon Etheridge’s phone was ringing off the hook. “Before all of this, a big company would never get within a 100 feet of me when it came to ad campaigns, or anything like that,” explains Etheridge. “But after the Grammys, it’s as if the cancer thing trumped the gay issue. Ford called, and then Safeway and Kimberly-Clark… It’s all of a sudden okay to love a gay person now, which is fine. I’m all for it.”
Etheridge has been appearing everywhere as a spokesperson for breast cancer awareness. On Oct. 18, Breast Cancer Awareness Day, she appeared on Lifetime Television in a special featuring Etheridge performing and sharing details about her experience with the disease. And throughout October and beyond, the annual Susan G. Komen Foundation Race for the Cure events will ring with the sound of Etheridge’s new single “I Run for Life,” written at the behest of Race for the Cure co-sponsor Ford. Royalties from the song will go to breast cancer charities. Meanwhile, Etheridge will also be featured in a print advertising/breast cancer awareness campaigns for Ford and Kimberly-Clark which will be prominent in Safeway and Vons grocery stores, also raising money and awareness for breast cancer charities. “How fun is that?” laughs Etheridge proudly. “People everywhere will see big old gay me when they check out at the supermarket!”
To Etheridge, the reason for this newfound adulation is simple. “I think people, no matter what, appreciate truth,” she explains. “They appreciate it and honor it. I’ve lived my life in such a way that I think I’ve earned this priceless thing, which is respect. So when I got up and did the Grammy thing, I just stood up there saying, ‘Yes, I’ve had cancer. I’m bald. Whatever!’ And I think that truth won out over anyone’s feelings of ‘Oooh, she’s a creepy lesbian.'”
Etheridge is still a vocal believer in the value and important need for gay people to come out. “Coming out is the most important thing, because it gives us the strongest thing we have: visibility,” Etheridge says. “Gay people are rising to their place in society, and yes, we’re going to have people mad at us for having that place, and we’re dealing with that. But come on… Ten years ago, if I’d told you that we’d be voting on whether or not we’re going to be able to get married in 11 states – and OK, we lost all 11 of those states, but people still had to read those words ‘gay and lesbian’ over and over, and hear about it over and over. And that’s neutralizing and naturalizing. And it helps people learn to deal. It helps people realize, ‘You know, those gay guys down the street with their two kids – they’re really just fine. They have the same problems I do.'”
These days, Etheridge is happy to find herself in a place where she has fewer problems than ever. She’s got a new record out, she’s survived cancer and she’s got a wife and kids she adores. “Tammy and the kids are the light of my life,” she says. “They’re everything that makes sense and that is good in the world.”
When asked what message she’d tell herself if she were able to travel back in time ten years, the rock and roll royal pauses. “I’d tell myself to just hang on; that life’s going to make a lot more sense, and it’s going to get a lot better.”

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.