"You can't beat what just happened right now. You can't make enough records to make that happen." - Melissa Etheridge, backstage post-show in Holland, 1990.
In the 1990's Melissa Etheridge was starting her climb. Her first three records were the product of a workhorse musician. Etheridge toured. She built her following the old-fashioned way, live. She had Grammy nominations and sales, but Etheridge seemed destined to be a touring musician, nothing stellar or too celebrity-tinged. Just good rock with an acoustic guitar bent.
Then came 1993. At the Triangle Ball, a gay celebration of President Clinton's first inauguration, Melissa Etheridge came out of the closet. Her career took off like a rocket.
Later that year, she released Yes I Am. The album went 6x Platinum and got her a number one hit with "I'm the Only One".
Etheridge had kids. She was featured in Rolling Stone magazine, talking about who the biological father was and how life as an out lesbian was in the United States. All the while, she made music. She fought cancer and came back triumphant. She went through relationships, released more albums, did activism work in support of gay rights, and continued to tour.
But things were changing. The ground beneath Etheridge's feet and those of every other working musician was shifting. The music industry was evolving, thanks to downloads, high-speed internet, and compression algorithms. Napster, and then iTunes, shook the fault lines, and the music business would never be the same.
"I look at my kids, and they have more music than I ever had when I was a kid," Etheridge recently said in an interview. "And that's the good news — music still is important to people."
"Now the way we sell music is different. The business of selling music has completely changed, and a lot of things don't work anymore the way they used to. Yet people still want to go see concerts. They want to see, they want to be moved. And so I'm very excited about where we are now."
Now Etheridge finds herself in old familiar territory, in a sense. She left her record label, Island Records, which had put out her very first record. She has her own label now. And she is currently doing an all-acoustic solo tour, called the "This Is ME" tour, playing all those hits that she lined up over the years.
— Melissa Etheridge (@metheridge) April 25, 2014
But Etheridge is not ready to kick back and just play the old hits in casinos and state fairs for the rest of her life. She is gathering new material and will release a new album.
She recently told The Morning Call that she is working with a lot of different people and feels she has a strong album coming, and this one is all hers.
"It's a very new and different experience for me," she says. "I'm starting completely over. … That way, I'd own my own records. So for the first time, I am completely invested in my record. I was before artistically, but this is in all ways."
"I've been working non-stop since January, and I've just never had so many songs to choose from. And good quality songs, too."
Etheridge fans fall into two camps: before and after Yes I Am. It sounds silly, but those folks who miss deep cuts off Brave and Crazy (e.g. "You Used to Love to Dance", and "Royal Station 4/16") get a little purist. We were there all along; we were not shocked or titillated when she came out; and we were not surprised that she could belt "Piece of My Heart". We heard that potential on "Like the Way I Do" way back when.
We were happy to see her get the Platinum records. But we are also happy that she is playing the theaters again. We're happy to be able to hear her without having to look up at a jumbo screen. It just might be back to the music again, where Etheridge has always been best. Back to being there live, connecting.
And you can't make enough records to make that happen.
Image via Twitter