Melissa Etheridge: Mission Possible
The Oscar and Grammy winner and Walk of Fame honoree talks Springsteen, "Glee" and Obama.
It's a classic Hollywood tale: Wide-eyed 21-year-old steps off the bus from Kansas with dreams of rock stardom, hit records, awards and maybe an introduction to one of her idols. Melissa Etheridge achieved all that and more -- she duetted with the Boss, for starters, and won two Grammys and an Oscar. Even now, as the 50-year-old singer is recognized for her achievements with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, she vividly recalls her place during the boulevard's seedier days, telling THR: "When you grow up in the Midwest, this is the Land of Oz. It's the dream; I bought it hook, line and sinker."
You've accomplished so much in music -- Grammys, multiple Top 10 hits, an Oscar for the song "I Need to Wake Up" from An Inconvenient Truth. Which moment stands out?
Singing "Thunder Road" with Bruce Springsteen [on MTV in 1995]. I was very proud. It was one of those markers, like the brass ring. Having just come out of singing at Woodstock '94 for 300,000 people, it was amazing.
Many recall your 2005 Grammy performance. You had undergone chemotherapy while battling breast cancer and lost your hair. What were you thinking that night?
I hadn't been out of my house for three months, so it was a bit of a shock but a very personal night. I was in a private meditation, like: "OK, Melissa, show the world that cancer didn't kill you, that you're not suffering. And stand up and sing one of the greatest songs ever ["Piece of My Heart"], by one of the greatest artists, Janis Joplin." I hadn't prepared myself so much for the bald thing -- I didn't think about the social part it played. But years later, not a week goes by when someone doesn't tell me how much the performance meant to them.
Was there anything profound said backstage?
I remember being in the back hallway and hearing someone yell, "Move aside, everyone!" because J.Lo and Marc Anthony were walking by. I had to line up against the wall. I thought, "What a funky job I have in this crazy world." It was a stark contrast to the spiritual awakening I was having at the time. … The most profound thing was during dress rehearsal when Kris Kristofferson walked onstage weeping and held me for, like, three minutes.
With Top 40 skewing so urban and dance-influenced of late, where do you see your role in music today?
I'm writing for my next album now, and I have completely let go of ever fitting into the pop world. My job is to create music of my soul. I don't need to play the game anymore.
Are you a fan of Glee?
It's clever and totally shows that the world loves gay entertainment. Without us, what would you laugh at? Although I had to go see the Glee concert with my daughter -- oh my God, shoot me. But it's a formula that's been around forever: kids singing songs we know, big lights, dancing and screaming girls. They've been doing it since Frank Sinatra.
You came out 18 years ago. If Glee had been around when you were a teenager, would it have changed your life?
Yes! I see my daughter's experience in high school. She and her friends actually talk about [their sexuality]. … Giving young people the choice to label yourself now or not, honoring whatever it is that you are -- the next generation is going to shame us.
Your songs have been performed on American Idol. What do you make of all the TV singing shows today?
It's like a spectator sport. We all want to judge; it's an intrinsic part of our society and human nature. I'm not surprised that talent shows are hits, but I'm glad some of them aren't so brutal.
You were a vocal supporter of Barack Obama's presidential bid in 2008, declaring at an L.A. concert that you "felt change coming." How are you feeling about things now?
In hindsight, it will probably be my last political endorsement of a Republican or Democrat. Not because he's disappointed me but because I now see very clearly that they all answer to the same boss: big business -- the multinational corporations that completely run our country. They're going to nitpick as our nation slowly turns into fascism. I'm not even going to pretend anymore. I believed in Obama for social issues. I believe he brought our nation together and healed our racial divide. Martin Luther King's dream came true when he was elected. That's huge. … But the division isn't working for me anymore.
The Walk of Fame star means you've left a permanent mark on this town. How do you feel about the honor?
It's the weirdest thing. I was that girl in 1982 that walked along Hollywood Boulevard before it was a tourist attraction, when it was crack dealers hanging out. I'd say, "This is the town where, when you make it, they put your name in stone." If there was the zombie apocalypse, my name would live on. It's very mythic and iconic.
WALK OF FAME
When: 11 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 27
Where: 6901 Hollywood Blvd. in front of the Hard Rock
Guest speaker: Hamish Dodds of Hard Rock International