music reporter

Etheridge's new hope: rouse musical activism

It has been quite a year for singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge. At the behest of former Vice President Al Gore, she wrote the song "I Need to Wake Up" for his film "An Inconvenient Truth." At the time, Etheridge said she wrote the song with no other purpose than to express her fear of and heartache about global warming — and how it does and will affect the earth.

"Wake Up" has become an anthem of change. Etheridge took home an Academy Award for best original song, while "An Inconvenient Truth" took top honors in the documentary feature category. Come July 7, Etheridge will lend her talents to Live Earth, Gore's seven-continent concert event to raise awareness for what he is calling Save Our Selves (SOS): A Campaign for a Climate in Crisis.

In the 1960s and early '70s, artists were not shy about speaking their political mind in their music. Etheridge hopes this will become the norm again.

"I think we are done making music just for commerce's sake," she says. "I think the days of bringing a consciousness back to the music business is upon us now."

Etheridge is putting the finishing touches on her first studio album in three years, which is scheduled for a fourth-quarter release. In fact, she was busy recording in the midst of Oscar madness.

"I was recording my new album in between rehearsing for the Oscars," she says. "So I would record for seven hours, go and rehearse for the Oscars, and then come back and record. When I won the Oscar, it was a huge honor. It was like a sign saying, 'You're doing the right thing.' "

Like Etheridge's previous albums, the new effort is autobiographical. The emotional journey of surviving breast cancer left its mark on the songs.

"When I was on chemotherapy, I listened to all my albums back to back," she recalls. "It was therapy for me. I realized what I had been saying to myself in my music — the things that I would put down that I wouldn't think consciously but I would think subconsciously. When I started creating this album, I asked myself, 'What (would happen) if I create from a subconscious level consciously?' There are very personal things on the album, including one of the greatest love songs I have ever written. These songs are 100% truthful about me and how I am feeling."

Etheridge also has kept busy in her personal life. She and partner Tammy Lynne are proud new parents of twins. She hopes to tour in the summer — with the whole family.

On Sunday night, Etheridge added another accolade to her stable: She was honored with the prestigious ASCAP Founders Award during the 24th annual ASCAP Pop Music Awards at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland. The ceremony was part of ASCAP's "I Create Music Week" to celebrate songwriters and musicmakers. Other festivities surrounding the event include the second annual ASCAP "I Create Music" Expo, a three-day national conference dedicated to songwriting and composing, at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel.

"I have never had an honor like this where folks get up and pay tribute," Etheridge says. "It makes me feel like I'm old. But as long as everyone knows I'm at a halfway point, then it's good."