Melissa Etheridge Opens Her Heart Etheridge talks about being accepted by her conservative hometown, being truthful with the public, getting married and living her monster-ness.
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Melissa Etheridge Opens Her Heart

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Melissa Etheridge Opens Her Heart

Melissa Etheridge Opens Her Heart

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We had a Thanksgiving tradition on this program. A musical chat every year to keep you company while you're baking the pie, roasting the turkey or digesting your midday feast.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WON'T BE ALONE TONIGHT")

MELISSA ETHERIDGE: (Singing) Going to put my boots on, pull back my hair. There's a heartbreak in the night, but I don't care.

SHAPIRO: Our guest this year is Melissa Etheridge, one of the country's most successful and most outspoken female rockers. Her new album is called "This Is Me," and she's on tour this Thanksgiving week. To start our conversation, I asked her what Thanksgiving was like back in the 1960s and early '70s when she was growing up in Kansas.

ETHERIDGE: The thing I remember most about my childhood Thanksgivings is it was the one meal that my mother would really cook. She was a civil servant for the Army on the Fort Leavenworth base at Fort Leavenworth. It was a lot of frozen food in my life. You know, a lot of fish sticks and frozen spinach and, you know, minute mashed potatoes, that sort of thing. So the one meal that I really looked forward to all year was that Thanksgiving meal.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STRANGER ROAD")

SHAPIRO: You have a song on this album about your childhood home. It's called "Stranger Road." Let's listen to some of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STRANGER ROAD")

ETHERIDGE: (Singing) 'Cause there's something wrong with what I've done. I haven't got much time. I can't stay here in Kansas. I've got to cross the line.

SHAPIRO: Is it fair to call this a song about running away?

ETHERIDGE: Absolutely fair. I draw upon my Kansas experiences a lot when I write. And there's actually a road outside of Leavenworth, Kansas, called Stranger road. And I thought I should - I've got to write a song about that. So it's a perfect, like, you never quite know what I did wrong, but I've got to get away and I've got to get out of - I got to cross the state line is all I know.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STRANGER ROAD")

ETHERIDGE: (Singing) So take me down to the Missouri on the way to Arkansas. The Devil's in a hurry to see what my Mama saw. Now I'm on the run. I've got no other place to go except down to stranger road.

SHAPIRO: Are you still running away from that, or is it something that you've made peace with?

ETHERIDGE: You know, I - I've made peace with my mother; I made peace with my hometown. They have a - you know, a couple of signs when you go into the - into Leavenworth, you know, hometown of Melissa Etheridge, which that just made - that they made - that they embrace me because I'm not the easiest rock star to embrace - and that they embrace me, especially in a very conservative state like Kansas is - means so much to me. I have many wonderful friends in Leavenworth, Kansas. I don't have any family there anymore, but I still have friends. And I still have a connection to it. And that is my hometown and it means a lot to me.

SHAPIRO: You know, you say you're not the easiest rock star to embrace.

ETHERIDGE: (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: What do you mean by that?

ETHERIDGE: Well, come on. I mean, the first - you know, I come out 20 years ago, you know, as a gay rock star. And they kind of - they were like OK, OK. Then I did the whole David Crosby's, you know, my children's father thing and they're like OK, OK, you know? And then, you know, and I - now I'm, you know, pushing for the legalization of, you know, cannabis, and all kinds of things. So I'm not - you know, really, what rock stars are that easy to embrace? So there you go.

SHAPIRO: We're talking with Melissa Etheridge on this special Thanksgiving Day music chat. Her new album is called "This Is Me." You have a guitar there. You want to play a song for us?

ETHERIDGE: Let me do the song "Take My Number." This is me talking to myself, telling myself that just because relationships and things and - you don't know what's going to happen tonight. Don't ever throw in the towel. It's just a journey. But it comes straight from my heart. This is called "Take My Number."

(Singing) Do you mind if I sit down next to you? Well, I remember you from school. You seem to have a good heart. Way back then you were going to make it big. But it's divorce now with a couple of kids that brings you back to these parts. Everybody stumbles, everybody hits the ground. No use running scared when those changes come around. And you don't know what might be waiting for you tonight. You really shouldn't drive, you've had too much to drink. And you shouldn't be alone for all you're going to do is think, so take my number or I can take you home. We can find a cup of coffee, we can sit all night and talk. There's a diner always open just around the block. So take my number or I can take you home. All those dreams that were going to set us free, what did we ever know at 23 about what we really want? Everybody's got a fire that's always going to burn. No way to put it out, all we ever do is learn. And you don't know what might be waiting for you tonight. You really shouldn't drive, you had too much to drink. You shouldn't be alone for all you're going to do is think, so take my number or I can take you home. We can find a cup of coffee, we can sit all night and talk. There's a diner always open just around the block, so take my number or I can take you home. Take you home, take you home, take you home. Honey, I can take you home. Do you mind if I sit down next to you? Well, I remember you from school. You seem to have a real good heart. Oh, you really shouldn't drive, you've had too much to drink. You shouldn't be alone for all you're going to do is think, so take my number or I can take you home, yeah. We can find a cup of coffee, we can sit all night and talk. There's a diners always open just around the block, so take my number or I can take you home. Take my number. Honey, I can take you home.

SHAPIRO: That's Melissa Etheridge singing "Take My Number" from her new album "This Is Me." I love that line, what did we ever know at 23 about what we really want?

ETHERIDGE: I know.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) You're 53 now, is that right?

ETHERIDGE: Yes.

SHAPIRO: I hope it's OK for me to say that on the radio.

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, like that's the one thing I'm going to draw the line at. Yes.

SHAPIRO: How is life richer for you at 53 than it was at 23?

ETHERIDGE: Oh, you know, your worldview is so different, your fears are different, your - just everything. I wouldn't go back to 23. I mean, I'm very grateful for 23. I had a great time at 23. But I'm loving 53.

SHAPIRO: You got married this year.

ETHERIDGE: I know, for reals.

SHAPIRO: And this was sort of the opposite of a whirlwind romance. You married the woman who had been your best friend for 10 years. Is that right?

ETHERIDGE: Yes. Yes. I've got to tell you, falling in love with your best friend is not easy because it's scary because you're afraid of losing that friendship that, you know, you've always relied on. So when I did take that step it was very scary. And at first I was like no, no, no, no, no, no, no. We - I - nope. I said you could - I don't want to, you know, have an intimate relationship with you, but you can come live with me and help me raise my kids was basically what I said. And then we fell in love because that's what you do. You look across the table, and it was actually over asking about, you know, where are the sippy cups? And she looked at me and she said well, dear, the sippy cups are - and I said oh, we're married whether I - you know, and I just thought without the benefits. I might as well just kind of move in that direction, so I totally fell in love and it was beautiful and safe. And I know her and I know her sense of humor. She makes me laugh every day. And she has loved the children all her life. And it's...

SHAPIRO: And your kids know her. They've been living...

ETHERIDGE: Oh forever, yes. Yes.

SHAPIRO: You mention that one of the songs on this album tells that story. And of course, you're talking about the only ballad on the album, "Who Are You Waiting For."

ETHERIDGE: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHO ARE YOU WAITING FOR?")

ETHERIDGE: (Singing) I did not fall. When you found me I was face down, my confidence was small, pushed off the merry-go-round. Wishes and horses and all the kings men could not put my heart back together again. I'm through with love. Isn't it clear, my friend? You said, who are you waiting for? You said, who are you waiting for?

SHAPIRO: And then to make that the last song on the album, and to tour and perform that song in front of thousands of strangers...

ETHERIDGE: I actually - no, I actually don't have that - I'm not playing that on tour right now.

SHAPIRO: Really?

ETHERIDGE: That song, yeah. No. I did a solo tour and I sang it twice. And that's all I've done it in front of people. It's very personal. I might, you know, someday do it later. But right now, this tour that I'm on is about really rocking and taking that. It's kind of a rock and soul tour, and it's about taking that. And my goal is to keep everyone up. And when I do the tour that I need that moment where I open my heart up, I will definitely do that song.

SHAPIRO: Well, Melissa Etheridge, thank you for opening your heart up to us today, and happy Thanksgiving.

ETHERIDGE: Oh, happy Thanksgiving to you. Stay warm. I'm grateful for so many things on this Thanksgiving Day and I'm very grateful to have talked to you. Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THE WAY HOME")

ETHERIDGE: (Singing) These headlights, these spotlights shooting down the road. What's shaking? You're baking; honey, I'm coming home.

SHAPIRO: Melissa Etheridge's new album is "This Is Me." She plays tomorrow night in Pompano Beach, Florida.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THE WAY HOME")

ETHERIDGE: (Singing) I’m swerving, taking these curves, doing about 70.

SHAPIRO: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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