I am a huge Melissa Etheridge fan. A friend loaned me her first album in 1988; I was a newly married grad student with a one-hour commute from where we lived (and my husband taught) and where I taught and went to school in Bloomington, Indiana. I played it over and over as I drove; when her second album, Brave and Crazy, came out the next year, I must have listened to it ten times before alternating it with anything else in the tape player in my car (hey, late 80s). My husband at the time also liked her music, enough that we went to see her in concert in three different venues in Indianapolis over a ten-year period, starting with the tour for her third album. As she got “bigger,” so did the venues where she played, but her concerts were always amazing — she’s just one of those performers who comes alive in a special way with a live audience.
My collection of Melissa’s CDs survived the divorce intact — I didn’t fight for much in that split other than custody of the kids, but I did say he could take any music he wanted if he left me Melissa and the Indigo Girls. He did take about 3/4 of our album collection, but I didn’t care. Between Melissa and the Girls I had music to fit every mood, get me past every new crisis, as I changed jobs, moved house, re-entered the world of single parenting with twice as many kids as when I left it, and eventually moved us all 2,000 miles to be back in California and to build a life with my old best friend and new partner.
When I got back here where I belong in 2002, one of our first local outings was a Melissa concert — my partner and I took my oldest daughter, also a fan. A local promoter offered to switch our balcony seats for front-row tickets, and we had a fabulous experience. So fabulous that when she came through our area on her next tour, for the album Lucky, we decided to skip it; seeing her in a big venue couldn’t possibly compare to our memories of being up close and personal. I found myself regretting that a few months later, when she canceled the rest of the tour because she was going into treatment for breast cancer.
But she beat the cancer, made (to date) another three new albums and a greatest hits album, and continues to tour regularly.
She performed live on the Grammy awards completely bald from chemo, she wrote and recorded the single for Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth, and she regularly makes appearances in support of progressive causes. Her personal life is a mess, but her music continues to amaze and inspire me.
So on her current concert tour, she came to our little performing arts venue again. We thought about buying tickets, but when I looked into it, the only ones available were pretty far from the stage, so I passed. Then my partner and I listened to her new album, and he commented that she was doing music he really liked on this one (he was less fond of her first two post-cancer albums than I was). So I checked Craigslist and found someone selling two really good tickets at face value; I bought them, and we went to the concert.
In the eight years since I last saw Melissa live, a lot has happened. She had breast cancer and beat it. My dad had prostate cancer and died. One good friend lost her husband to cancer; two had cancer that threatened their lives, and one had surgery that removed the cancer but cost her the ability to have any more children. Many other women I know or know of have faced cancer, particularly breast cancer — author Jennifer Haymore, whose books I love, is in radiation treatment right now. Watching Melissa, so alive and full of energy, listening to her powerful voice and serious rock and roll guitar skills, was incredibly emotional for me. Sometimes the cancer doesn’t win; that’s encouraging, but it also makes it more sad that sometimes it does.
I meant for this to be a review of the Fearless Love concert, so let me sum that up: Melissa performed most of the songs from the new album and a generous number of songs from earlier albums, all the way back to her 1988 debut. Her new supporting musicians are amazing, and she generously showcased their talents at various points in the show, with special attention to her bass player whose mother was in the audience. She interacted with the audience, she made us feel special, she took a stand for gay marriage (before playing her song “Miss California”) and she recognized cancer survivors in the audience before playing her song “I Run for Life” under a wash of bright pink lighting. As always, the crowd loved her, and she rocked hard for two and a half hours (no opening band).
I cried almost as much as I laughed that night; I danced, I cheered, I applauded. I missed my dad, I worried about Jennifer and others currently in cancer treatment, and I clung to my partner when she sang “our” song. It was cathartic and inspiring and wonderful.