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Byron Shire
February 25, 2021

Etheridge’s call to change

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Rock singer, songwriter, guitarist and activist – Melissa Etheridge
Rock singer, songwriter, guitarist and activist – Melissa Etheridge

Rock singer, songwriter, guitarist and activist – Melissa Etheridge has been speaking her truth since her self-titled debut release in 1988.

Passionate about the need to embrace global change, Etheridge was personally asked by Al Gore to write the title track for An Inconvenient Truth. She penned I need to Wake Up – a song that embodies the underlying ethos of not just the film, but of Etheridge herself.

‘I think our generation is really handling change at such a huge rate and probably more so than any generation ever has. To really handle it we need to have connection, we need to understand the spiritual part, not just as religious but the spirt in each of us and we have to understand that and how to bring it into each other’s life.

‘Personal changes are the key. I need to wake up and I need to move. The one little change I make is a drop in the ocean, one little change in the household changes me – it changes my neighbourhood – it changes the community – that’s how we create change on that level. To create change on that level makes it better for everyone. It’s about eating healthily, living well, living consciously.’

Etheridge acknowledges that change is never easy, but believes it’s a personal responsibility we all have. In a world where terror is becoming normalised she believes it’s important to resist the urge to fear or judge.

‘We can’t sit back waiting for the world to change. It’s challenging – if I go back into my house and am afraid of everyone, then they win, those who operate from that belief system win. It challenges us to say no. I still believe that good wins; I still believe there are more good people who want to live a productive healthy life and not to take life, and I believe there are more of those people than not, and if I choose, then I am not going to be afraid of someone of another colour or another socioeconomic situation; I refuse to fear them. I will judge a person on their character, I will be colourblind and everything else blind!’

A few years ago Melissa Etheridge married her best friend Linda Wallem. Ironically Wallem was consoling Etheridge after a relationship failure, when she pointed out that perhaps the two of them were in fact romantic soulmates.

‘She came to it first, after I went through a breakup and she was helping me, and I said No No, and two months later I said YES. I did a list out of what I wanted, and that’s LInda, that’s her. I didn’t think it would look like Linda, and she said, “who are you waiting for?”’

The two married in 2013 just two days after they both turned 53. Etheridge believes the marriage has been an important step forward for gay and lesbian community in the US.

‘What happens is when you get the supreme court, the highest body of legislation we have, say it’s a human right, it’s a civil right. To have that gives that person who might have been afraid to come out a legal right; it gives you that foot to stand on you can’t take that away.

‘I was always very out to my family, and out to whom I worked with. People who knew me knew I was discovered in lesbian bars, yet it was sort of a don’t ask don’t tell; everyone was waiting for me to step over that line. I decided I didn’t want to have a fear of this anymore. I decided I was going to come out. If anyone was going to not listen to my music any more because I was a lesbian…!

‘That is the key to people coming out, because people see just a normal person and she is talented and what am I afraid of? Facing fear is what changes the world.’

Melissa Etheridge headlines the Byron Bluesfest in 2016. For ticket and program info go to bluesfest.com.au.

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