Given the reluctance of the recording industry's homosexuals to come out of their respective closets, it's ironic that Melissa Etheridge's rising popularity coincided with her proudly proclaiming her same-sex preference. Her timing, during the last presidential campaign, couldn't have been better: her three albums released till that point had sold moderately well, but as soon as she stepped up at the gay and lesbian Triangle Ball and proclaimed, "I'm a lesbian," she found a popular acceptance few openly homosexual performers had ever received. (As Rolling Stone noted in a recent cover story on Etheridge, k.d. lang had told the singer that coming out "was the best thing [lang] had done all year.")
At the end of last year, Etheridge told Rolling Stone her announcement has affected her career "only in a good way," which was understatement. Since then, Etheridge--who was dubbed "Rock's Great Dyke Hope" by The Advocate--has become a ubiquitous presence on rock radio and MTV-VH1: 1993's Yes I Am has spawned two hit singles ("Come to My Window" and "I'm the Only One"), her 1988 song "Bring Me Some Water" has been revived, and her album sales have shot into the multi-millions. She was joined by her hero Bruce Springsteen for a spectacularly rough rendition of "Thunder Road" during the taping of an "Unplugged" appearance, and in every single story written about the singer there's at least one photo of her embracing her lover, Pearce High School grad Julie Cypher. Last summer she opened for the Eagles, garnering acceptance from an audience that, 15 years ago, might have thought twice about embracing Etheridge. And now, she comes to fill Reunion Arena as a headliner.
But if the times they are a-changin', if performers like Bob Mould no longer need to fear the repercussions of openly proclaiming their sexuality, Etheridge is still very much a throwback--she's Bruce Springsteen's escaped townie-made-good crossed with Janis Joplin's raw and aggressive persona. Etheridge, whom one colleague likens to a female John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, harkens back to a time when rock was unadorned by glamour or ego, when musicians stood on arena stages and performed as though they were in the back of a small bar. It's sparse no matter how cluttered it becomes, quiet no matter how loud it's performed.
Melissa Etheridge performs July 8 at Reunion Arena.
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