At 28, Melissa Etheridge swam naked while partying with Brad Pitt

One of the most thrilling moments in Melissa Etheridge's new one-woman Broadway rock musical "My Window" comes just before she sings "I Want to Come Over." She told the audience about sitting in her car outside the home of filmmaker Julie Cypher, hoping that her would-be lover would leave her then-husband, movie star Lou Diamond Philips, and begin their steamy, suffocating affair love affair. (See Gwyneth Paltrow's emotionally dramatic situation here.)

Etheridge was just 28 when she met Cypher, who served as an assistant director on the singer-songwriter's first music video, "Bring Me Some Water," in 1989 The hit single from her self-titled debut album was performed at the 2016 Grammy Awards. . Their tumultuous relationship and eventual breakup 12 years later inspired songs such as "I'm the Only One."

"I always say that bad choices make for great songs," the 62-year-old Oscar and Grammy winner said on a Zoom call from New York. “Looking back now, it’s easy to see that I was addicted to theater in a way.”

Just a year ago, the 27-year-old signed to Island Records after couchsurfing in Los Angeles and building an underground following. Apparently, Missy, who hails from Leavenworth, Kan.—who performed in churches, bars, and jails as a teenager—is no longer in Kansas.

Etheridge performed at the 1989 Grammy Awards. CBS Photo Archive/CBS/Getty Images

When she decided to appear at Bill Clinton's inaugural ball in January 1993, Etheridge's star didn't rise but exploded, and many of her showbiz friends, such as Brad Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston, KD Lang, Rosie O'Donnell and Ellen DeGeneres. “We were just a bunch of kids, mostly from the Midwest — Brad was from Missouri — and our dream was starting to come true,” she said.

After her 1993 album Yes I Am sold more than 6 million copies, she entered her "lesbian rat pack era," when, she says, she was like Ellen's Dean Martin's Frank Frank Sinatra: "We were so famous that it was hard to date. It was weird," she added. "For a while, it was just me, Kd Lang, Rosie, Ellen. There was a lot of power there. A lot of fun stories." (The poolside parties they hosted on the hill above the Chateau Marmont were legendary and were featured on Showtime's The L Word 》 provided inspiration).

However, unlike many young rock stars before her, Etheridge kept her cool. "I've always felt like I wanted to be authentic in my music and stay true to who I am. That's why I came out," she said. "I didn't want to join the 27 club. It's funny because it all started at 27 for me. Man, I'm glad I wasn't famous in my early 20s. I think insecurity does rule us two. People in their early teens. We're all looking for our own character. After 27, you really start to say, 'Well, it 's none of my business what other people think of me.'

Below, Etheridge talks her greatest songs, self-preservation in the face of tragedy, and being a lifelong Kansas City Chiefs fan with Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift.

"It's so fun. It's so innocent. Everyone's doing a little bit of work, doing their first thing, and we all believe in Hollywood."

In your book Talking to My Angels , you refer to the period from 1988 to 1995, your late 20s and early 30s, as "these special golden years." We ate, smoked, drank and had a lot of fun together. We end up getting into the pool with or without clothes on. "

This is so much fun. simple and naive. Everyone is doing a little bit of work, doing their first thing, and we all believe in Hollywood. We are no strangers. I put out an album and Alan was named Comedian of the Year or something. Before Will & Grace , Megan Mullally had a few small roles here and there. By the mid-1990s, I stopped seeing half of them.

But we're like any 20-something. We can eat, drink, and [do] more than we do now. I hope to one day focus on that time, either writing a book or watching a TV show. It was a unique moment where people truly crossed all boundaries. We are gay and straight. We are everything, but that doesn’t matter.

Do you have any personal photos or records from that time?

not many. We didn't take any pictures. We just hang out and have fun.

We didn't self-record and publish ourselves back then.

Oh no. If we did, we probably wouldn't do half the things we do!

Can you describe the “don’t ask, don’t tell” era and the semi-closed era? Are you afraid of being eliminated?

When I was 21, I came out to my family. I performed in lesbian bars, so every record company that came to me knew I was gay. To my friends, I was out. There are no secrets there. I'm not hiding anything. But it was "don't ask, don't tell" because no one asked me directly. If you come out, you have to say clearly, "I'm coming out. This is me coming out."

You did that at one of Bill Clinton's inaugural balls.

I didn't know I would do this! Ex Yes , I came out and I was like, "I'm coming out." People would change [the pronouns I use]. I'd say, "This is about my loved ones. They..." But I never used gender. Then I read an article where the guy changed everything to "my boyfriend" and "him." I was like, "Oh my God. People are going to think I'm lying!" It really bothered me. I thought, I have to come out. I'm ready. I just didn't know I'd be doing that at the inauguration party. A little crazy. But yeah, that’s what I do!


You wrote publicly about what we now call “toxic relationship patterns.” Yet all this romantic chaos resulted in some great songs.

If someone is angry at me because they're jealous or whatever, I think, "Wow, then they must care about me because they're angry at me." You know, the way we distort our thinking. I could blame it on my mom and everything in my past, but it was up to me to break these toxic patterns.

But those songs. Oh my god. "Come to My Window" was written after a horrific international phone call with my then-partner, who was back in Los Angeles and not exactly the most faithful person. I wasn't out yet, so when I wrote, "I don't care what they think. I don't care what they say. What do they know about this kind of love anyway?" -- I wanted to come out and knew that was about to happen, And have taken defensive measures against it.

When you were 11 and your choir director told you, "I have to make you stand in the back because your voice is so weird." Didn't that hurt your confidence or make you want to give up singing?

No! Like, "Oh, I have to have a unique voice. Okay." My mom said, "Well, if you're going to do this, then you have to take formal voice lessons." So I took it with this opera singer Vocal lessons, about four or five lessons later, she said, "Miss, you have to sing the way you sing. Tell your mother to save some money." Again, I didn't think it was bad. I thought, "Yeah, I don't want to sing like this. I want to sing like I sing."

Have you dreamed of becoming a rock star?

Oh yeah. People who grew up in the 60's and 70's were not like now where everyone is a celebrity. Just rock stars and movie stars. Only very unique people can do this. And then you start thinking, "I don't know, can I do this?"

You had the confidence to drop out of college and move to Los Angeles, you bet on yourself.

Yes. I believe in truly listening to how you feel and following it. I believe you know a lot in your heart and you should do what feels good.

Do you think people in their 20s should try their best to achieve their dreams?

No, I think people in their 20s should understand that happiness is the most important thing. If working as hard as you can to achieve your dreams will make you happy, yes. certainly! But if you're not happy to do so, an unpleasant journey won't have a happy ending.

In 2000, you and Jolie famously revealed on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine that the biological father of your child was David Crosby. The article’s slogan—“ The Making of a New American Family ”—says it all. As a trailblazer as a gay icon, you are pushing the culture forward.

Yes Yes.

Disharmony occurs when your personal life does not align with this ideal. Can you talk about that pressure?

I mean, you can move the culture forward, but you don't have all the answers. Nowhere did we get to a place where it was like, "Okay, I made it here and now I'm free of worry or stress." When we broke up, I felt like I'd let the gay community down, you know? But this is my happiness. No one knows what's going on inside. I had to let go of all the judgment I thought was being placed on me or I would go crazy. Everyone is going to have their own opinion, but I don’t have to accept it.

I would like to ask you about the circumstances of your son's death. [Etheridge and Cypher's son, Beckett, died of an opioid overdose in May 2020. He was 21 years old. ] Was it painful to revisit this loss in the book and on Broadway?

I wouldn't call it painful. If that makes sense, then my pain is my choice and I choose not to feel pain about it. Pain means I think he's in a bad situation or I don't like where I'm at. It's very healing because every night I say, "My son wants me to be happy." Telling myself that is reinforcement. I believe my happiness is important.

This must be a comfort to other families in this tragic situation.

Those of us who have lost a loved one to opioid addiction often go through several years of pretty difficult behavior. It had been three years of slow decline for Beckett. You get them into rehab and you hope it sticks. But that's not the case and you don't know if you should take everything away. you do not know. There is no right or wrong. You keep thinking, "Maybe I can do something to change this." That tortures you. You always wonder, "Is this going to be a phone call?" There's always that shadow on you. When they finally leave, it's like, "Okay, they're in a pain-free space now."

Continuing to hold on to any form of guilt and shame does no one any good. This of course didn't work for me. No one is judging me. This is probably the biggest part. I’m not saying that in those first few days I didn’t feel the disbelief of the world. Because unfortunately, people's response is, "Well, look who their parents are." That's so hurtful. It's not easy but you have to let go.

In your book, you share Julie’s emails after Beckett’s death. ["Then I got an email from Julie: 'He died.'" And then another email: "I blame you."] Did you clarify this with her to include this?

[ Shakes his head no. ]

This gets to the heart of your biggest fear, which is that everyone will blame you. I’d like to hear why you share this.

I'm sharing it because it's so unkind and it shows the extent of her pain. She has to blame me because she will be devastated if she thinks she did anything to cause his death. I haven't spoken to her since. I don't want this. That was our last contact. I don't take it personally. I don't accept this. I don't want to torture myself. I love myself too much to do this. I want to be a good mother and person to my wife and other children. I don't blame myself for my son's death. My son doesn’t want me to blame myself. Here’s the thing – I’m free to feel guilty or not feel guilty, but I choose not to because it’s not good for me or the world. This serves no purpose.

How do you stay kind and open-minded despite all of this?

Because of what I've been through. It takes a lot of energy to blame others, so I will put it on myself and I will find joy in everything I do.

Happily, you are a lifelong Kansas City Chiefs fan. What do you think about all this noise about T. Swift and Travis Kelce?

Well, I have two daughters, so the two topics of conversation in our house every day are the Chiefs and Taylor Swift. It really was like my worlds collided. I was talking to my oldest, who is 26 and a huge Taylor Swift fan. She said, "Well, well, if she has to be with a football player, I'm glad it's the Chief."

I think it's great for football. I think it’s great for Taylor. I think it's great for everyone. I think it will bring our country together.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

If you or someone you know is seeking help with substance abuse, please call the SAMHSA National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP(4357).