On a recent episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” veteran rocker Melissa Etheridge was asked about the recent break-up of her marriage to wife Tammy Lynn Michaels and sort of incredulously wondered aloud as to how she was supposed to sum up such an intensely personal experience in just eight minutes. Never one to be rude, however, Melissa simply answered that now she is “just a woman with two ex-wives.”
But if you do want a little insight into Melissa’s state of mind after what has no doubt been a challenging year for her, you only need listen to her latest album release titled Fearless Love. Simply put, this is Melissa’s best record since her iconic smash hit Yes I Am. Dare I say that Melissa’s musical artistry is deepened and amplified by periods of personal turmoil? (Yes I Am was recorded when she was still unsure about outing herself as a lesbian, an act that turned her into a superstar.)
Let’s be honest here, anyone who embarks on artistic endeavors (be they writers, potters, painters or fashion designers) knows for a fact that it is sometimes during the darkest times in our life when our creativity gains the most powerful resonance. Call it a dark muse if you will, but I say it is in sharing this pain and strife through our art that true healing comes for the artist and their audience.
The release of Yes I Am and now Fearless Love have both coincided with deeply tumultuous yet vividly creative periods in my own life. (Yes I Am was released as I was coming to terms with being gay and grieving the loss of my beloved grandmother while the release of Fearless Love coincided with the recent suicide of one of my closest friends.) Perhaps that is why the clear lyrical restlessness evident in both Yes I Am and Fearless Love resonate with me so deeply.
The title track and first single from Fearless Love is a soaring battle cry for anyone struggling with seeing a clear vision of their own personal reality. So often we see ourselves in funhouse mirrors, never clearly seeing our strengths, weaknesses and vices with any true clarity. And really that is what “Fearless Love” (the song) is all about lyrically.
“Fearless Love” is the best rock song I have heard so far this year and I honestly listen to it whenever I know I have to do something that causes me fear. It reminds me that I don’t need to be afraid of myself, other people or situations and that I don’t need anything to steal me away from my precious reality, “I’ve walked my path/Had worlds collide/I lost my way and fooled my pride/This lover’s ache wouldn’t feel so strange/If I could only change/But I am what I am/And I am what I am afraid of/So what am I afraid of?”
The rest of Fearless Love (the record) is one of those increasingly rare beasts, an album that you want to listen to over and over again from start to finish. Melissa’s voice is still a truly epic masterwork which has not dulled one iota as she has gotten older. If anything, her voice is developing a throatier and deeper tone that is perfectly suited to the polished to perfection musical productions evident on each track.
Melissa isn’t always in the mood to be inspirational or uplifting, however, as is evidenced by the intensely rockin’ “Miss California”-this song is either the lesbian version of Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” or Melissa really hates The Miss America Pageant.
In the song (clearly directed at her ex) she snarls and sneers to a perfectly timed drum staccato. “Your sweet seduction led me far from home/ Your self destruction gives me sticks and stones/Your propositions make me feel so cold/I know the hand that’s trying to hold me down is the one that I am trying to hold/I said the hand that’s trying to force me back is the one who won’t let me go.” Meow.
Other true standouts on Fearless Love include “Indiana” which showcases her talent as one of rock’s premiere storytellers and the serene quiet of “Gently we Row.” But Fearless Love isn’t the kind of record that you can understand if you just buy a few tracks from it off iTunes. It needs to be listened to in its entirety for its full power to be understood and experienced.
I realize that Melissa Etheridge’s work may, in some people’s minds, be relevant to my life only because of chance and coincidence. Regardless of whether or not that fact is true I know that the depth, beauty, artistry and truth found on Fearless Love will help me, yet again, through one of the most trying times in my life.