Girl's Talk

Passion-powered rock and roll replaces lipstick and powder as Melissa Etheridge reaches for a wider audience

Of course it's not. Etheridge first set herself up for an invasion of privacy by appearing topless, back turned, guitar riding hip, on the cover of the Never Enough album. A Springsteen rip, or parody? -- psychosexual statement? Only if you believe everything you read. "We live in a world of the vanishing album," she explains. "Before, you could do complicated things in the artwork of vinyl albums. Now the configurations are tiny. I wanted a CD cover people could see all the way across the record store and notice. Also, I have a big problem with fashion. I'd prefer not to have to wear anything. I wore jeans on that, because jeans are the most comfortable."

Her care for packaging carries over to the booklet that accompanies the CD. On the very last page, over a blazing shot of her face in mid-sing, is a dedication to her father, who died after his footloose daughter proved her rock mettle but before her sex life became a media issue. (One cheering story to come out of the coming out was Mel's mom's reaction. Essentially Mom said that if someone couldn't handle her daughter's romantic inclinations, then that person was the one who had a problem.)

The media, too, have a problem. Yes I Am is described in the press as a coy title (as in, Yes I Am Queer), and much of her music is critically deconstructed in terms of its source's sexuality. Some really dumb writers refer to Etheridge's "wide following among gay women." Such limited thinking insults both artist and fan. "Sure, I'll talk about my personal life," Etheridge says warmly on the car phone. "I have no trouble with it. The title of the new album is not a reference to that. I knew people would take it that way, though. I knew they'd chuckle."

One of the best pieces written about Etheridge was by Rolling Stone senior writer David Wild, but the story appeared in US, not Stone. ("You won't find me in Stone," the singer quips.) The subheadline on the US article: "She's on the charts, out of the closet, and taking rock back to the heartland." Etheridge might reprioritize those concepts, invert them: music first, personal business second, commercial success third. Maybe those things have blended together now, become less distinguishable from one another. It's part of moving on. It's part of the recipe for rock stardom.

Melissa Etheridge opens for Sting 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Miami Arena, 721 NW 1st Ave, 530-4444. At press time a few $28.50 tickets were still available.

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