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Melissa Etheridge comes to DC’s window this month.

She’s the Only One

by Karen Sommer Shalett | DC magazine | October 29, 2012

Just after playing the Music Center at Strathmore, the rootsy rocker will receive the National Museum for Women in the Art’s Award for Excellence in the Performing Arts at its 25th anniversary gala on Nov. 4—just six months shy of her debut album’s silver anniversary. While Etheridge doesn’t expect to sing for her supper there, she was plucked as the evening’s honoree as a nod to the current exhibition Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power. We check in on the guitar star as she hits the road.

So, you’re a performer receiving an award in a visual arts museum?
Art is art. Songs are my four-, five-minute paintings. But when I first heard they wanted to do this women in rock thing, well, I’m funny about awards. I always feel like I’m only halfway done. I have to realize I’ve been in this business for 25 years. I’ve done a few things. So I said, ‘OK. I’ll accept the award.’

And it’s a women’s museum in the nation’s capital...
I realize my journey has been unusual, in that a lot of my steps along the way, a lot of my trials, lessons—from my ability to walk through breast cancer to being truthful about my sexuality—that they might have been universal to women’s history.

Your last few albums draw from this.
I thought my last three albums would be this sort of triptych about healing, with this third about unity or something spiritual, but 4th Street Feeling ended up a collection of past, present and future wrapped into this gooey, yummy ball of music. I surprised myself.

What was the inspiration?
My teenage years in Kansas, getting out some personal romance issues that I’m always dealing with, looking to the future. All kinds of different musical influences. I love it.

You’ll have just played Strathmore. Will you perform at the museum, too?
I’d like to say ‘This is what I am,’ minus one layer of rock ‘n’ roll armor. I realize my voice can do this, and it’s fun—it’s the safest place. But I want to take the risk of just ‘being in the me’ without the microphone and guitar.

You’re no stranger to galas in Washington, are you?
I got involved in politics with Clinton in ’92. It was here in DC, at the first-ever Triangle Ball, that I came out. I did it because I started realizing that gay marriage and gay rights were such a political issue. A lot of my closest friends in Hollywood were activists. I like to tell people I helped get Gore elected.

Melissa Etheridge at a black-tie event. What does she look like?
She’s confused. And her feet probably hurt. I’ll ask my stylist to help me find something, but the best part is that I can wear leather to anything. People say, ‘She’s a rock star: It works.’ As I get a little older, I feel more comfortable. I can hold my own.

You’ve performed in Washington, spoken at breast cancer events. What’s your DC must-do?
One of my favorite things to do is to drive around at night in a cab. The cab driver is always excited to take you around to the monuments, and you get a history lesson. I do that in Paris and London, too—it’s a real delight. But DC is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Are you bringing your kids on this trip?
I’d love to bring the little ones when they are a little older; they’re 6 now. The older two are 14 and 15 and they want nothing to do with me—I’m just too uncool. At that age, you’re uncool even though you’re a rock star. You just have to hold your breath from 12 to 15. There’s nothing you can do to be cool. You finally become cool again when they hit 16, so I’m told.