Talk about your long-awaited encores — it has taken Melissa Etheridge's 21 years to return to a Tucson stage.
Her last Tucson concert was in 1992 — three years after she had initially introduced herself with her rough-hewn, chicks-with-guitars-style driving rock.
She was supposed to return in 2004, but her tour that year was canceled when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
On Saturday, she finally returns to open UApresents’ 2013-14 season.
“It’s way too long,” Etheridge said during a recent phone interview from her home in California, promising that her show Saturday will be worth the long wait. “If you’re ready, I’m ready. We can do it.”
Etheridge comes to us with a renewed sense of herself. She said she is “better, happier and healthier than I’ve ever been.”
“I’m loving when I play. I’m loving touring. I’m just having a great time,” she nearly gushed.
For the first time in years, she is happy in her personal life, she allowed. She and her girlfriend of more than three years are engaged and she’s knee deep in the final phase of a career retrospective box set, due out next year.
We caught up with Etheridge to talk about the box set, her 25-plus-year career and what the recent Supreme Court ruling striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act means to her.
Can you believe it’s been 25 years?
“No. That’s the craziest thing.”
How are you going to winnow your 25 years into a box set?
“It has been so unbelievably, enormously crazy to try to do that. I keep telling people I feel like I’m trying to land a dirigible (a blimp). dirigible, which is a blimp It is just so massive. Finally, I am in the last phases. OK, I’ve got to cut it down a little bit more, just got to make it a little more concise because there is so much material. So many demos, tracks that never got on (any of my) 12 albums. It’s quite a fun undertaking.”
This doesn’t sound like a greatest hits package. Sounds like you are curating your entire career.
“Oh yes, That’s exactly what’s going on. I have a greatest hits record and anyone who would really want to buy this sort of deep thing, I want to give them things they have never, ever heard: The first album (which Island Def Jam never released), the album before the first album, the tracks from 1980 that sound like it’s from 1980. … Some of them I think are really good songs that I’m happy to finally be releasing to the fans who might enjoy them.”
Are you slipping those gems into your live shows?
“I have been doing one every now and then. But by the time I get to Tucson, I might be doing another one, yeah.”
Did you have an approach from the outset on what you would and would not include?
“No, I just had a ‘Gee, do I think it’s good enough? Do I think the fans will enjoy this?’ It’s fun thinking of it not as what will be a radio hit, but as this is for those who have enjoyed my music for the last 25 years and really want something deep. That’s the real joy about it.”
Are you including songs that you might not really like yourself but your fans might see a different side of you in them?
“Oh yeah. A couple things where people will go, ‘Well I see why she didn’t put it on (another album), but that’s interesting.’”
Will the album include duets?
“One CD is covers, one is live and on those I do duets with some folks. I have the duet with Bruce Springsteenbruce springsteen doing ‘Thunder Road.’ A couple surprises that I still have to see whether I can put them on. Mostly it’s tracks that didn’t make it or live things that weren’t available or stuff people haven’t heard.”
So are these all-new recordings?
“No, there are recordings from the 1980s. Every album I did, those two songs that didn’t make it on — really good quality album songs — I’m releasing them.”
Your music has always been very personal and reflecting where you are in your life. Where are you these days?
“That’s been the most surprising. So much of my career was the heartbreak, the pain and the ‘Oh, the struggle’. But after breast cancer, I said, ‘Wait a minute. I want to write about my heart, what I’m going through.’ The last three albums have been life journeys. Love, falling in love again. Passionate things. I have much passion in my life right now. Happiness, health, curiosity, dreams — those are the things I’m writing about.”
Your 2012 album, “4th Street Feeling,” had so much optimism, which was something you didn’t really express early in your career.
“Well I have a nice, light, airy optimism about me now. I certainly hope you don’t hear the broken-hearted Melissa any more because I don’t want to be that any more.”
Is there something musical that you haven’t done that is still on your bucket list?
“I want to do more movies. I want to write a musical. Oh gosh, there’s all kinds of things.”
Your first stab at writing a song for a movie won you an Academy Award.
“Yes. That’s awesome. You can’t ask for better than that.”
You and your girlfriend, sitcom writer Linda Wallem, are getting married now that California is once again allowing same-sex marriages. How has the Supreme Court ruling impacted California?
“Oh my gosh, there are so many weddings everywhere. It’s beautiful. It so turned us upside down. In California, we like to think of ourselves as so progressive, so out there in front of everybody. But to sort of have a national disgrace. Iowa, for heaven’s sake, passed gay marriage. So when that happened there was a shadow over us. I think we finally felt like OK, we believed in this enough. We took it all the way to the Supreme Court and it’s gone.”
What kind of message does the Supreme Court action send to other states that don’t have same-sex marriage, like Arizona?
“I think the greatest message is we’re moving into our future of freedom, of diversity and how our diversity will make us strong. Not being afraid of those who we consider different. We’re going to totally judge every person on the content of their character and not anything else. That’s a beautiful country to be in. I want to be there. I think every state will eventually get there, and it has to do with the gays themselves willing to be out even when it’s not the easiest thing. … People know gay people and they are not the strangers any more.”
For years you were the brave one that stepped out first.
“As my friend Steven Spielberg Steven Spielberg says, ‘Someone’s got to lie down on the barbed wire.’ And we just were like, ‘OK, we’ll do it.’ (Being the first female rocker to come out) was the greatest thing I ever did. I’m so proud that I have chosen to be myself because it enabled me to live a totally relaxed life.”
Your openness about your lifestyle doesn’t seem to have produced any professional backlash.
“I went from selling under a million records to over 6 million after I came out. No, it never hurt me. Back then it was very new. I am very happy to have been part of it.”
What’s your idea of the perfect wedding?
“One where my friends and family are around me and I marry Linda and it’s just a nice event, not a big thing. Something real simple and one that declares love.”
Since we haven’t seen you in Tucson in 21 years, what can we expect Saturday?
“I feel like I’ve just been working on the best set list for the last 25 years and that’s what I’ve been making my albums for. The show now consists of those solid hits that people love, that people know, that I love playing. And I’m always leaving some space open for those deep album tracks … And there’s a couple of songs from the new album. Put together it is over two hours of rock and roll. And I’m playing a lot more guitar than I used to and I’m loving that.”
Where do you summon up that kind of energy?
“That’s the health part of it. I am healthier since breast cancer. I learned that I am what I eat; it’s all about the food that I eat. I am glutton-free, dairy-free and sugar-free. I eat whole foods and that gives me energy, and I’m always sure I sleep enough and drink lots of water. And I exercise.”