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Come to Her Window

From the closet to the charts, Melissa Etheridge is out and rising

Of course, no discussion of Etheridge would be complete without mentioning the publicity surrounding her announcement two years ago that she is a lesbian. Although many hard-core fans always knew, Etheridge didn't officially make it public until a performance at a gay and lesbian ball celebrating Bill Clinton's inauguration in January of 1993. It's hard to say if her declaration had any bearing on her current popularity, but her career has taken off ever since. Even though she has become a spokesperson of sorts for gay causes, she wants to be known more for her music than for her sexual orientation. As she told Entertainment Weekly, "I'm a musician who happens to be gay."

She's also a musician who has attracted many loyal and rabid fans. Her performances can best be described as passionate and honest, and it is those qualities that have endeared her to her public. She seems to feel every song she sings, and also enjoys flirting with her audience, delighting in sexual innuendo that appeals to both men and women. She has remarked in the past that she wants her live shows to be a kind of foreplay.

Though most of Etheridge's fans are female, her shows draw plenty of the opposite sex. Still, there's no denying that the gay issue is a hot topic of discussion whenever her name is brought up. And she's altered her live shows somewhat in light of her coming out. She recently said in a Rolling Stone interview that "the classic rock songs were written about women, and I always felt I couldn't do them because it would make people feel awkward. But now people are in on it and appreciate it. I do 'Maggie May.' People love it."

Contrary to popular belief, the song "Yes I Am" has nothing to do with Etheridge's lesbianism. That territory is covered, however, in the tune "Silent Legacy." It's a powerful, haunting song in which Etheridge goes from the fear of opening up to someone ("They don't listen to your reasons / As original as sin / Deny all that you feel and they will bring you home again") to finally coming to terms with her sexuality ("Mothers tell your children / Be quick, you must be strong / Life is full of wonder / Love is never wrong"). In fact, at the final stop on her tour last December at New York's Madison Square Garden, she broke down in the middle of that song and had to be prodded by her band members to finish it.

It's hard to imagine Etheridge having any disappointment in her personal life these days. She recently moved into a house in the Hollywood Hills with her lover of the past six years, film director Julie Cypher. The two met on the set of the video for "Bring Me Some Water" when Cypher was still married to actor Lou Diamond Phillips. It was rumored that Etheridge broke them up, but Cypher claims the marriage was already on the rocks by the time she met Etheridge. The two were featured in People last year after making their relationship public, and are also planning to start a family, though they're keeping the details a secret.

Though Etheridge has had her share of success recently, when you read stories about her and hear her talk, it's hard not to think that she's still a small-town Midwestern girl at heart. Considering that some people in the business would rather spend more time trying to focus attention on themselves than on their work (are you listening, Madonna?), one gets the reassuring feeling that Etheridge is decent, down-to-earth and -- well, nice. That should count for something.

Melissa Etheridge plays at 8 p.m. Sunday, July 9 at The Summit, 10 Greenway Plaza. Paula Cole opens. Tickets are $26.25 and $41.25. For info, call 629-3700.

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