Following the shooting in Orlando on June 12th at the Pulse nightclub that left 50 dead and dozens in critical condition, the worst on a specifically gay gathering in the country’s history, singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge says she was inspired to pen a new song in reaction to the news.
Etheridge had performed the night before at the Michigan Cannabis Cup and was on her tour bus when she heard the news Sunday morning. “It was a whole other world of peace and love and understanding, and then I saw the news,” the singer says. “I’m at the saturation point now of all of those things, all these mass shootings. It was like all our fears just exploded in Orlando. Is it Muslim terrorism? Is it a gay attack? It was just too much, it really pushed everything over the top.”
She arrived at her apartment in New York City to visit her daughter who is currently attending Columbia University. There, in lower Manhattan, she saw One World Trade Center, formerly known as the Freedom Tower, with its spire lit with rainbow colors in solidarity with the Orlando victims. It inspired her to write a song about the tragic events.
“I’m dealing with it the way I deal, which is, I wrote a song,” she says. “I have a view of the Freedom Tower, which was lit up in rainbow colors last night. I just sat here, and I just started writing a song. I am going to record it today with Jerry Wonda at Platinum Sound, who produced a lot of my stuff on my last album. That’s how I first started to cope because, as a singer songwriter, I feel very… I’ve done this before. I feel called to speak; to do what musicians do. We’ve been the town criers for hundreds of years. We’re mirrors of society. We want to try to make sense. We want to try to heal. We want to bring some meaning, some purpose. We also want to put it down forever in history. That’s how I’m coping.
“I’m hoping I can just drop it because that’s what heals me – just feeling like I can put some ointment on this. You know, this sort of lets you realize that, yes, it was a gay club and it was a club filled with the sons and daughters, you know, and human beings of all races, all ages. It had to be everybody, so, yeah, we’re gonna do some healing because that’s what our community does. I think that was our path from the beginning.”
Etheridge says that the song is still “rough and raw,” but that at this point it’s titled “Pulse,” after the name of the club in Orlando where the shooting took place.
“There’s just something very poetic and very meaningful about the name of the club, Pulse,” she explains. “You just start thinking about your own pulse. You come up with: ‘Everybody’s got a pulse/ Love will always win because underneath the skin, everybody’s got a pulse.’ It’s the way I’ve always felt about the gay movement, the gay issue. Here we are – people who are loving; we are fighting for who we want to love.
“When such violence, when such horrible hideous violence is turned against people who are loving, it’s like the greatest of the opposites just clashing,” she says. “That’s where my heart always goes. When it comes to my community, the gay community, it doesn’t make sense to me, to be so vilified and so hated for who we love. It’s something that doesn’t make sense.”
Etheridge says she understands that people may be fearful of returning to nightclubs, concerts and celebrations, especially during the month of June, when many events are planned for LGBT pride around the country and world. But she hopes people won’t be frightened away from celebrating.
“That’s the way terrorism works. That’s the way the terrorists win,” she says. “It’s that fear that feeds that part of that behavior. That fear feeds it if we shut ourselves away and say, ‘I can’t go out in the world now because I don’t want to be shot at.’ Then it’s a war on our own soil. That’s the hideous thing of it all. We don’t even know yet. I haven’t checked out anything else [in the news,] but we don’t even know… Anybody can call and say, ‘I’m ISIS and this is for ISIS,’ and then do something insane like that.
“They don’t even have to be a part of a working terrorist cell. It’s a terrorist cell of a state of mind. Who knows what [the shooter] was going through? Who knows his own pain and his own reason for hating and fearing? Homophobia is hideous. It’s the ultimate hating of yourself, so you got to take out other people. We can’t; we can’t; we can’t. We have to show up. We have to bring a friend to Pride this weekend. We have to. We have to be more. Love has to be stronger than hate, which is just fear. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s fear – and that’s exactly what this is. We have to. For generations to come, we have to be the generation that showed up. That kept getting on the frontlines. The frontlines are clubs, are parades… They’re being out and living. We have to keep doing it.
“That’s another reason why we need to kiss more… So that it’s not something so awful and unusual, but it slips a trigger in somebody’s mind. You know, that they’re own fear… And it’s something that should be seen more and should be more common. And, you know, that maybe your extreme religion preaches against it – which is a whole other conversation about, you know, God and love.
“You know, we are a great part, a great percentage of humanity, of every single piece of humanity. We are a chunk of it. And you can’t shoot it away. You can’t preach it away. A gay person was born again today… a few of them. Quite a few of them were born today. It’s never going to stop.”