The latest episode of our “RS Interview: Special Edition” video series features an intimate, emotional, career-spanning conversation with Melissa Etheridge. She looks back at her early years (and laughs about almost never facing questions about her sexuality before coming out in 1993, despite being discovered at a lesbian bar); reveals how she wrote her best-known songs, from “Come to My Window” to “You Can Sleep While I Drive”; reminisces about her 1995 Unplugged performance with Bruce Springsteen; and describes her experience with a “heroic” dose of cannabis edibles, among many other topics.
Etheridge’s son, Beckett Cypher, died in May at age 21 from causes related to an addiction to opioids, and she also speaks at length about grappling with that loss. “As the mother of someone who was addicted to opioids, it’s a struggle,” Etheridge says. “You want to help your child. You want to make them all better. He was a young adult. There were things out of my control, of course. And there came a time when I needed to really sit down with myself and say, ‘I can’t save him. I can’t give up my life and go try to live his life for him.’ And I had to come up against the possibility that he might die. But I had to be able to go on living. Of course it’s nothing a parent ever wants. But as a human being, I just needed to be at peace with a troubled son who did the best he could, who believed what he believed and then his life ended way, way too soon.”
“There will always be that that place in my heart and my soul that that has a little bit of, ‘Oh, what could what could I have done? And is it my fault he ended this way?’ and all that sort of thing. And it just gets smaller and smaller, because it doesn’t serve me anymore, and where he is now, he certainly doesn’t want me to take that on. So, you know, if that can help any parents who might be torturing themselves with that… I believe life is meant to be lived with as much joy as we can. But life is also contrast. Life is also up and down. I’ve lived enough of it now to know. And you can’t lay down. You can’t be shattered. You can’t die and give up. You know, that’s what my son did. It’s to be lived. It’s to learn. I still struggle with it but that’s what I can say.”
Etheridge says she’s found “healing” through music, especially in resuming her livestream concerts on her own Etheridge TV platform, with help from her wife, Nurse Jackie creator Linda Wallem. “The thing that makes life make sense has always been my music,” she says. “I started with, ‘what is that appropriate? How I get in front of people when, they know what I’m going through?’… [But] it gives us something to do every day get through this time, and it’s really just saved us.”
This is the latest installment of Rolling Stone’s latest new video series, RS Interview: Special Edition, featuring in-depth conversations with notable figures in music, entertainment, and politics. Episodes premiere every Thursday afternoon on Rolling Stone’s YouTube channel.