Melissa Etheridge seems like someone with a story to tell. One of the world’s most prominent gay celebrities, she has forged a successful career playing unfashionably old-school rock & roll while cultivating a massive media presence through well-timed revelations about her personal life. So why is this memoir so boring?
For anyone who’s endured a friend’s endless hand-wringing over a love affair gone sour, The Truth Is…My Life in Love and Music will seem all too familiar. Chronicling the journey from her childhood in Leavenworth, Kan., to life as a struggling musician in Los Angeles to her current status as a major-label rock star and gay role model, Etheridge spews page after page of generalities about her career successes and relationship failures with numbing repetition and little insight. ”My emotional range was small when I was living with Linda,” she writes in one typical passage. ”I never went into hurt or completely into joy. It was just kind of this in-between feeling. And it was a time for me to learn about myself. Relationships have a funny way of doing that. Every relationship has taught me something about my needs and myself.”
Even the major events of her life suffer from banal analysis. ”After outing myself so publicly, I wanted the title of the album to be a positive, self-affirming statement,” she writes. ”Yes I Am. Owning it. Yes, this is what I am. That’s how I was feeling. I was finally feeling, yes, this is what I am. Even the photos for the Yes I Am album were reflective of who I am and of me being more like me…Yes I Am was my return to the core of who I am. It felt real. It felt very whole. This is who I am, and the songs on that album are really strong pieces of me.”
But who is she? You’ll never learn from Truth, which tells just enough to seem revealing without really revealing much of anything. Etheridge alleges that she was sexually abused by her sister (who was four years older) as a young girl, an undoubtedly monstrous experience defanged by lifeless prose. ”It felt like something was being taken from me,” she writes. ”And I felt horrible. Just horrible.” What becomes of the sister? What’s their relationship like now? Have they ever discussed what happened? In a recent magazine interview, Etheridge alluded to such a conversation, but it never even comes up in a book that finds room for the crucial fact that Etheridge doesn’t much care for carbonated beverages.
Such evasiveness plagues most of Truth, which references ”emotions” without ever evoking any, often attempting to pump up irritatingly vague language with…ellipses. On her first gay kiss: ”I was ready to love…women.” On her first visit to a lesbian bar: ”It was just…wonderful.” On the tour following the release of her first album: ”It felt so…legitimate.” On her first Grammy performance: ”I’m used to people moving when I play and this was just…nothing.”
Etheridge seems like a decent person who’s written a few hit songs and, depending on your degree of cynicism, either endured or enjoyed an abundance of attention from gossipmongers. She would like to believe that her fans identify mostly with her music, while the press cares only about her sexuality and lifestyle. There’s definitely some truth in that.
But then why write this book? If the public really isn’t dying to discover that she and Julie Cypher ultimately split because Cypher’s ”just not gay,” is Etheridge simply exploiting her private life to pump up her career? She has never asked for the scrutiny, but she certainly learned how to work it early on. ”I thought maybe I’d go on Arsenio Hall’s show and go public [as a lesbian],” she writes. Though she insists that she ”felt conflicted over the fact that my persona was bigger than my music,” two pages later she’s announcing that David Crosby is the biological father of her children in a Rolling Stone cover story.
Etheridge has a new album out on July 10 — a full chapter of Truth is devoted to extolling it — and she’s already getting tons of press because of the book’s supposed revelations. Did she write Truth to set the record straight, or simply to sell records? We’ll never know for sure, but one thing is certain: Any real fan would be better served by her new album than by this book.