Melissa Etheridge
Melissa Etheridge (Photo: Shutterstock)

Among Melissa Etheridge fans, 1993’s “Come To My Window” is one of her best-loved songs. It also has a special significance within her catalog as it was Etheridge’s first release after she publicly came out. 

“Come To My Window” was subsequently one of her biggest hits and earned her her second Grammy award (for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance). Its parent album, Yes I Am, became the biggest-selling studio album of Etheridge’s career, to date.

That success must have been reassuring to many other gay artists out there. It demonstrated that you can be out and still enjoy success and build your fanbase. 

While it might not be such a radical message today, the world was very different in the early 90s. Etheridge herself reflected upon this in a recent interview in Us Weekly.

Although her most loyal fans long figured she was gay since she started her career performing in women’s bars, Etheridge did not publicly confirm her sexuality until performing at an event to mark the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993.

The Triangle Ball was one of several balls in DC during the inauguration. It was particularly aimed at the LGBTQ+ community. 

Coming a year after Elton John and kd lang publicly confirmed their sexualities, Etheridge says it felt like times were changing and people were finally beginning to feel confident to come out. 

“It was a funny time because I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s in Kansas, and they didn’t even mention the word there was, there was no LGBT anything,” Etheridge, 63, told Us Weekly at the recent iHeartMedia and P&G’s Can’t Cancel Pride concert. 

“And it was just ‘gay or lezzy’ and all the bad words, and you didn’t have anything that was worldwide.”

Early life

Etheridge was born May 29, 1961 in Leavenworth, Kansas. The younger of two daughters, she began to play guitar at age eight. She joined local country music groups in her teenage years, before relocating to Boston for college. She later dropped out to pursue a musical career in Los Angeles. 

Etheridge told Us Weekly she found fellow gay people within bigger cities but still appreciated that gayborhoods had their boundaries. 

“We renovated cities and moved into them and we got stronger and stronger and we were working and making money — and there was still places where, ‘Oh, I can’t say I’m gay,’” Etheridge recalled. “And so there I was, I had been playing women’s festivals and women’s bars for years. I was out, people knew I was out. If you went to a concert of mine, the whole front two rows are screaming lesbians, and you know, it was kind of obvious. But it was a real ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ [situation].”

Etheridge became friends with a group of women soccer players in the 1980s in California. They supported her at gigs. One of the women, Karla Leopold, was married to Bill Leopold, who had a successful career in music business management. Persuaded by his wife, he saw Etheridge perform and helped her gain attention on the music scene. 

Breakthrough

Her eponymous album came out in 1988 and became an underground hit. The single, “Bring Me Some Water”, earned Etheridge her first Grammy nomination. 

The albums Brave and Crazy and Never Enough followed in 1989 and 1992. Both landed in the top 30 of the Billboard chart and demonstrated an artist with a growing following and confidence. 

It was then she decided to confirm what her gay following already knew. 

“Nobody asked me and I never told so, man, when [the Bill] Clinton inauguration came, I just said, ‘Hey, I’m gay.’ It was just, bam, there it was.”

“Come To My Window” came out the month after the inauguration and made its debut at number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Lyrically, the song is about the intense feelings of love one feels at the start of a romantic relationship. Many take some of the lines as a subtle reference to Etheridge’s sexuality. 

“I don’t care what they think / I don’t care what they say / What do they know about this love, anyway?”

It was accompanied by a moody, black-and-white video that cuts between Etheridge performing the song and Juliette Lewis.

The actress, then 19 and at the peak of her early success, appears to be in a room in a psychiatric facility, suffering a breakdown. Her wrists are bandaged and she scrawls with crayons on the floor and walls. 

“Coming out means everything”

Since coming out, Etheridge has been a vocal campaigner for LGBTQ+ rights, although she says she sees her biggest contribution as just living her life as an out lesbian. She says younger queer artists still seek her advice, including some who are in the closet. However, things have definitely changed for the better.

“Man, we’ve got, like, gay channels now. We’ve got people who know how to make music and get music to gain communities. You know, there was nothing 30 years ago, and gosh, visibility means everything. Coming out means everything, and it’s just a totally different world now, and it is so nice.”

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