Melissa Ferrick Drives On

by David Foucher

EDGE Publisher

Friday July 14, 2006

Melissa Ferrick is changing her life. The renowned lesbian singer/songwriter, after fifteen years of life on the road, racking up an average of 180 concerts and 85,000 miles on her car during each of them, is tuning into her own life.

"I really am, I'm trying," she asserts. "This whole summer I've set up to be not so insane, where I'm just playing on weekends - and in July I'm only performing every other weekend. I'm taking time off."

Ferrick has a rocky road behind her; she began her professional career early in life, and at the age of 21, gained notoriety as the opening act for Morrissey on tour. She rapidly signed with Atlantic Records, and two years later released her first album, "Massive Blur."

That was the year 1993; by '96 she had crashed thanks to the pressures of the job, drinking and taking pills. She came out of the closet, re-emerging as an independent artist, and enjoyed a rise in popularity among primarily the lesbian community. Ten years later, she is feeling the pressure anew; earlier this year, her performance pace led to a significant bout with exhaustion and the flu. And this time, she's taking a new path to health.

"I'm getting a life," she puts it. "I hit a wall at the beginning of this year. I'm dealing with a few real medical issues that are questionable for me; there are thyroid and gland concerns that have to be looked at over long periods of time. It's not life threatening, but it's serious enough that it makes it difficult for me to stay out for long periods of time."

For Ferrick, it translates into limited energy and difficulty keeping weight on. She's pursuing a range of homeopathic therapies - but for the popular singer, the cure is truly to slow down.

"You know," she laughs, "I ate cheeseburgers and drank ten cups of coffee for five years. No wonder!"

Ferrick is particularly well-known in the Boston and Providence area, where she grew up and has returned to live with her partner. Since her hugely popular independent album "Everything I Need" in 1998, she has continued to deliver heartfelt voice and guitar music with lyrics often tinted with gay themes over the course of six additional CDs. Her body of work has made her one of the most prolific lesbian singers on the market, despite her refusal to re-enter the mainstream music industry.

"To do it myself, that's the best way for me to make the bottom line and retain artistic control," she explains. "I like being able to put out my records when I want to, how I want to; it's been the most rewarding, the most enriching way to go. But it's more challenging too, in many ways; I've seen both sides of it."

To Ferrick, tapping into the gay community has its own pros and cons.

"If I am labeled because I'm queer, I'm not aware of it," she reports. "I've don't walk around thinking I'm being judged because I'm a girl, even when I was very young - and then being queer on top of it, I never thought about that much. I try to treat everyone as an equal, and I hope I am being treated that way too."

The question, however, makes her consider the ramifications.

"I get asked that a lot," she admits, :"And it's possible that maybe I don't get commercial radio airplay because of it - but a lot of artists don't and they're not gay. I think it's about the music industry today - it's all a big corporate market these days. I don't want to play in that sandbox, and I think that's why I'm where I am - not because I'm gay, but because I choose not to be in that market."

Despite that decision, Ferrick wishes for a larger - if not more diverse - audience for her music.

"There's a large part of me that still wishes that my music could be listened to by a broader audience," she continues, "and my musicianship could be expanded if that happened. I think there's a large market of gay men who like this kind of music, and I'm trying to get the guys out a little more. And the straight audiences too - I have some fans, 5-10% which is not a lot but it's more than it was five years ago."

Regarding Pride, Ferrick says

"I love Pride, I think it's awesome," she says. "I think it gets me out with the gay men; a lot of gay guys go to Pride who wouldn't go to see some random Wednesday night show at Lupo's. Whereas the girls come out no matter what night it is, they'll write it in the calendar and buy tickets in advance. This way I have the opportunity to sell more records and expose myself to a larger percentage of the gay population. So I'm excited about performing there this year."

Given the fact that Ferrick is slowing her pace - at least for now - the opportunity to hear her perform is a treat indeed - she promises, as well, to play the song most often requested by the girls: "Drive."

"I'll definitely play that," she smiles. "I don't always do it - but that's become the big lesbian anthem - which I never knew when I wrote it. I'll do that, and I have a new record that I just finished that comes out in September, and I'll definitely be playing some new stuff from that, so it should be really cool."

Post-Pride, Ferrick has forced herself to take the music one day at a time.

"The music drives me," she says candidly. "But this is going to have to be OK. If I'm not playing that many shows, the world will not collapse. The world does not revolve around Melissa. And I forget that other things are happening that are important, too. I miss things, and I have to remind myself that if I just stop and take a break, I'm not going to get in trouble. I'm giving my fans more credit, and when I was honest with them about my need to take time off, everyone was so nice - everyone told me to take time off. It's nice to have that kind of communication with your fans and to feel accepted that way."

Melissa Ferrick plays at Jonathan's Restaurant in Ogunquit on July 21

David Foucher is the CEO of the EDGE Media Network and Pride Labs LLC, is a member of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalist Association, and is accredited with the Online Society of Film Critics. David lives with his daughter in Dedham MA.