I hold fast to the idea that putting something in writing can take away its power. I have used this blog to air out my obsessions. (Look for a post about Kim Raver later this week.) When I blog about something I can’t stop thinking about, I find that I can then actually stop thinking about it. Contrary to the situation with the parenthetical confession, I am not embarrassed to be obsessed with Skin. However, it is becoming a distraction. When I should be thinking about The Sound and the Fury or various issues within Writing Studies, I am just thinking about how Melissa Etheridge almost created an opera with this album.
My mother thinks that all Melissa’s songs sound the same, and while I generally dispute that claim, I am inclined to agree when it comes to Skin. This is not a bad thing, though. I adore that these songs fit so well together that I’m not sure where one ends and the next one begins. This album plays to my conviction that song order matters more than perhaps any other album I own. Just the song titles themselves suggest an emotional journey. The first track, “Lover Please,” is all desperate begging and the last track, “Heal Me,” is clearly on the other side of this breaking-up process.
My favorite song on the album is “Down to One.” Per usual, I can’t really explain why. I like the way Melissa writes. I am just lately realizing this. I think I was being a snob. Billy Joel, Amy Ray, and Emily Saliers get a lot of song writing love around these parts, and while I don’t quote Melissa or spend hours trying to figure out what she means, she deserves some love, too. For instance, I love that I know what she means. I mean, “oh this one’s gonna hurt like hell” in “Lover Please” isn’t exactly cryptic. On Skin, my favorite example of her ability to get right at the truth of a situation is in “Down to One”: “What went right/ what went wrong/ doesn’t really matter much/ when it’s gone.” But the opening lines of “It’s Only Me” are really good too: “They say the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away/ Well it was definitely gone when I woke up today.”
There is no more appropriate title for this album than Skin. Melissa uses skin in all kinds of ways through the entire album, but the theme is never heavy-handed. First, in “The Prison,” she’s sick of herself and “night after night trying to get out of my skin.” Then, in “Walking on Water,” she seems to be briefly blaming herself and her “stone cold skin.” In “It’s Only Me,” she is starting to be able to stand herself again as she gets “back into my skin and out on the street.” By the time she gets to “Please Forgive Me,” her “skin is painfully new” because she has had to rebuild it.
I haven’t discovered anything new here. Pretty much every review I’ve read of Skin has pointed out how well it tells its story. I wonder if I weren’t so familiar with the Julie Cypher back story of the album, if I would be so obsessed with it. I doubt it. The truth is that I prefer lesbian angst over straight angst. Straight angst actually gets on my nerves. If Melissa were singing “I want to know where I failed/ I want to know where I sinned/ ‘Cause I don’t want to ever feel this way again” about a relationship with a man, I would dismiss the whole thing as lame and embarrassing. But the gay aspect coupled with Melissa’s gritty desperate wailing makes me want to lie down on the bathroom floor with her.
I suppose it isn’t news that I find emotional pain aesthetically satisfying. Skin gets at that part of me that appreciates raw, naked agony, but although it begins in torment, it ends in peaceâ€”or at least a glimmer of peace. Since the album is seven years old and Melissa is in maybe the happiest relationship in Hollywood right now, I know that I don’t have to worry about her. I can just listen and sing and marvel at the guts it took to put Skin out there in the world.