Melissa Ferrick is one of the few musicians who can claim to have written a “lesbian anthem.” The 2000 song “Drive,” from the album Freedom, doesn’t shy away from anything: “Your mouth waters/ Stretched out on my bed/ Your fingers are trembling/ And your heart is heavy and red.” Even the heartbeat-like groove — combining snare and bass guitar — is sexy.
Ferrick has released 17 albums, both with labels and independently. They are known for intricate guitar playing, poetic lyrics, and a style floating somewhere between alternative rock, punk, and folk. Ferrick has been professionally out, in terms of sexuality, for a long time.
But, as far as gender identity, “that’s new for me,” says Ferrick. “It’s been a pretty painful transition — or understanding — in the last five years. I’m easing into it. I’m definitely gender nonconforming. I’m definitely nonbinary. I’m so appreciative that there are more words to describe to other people how I feel.
“I love the word queer and always have,” Ferrick continues. “I feel pretty genderless, but I don’t feel sad about it. I love the body I’m in. I don’t want to totally let go of ‘she’ because I love the experiences I’ve had as a woman. It feels powerful, but so does ‘they.’ ”
Ferrick grew up in Ipswich, studying violin and trumpet. “I went to Berklee College of Music for their five-week program during the summer before my senior year of high school,” says Ferrick. “I had been having — I think ‘crisis’ is a strong word — but confusion around my gender identity and sexual identity ever since I was little. By the time I got to high school, it was really starting to affect me. I had been a musician my whole life — I mean, since I was five — so it was such a dream come true to not be the only weirdo in the room. It’s also where I kissed a girl for the first time. It’s really where I came out and, I like to say, came into myself.”
Ferrick ended up enrolling at Berklee, where they taught themself the guitar. After two years, they dropped out to pursue a music career in New York City. After opening for Morrissey in the U.S. and U.K., Ferrick signed with Atlantic Records at age 21.
More recently, Ferrick took a break from touring to get a master’s in education at Harvard. Between 2013 and 2019 they taught songwriting at Berklee. Now, Ferrick is professor of practice of music at Northeastern University.
Students have been an influence on the professor. Ferrick was worried that “all the young people were going to think I’m just trying to be cool” with regard to pronouns. In fact, Ferrick has realized that it’s important for younger people to see an older person grappling with these issues.
“I’ve been toying with just going by M. That’s nice. It could be M or Em, and I like that,” says Ferrick. “So, I said that once at a Starbucks, and I almost started crying. That’s how fragile it is for me. I’m practicing being OK with who I am at 50.”
Ferrick hasn’t “historically been a Women’s Week entertainer.” But for many years, they played over Memorial Day weekend (a.k.a. Baby Dyke Weekend), which is easier to balance with teaching. “I loved it because when I started playing P’town, my fan base was mostly young, queer girls. And it was hilarious. Drunken breakups on Friday night. Saturday night was always a fun night. Then, Sunday, everybody would be hung over.
“I think it attracts the older lesbian crowd,” says Ferrick, speaking of Women’s Week. “But I’m happy that my shows are really mixed. There are some women who have been coming to town for Women’s Week for 30 years. It’s a beautiful thing.”
The name of the week is complicated by evolving understandings of gender. Ferrick is on the leadership committee for Women in Music. At one event they were asked to spell “women” with an “x” instead of an “e,” as a sign of inclusion of trans and nonbinary people. They even had some cis guys there, which Ferrick considers a win.
What’s next? “I did a cover of a Sleater-Kinney song called ‘You’re No Rock and Roll Fun’ for Kill Rock Stars’ 30th anniversary,” says Ferrick. “Kill Rock Stars is a girl punk record label. And their mission now is about uplifting feminism and trans rights.” That’s coming out in October.
The 30th anniversary of Ferrick’s first album, Massive Blur, is coming up in 2023. “I’m going to put out a retrospective of some kind,” says Ferrick. “I don’t quite know yet what it’s going to look like. Covid has expanded the ways that art can be delivered.”
The event: Melissa Ferrick in concert
The time: Sunday, Oct. 10 at 6:30 p.m.
The place: The Art House, 214 Commercial St., Provincetown
The cost: $35 to $45 at provincetownarthouse.com