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Giving ‘Life’ to a cause

Special to The Times

MELISSA Etheridge’s songs are often described as anthems. Now the singer has written one that is really designed for that purpose -- and to address a topic she knows intimately.

Etheridge was approached by the Ford Motor Co. recently to write and record a song tied to its support of various breast cancer-related issues. Etheridge, who last year underwent surgery and chemotherapy for the disease, capped by her dramatic appearance on the Grammy Awards show in February, bald head and all, jumped at the chance.

The result, “I Run for Life,” will be used as the official rallying song at the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Race for the Cure walk and run events -- which Ford co-sponsors -- being held nationally throughout October, which is breast cancer month.

“They said it was meant to be used at the beginning of the races, pump everyone up, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ ” Etheridge says. “I wanted it to uplift, to have people be able to run to it.”

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The song was made a last-minute addition to her “Greatest Hits: The Road Less Traveled” anthology album, due in stores on Oct. 4, and will be available as a 99-cent download from the www.fordcares.com website starting at the end of September, with all proceeds going to breast cancer research and awareness.

Etheridge wrote the song while on a cross-country RV trip this summer.

“I didn’t want to write a song that was, ‘Oh, I’m in a race, I’m at the starting line’ sort of thing,” she says. “I wanted to make it personal. I like to climb into people’s emotions and wanted to portray a woman who’s had breast cancer but is out of it.”

The song, she says, starts with a verse from the point of view of a survivor. The second verse addresses the rush of experiences Etheridge has had since her own diagnosis, and the third is for people whose condition is yet to be diagnosed.

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It’s just what the Ford people had hoped for.

“It’s an issue we’ve been involved with for 11 years,” says Connie Fontaine, Ford’s communications manager. “We have used celebrities to get a voice out to the general population before.

“On the heels of the Grammy presentation she became an obvious vocal persona around the cause. Nothing beats personal experience when it comes to something like this.”

Etheridge is also signing on as part of the annual sale of custom-designed scarves to benefit the Komen foundation, for which Ford raised $2.4 million last year.

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“There’s a lot of breast cancer out there,” Etheridge says. “There will be hundreds of thousands diagnosed next year, and when this happens, remember, we’re all here running for answers and trying to make the situation better.”

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All Love lost in this war of words

THE reemergence of former Love leader Arthur Lee in the performance world in recent years has been second only to that of Brian Wilson among ‘60s rock veterans. As Wilson revived his long-lost “Smile” with a new crew of musicians, Lee, with the support of his own group of L.A.-based musicians, mounted tours to perform “Forever Changes,” the acclaimed 1967 album that’s considered his old band’s peak.

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After having spent much of the 1990s in prison on a variety of charges, the troubled Lee finally seemed to be on the way to a stable career following his 2001 release. But now there’s been a split between the singer and his backing musicians -- and there’s only one thing that the now-adversaries seem to agree on: “I’m definitely not working with those people anymore,” Lee says.

After Lee failed to appear for several key shows, including a series of August dates in Europe, the band -- which is built around members of L.A. group Baby Lemonade -- decided to continue without the leader. Co-founding Love member John Echols, who performed on the Europe shows, is staying on for what is now being billed as the Love Band.

Baby Lemonade guitarist Mike Randle says the performances without Lee ultimately went well, and that there are even plans to write and record new songs. In part, he says, it was Lee’s resistance to doing new material that caused the rift.

“We spent two of the last three years constantly trying to convince him we needed the right new material, right new directions,” Randle says. “He just wanted to make some money.”

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Lee, who has assembled a new backing band and says he is opening a music club in L.A., is not happy about his former colleagues’ plans.

“You can only take so much,” he says. “These guys, they’re going around calling themselves the Love Band. It’s not fair. I’ve been working on this since I was 15 years old. I’m 60 years old now, and nobody’s going to move me off this corner.”

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Small Faces

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* A character in the upcoming Miramax film “Daltry Calhoun” compares today’s gangstas to Old West outlaws, so a mash-up of the Wu-Tang Clan’s “A Better Tomorrow” and Marty Robbins’ 1959 gunfighter ballad “Utah Carol” was a natural for the soundtrack. The combo song will be on the related album, due Sept. 20, as well as in the film, premiering Sept. 23 and starring Johnny Knoxville and Juliette Lewis, with Quentin Tarantino serving as executive producer....

* Satirist-musician Harry Shearer and his wife, singer-songwriter Judith Owen, have started their own label, Courgette Records, which will release Owen’s albums (including her recent, torchy “Lost and Found” and a new one due in early 2006) and various Shearer projects -- a DVD compilation of his HBO and Cinemax specials and other TV work and an audio disc of the musical “J Edgar!,” which he co-wrote. The label’s name? It’s French for “zucchini,” which should draw a laugh from anyone recalling Shearer’s airport security bit from “This Is Spinal Tap.” ...

* Almost certain to be more entertaining than the MTV Video Music Awards is the second biannual Bubblegum Achievement Awards, honoring Ron Dante (the musician behind the Archies), Joey Levine (of “Yummy Yummy Yummy” fame with the Ohio Express) and novelty-record aficionado Dr. Demento -- complete with a themed puppet show by the noted Bob Baker troupe. The event takes place Oct. 7 at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater near downtown L.A., with free cake and Bazooka bubblegum for attendees.


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