Joni Mitchell taught me to write songs and Linda Ronstadt taught me how to sing. I emulated her voice although I never had the sustained power she had. Ronstadt has now lost her voice due to Parkinson’s and has penned a musical memoir called Simple Dreams, presenting her amazing 45 year career as a singer. Although Ronstadt’s personal life was colorful (to say the least, especially in her rock star heyday), this is not a cheap tell-all. Ronstadt has immersed herself since childhood in many musical styles from folk, pop and rock to standards from the American Songbook, to Mexican, and definitely to eclectic. Her musical journey has sometimes confused her fans but all Ronstadt fans agree that this lady was one amazing singer!
Not “just” a singer
Ronstadt has longed to share the amazing encyclopedic knowledge that she has of music and this book finally gives her the vehicle. Last night at her book signing, she carried on a casual and engaging conversation with PBS host Christopher Lydon. Funny, blunt, quirky and highly intelligent, she demonstrated the depth of her knowledge historically, technically and aesthetically, oftentimes making remarkable connections with regards to the influences of past singers on present ones. There’s a lot to be learned about musical influences from this lady!
Her delightful quirky humor would pop out with comments about how great a kisser Marvin Gaye was, or how much she adored Smokey Robinson. Her comments about Emmylou Harris (another influence of mine) and Rosemary Clooney (a true artist) were especially interesting. Bowled over by both singers, she demonstrated uncommon wisdom and humility, choosing to “submit herself” as she says, to their greatness. In essence, she chose to learn rather than to compete. And in the end she was the winner, singing with the both of them and building lasting friendships throughout her long career.
Ronstadt is notoriously guarded about sharing raw emotion and can come off as rather matter-of-face and academic when she speaks. I had hoped she would touch on how she coped with losing her singing voice as I too have lost mine (due to acid reflux) or how she is coping with her Parkinson’s, but the issues were not brought up. Occasionally she will let her true feelings slip out as she did in her interview with Diane Sawyer where she shared her craving to sing on stage with Emmylou Harris recently rather than sit in the audience. She could not even sing along softly to herself. This is the woman who said that her recording and performing career was only one percent of the music in her life. That story hit a raw nerve and I found myself tearing up unexpectedly as grief often does. We both have accepted and made peace with our losses, but a longing, a memory will crop up suddenly and the process begins all over again, only to pass quickly like a summer shower.
A connection …
I longed to tell her that she was not alone in her loss but the moment didn’t present itself. I was, however, able to tell her something else and it got a wonderful reaction. While having our book signed, in a brief Twitter-length sentence I said, “I hope you found the writing process to be as creatively satisfying as singing.” She looked right up at me, pleasantly surprised and chirped, “Oh yes!” Then she made a brief comment about the fun of editing which is my favorite part of writing too.
Making connections is so much fun!
My husband Rich has been a passionate fan of Ronstadt’s for many years and ran her fan club for ten of those years. Last night he was able to meet up with other fans and reminisce about the old days when they attended concerts together and compared notes online, I didn’t understand his passion then but I do now, seeing as I am a Louisa May Alcott groupie.
I’m glad I’ve finally made that connection with him.
Click to Tweet & Share: Seeing Linda Ronstadt at her book signing for “Simple Dreams” in Brookline, MA http://wp.me
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