Linda Ronstadt finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: the cost of artistic integrity

It appears that Rolling Stone Magazine and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have finally taken notice: Linda Ronstadt has finally been inducted. While it should have been done many years earlier, justice has finally been served.

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Ronstadt fans have been aware of the longstanding feud between Rolling Stone and Ms. Ronstadt, mostly because she dared to be outspoken and honest. Blunt she may be but as her book, Simple Dreams shows so clearly, she is an artist with integrity.

512 linda book signingAs I pointed out in an earlier post when I met Ms. Ronstadt for her book signing, I didn’t understand her way of thinking at first but I do now. For her, the art comes first and the art, in and of itself, is the message. If the art, whether it be painting, drawing, singing, playing an instrument, songwriting or writing, is done well, the message will shine forth, loud and clear. If the art is subject to the message, subservient to it, both will suffer.

Great art and a great message – that’s my goal.

I believe whatever art (in this case, music) I have created has suffered from the message being imposed on the art. The message is good and eternal but the message is not just about the words. I used the music as a tool to get out the message. Nothing wrong with that except that in my case, the music suffered. If I had put half the time, effort and study into creating the music that I did in creating lyrics, I could have perhaps created a song that was sublime. In the end, the music was just okay. Some of my songs were good but I don’t believe any of them were great.

In short, my art suffered from mediocrity.

my name is asher levI’m reading one of my favorite authors right now, Chaim Potok, a book called My Name is Asher Lev. Asher Lev is an artist and a prodigy. He is also an Hasidic Jew, faithful to his religion, desperately trying to be a good son to his loving parents. Somehow he must find a way to juggle his gift as an artist (which often cannot be controlled) and his identity as a Hasidic Jew. I read the book because I knew Potok would unearth and reveal the creative mind and heart and so far I have not been disappointed. He puts my dilemma so perfectly into words, describing how the boy Asher felt about the drawings his mashpia [aka school principal] had asked him to make:

“I hated what I had drawn in that sketchbook. I should not have done it. Why had he asked me to do it? I hated the drawings. They were lies, stagnant creations done to someone else’s demand and I despised them.”

While my feelings are not as strong as Asher’s (I don’t hate my work but I don’t love it either), I understand now as never before that art must be honest in and of itself. Yes, you can and should do work for others (otherwise how would a writer be published or a singer or musician be recorded?) and you should follow the guidelines set out by those who are risking their capital on you.

But this doesn’t mean the art created in the end cannot be honest.

It must be honest.

The trick is figuring out how to do that within the confines of the professional and business environment.

My goal as a creative person entering the last phase of my life is to create one thing that is sublime. This will take focus, commitment and belief that it not only is possible but permissible. I still have to get my message out, but it is permissible and desirable to make it as excellent, as beautiful, as compelling, moving, poignant, challenging …

… as good as it can be.

I have been given a remarkable professional opportunity as a writer which I cannot disclose at this time. Suffice it to say it will help to fulfill a lifelong dream. I consider this my shot to create something sublime.

Linda Ronstadt was highly critical of most everything she did but it never stopped her endless pursuit of making the best music that she could. Her book, Simple Dreams, takes you on that journey. While she never believed she created something sublime, her fans did. And now she is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Congratulations Linda. Not on the award.

But on being an artist of integrity, always striving to create the sublime.

May I follow in your footsteps.

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