July 15, 1946– Linda Marie Ronstadt has been providing me with listening pleasure for 45 years, often taking a leading role on the soundtrack of my life, taking me through ups, downs, fears, and tears. Folk, Rock, Punk, Country, Broadway, Standards, Opera, Jazz, Traditional Mexican, Pure Pop, New Wave, Tropical Latin, even Children’s Music, no matter the genre, I went along for the ride. She is the perfect artist for my eclectic tastes.
Ronstadt has been somewhat closed about her private life, but she has been known to speak out about politics as a liberal advocate, and she can be a bit of rabble rouser. In 2004, she was evicted from the Aladdin Theatre in Las Vegas for speaking out against the war in Iraq to a booing audience. She supports and campaigns for environmental issues and against the Conservative politics in Arizona where she resides in Tucson. Ronstadt has long championed Gay Rights and Marriage Equality:
“Homophobia is anti-family values. Period, end of story.”
Ronstadt has famously dated George Lucas, Jim Carrey, and, of course, California Governor Jerry Brown, but she has never married.
While Ronstadt no longer sings, she can write. Her terrific, moving memoir, Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir (2013) was a New York Times Bestseller. Interestingly, she says nothing about that other great girl singer/songwriter Carly Simon, not a word. But, she still dishes a whole bunch. In the memoir she writes:
“Jerry Brown and I had a lot of fun for a number of years. He was smart and funny, not interested in drinking or drugs, and lived his life carefully, with a great deal of discipline.” She said she found him to be “a relief” from the musicians she hung around with. But she also added: “Neither of us ever suffered under the delusion that we would like to share each other’s lives. I would have found his life too restrictive, and he would have found mine entirely chaotic…Eventually we went our separate ways and embraced things that resonated with us as different individuals…We have always remained on excellent terms.”
“I’ll meet a guy and he’s real kind but isn’t inspired musically, and then you meet somebody else that’s just so inspired musically that he just takes your breath away, but he’s such a moron, such a maniac that you can’t get along with him. And then after that it’s the problem of finding someone that can stand you!”
Besides that amazing singing, Ronstadt also writes gorgeous music and her own songs have been recorded by other artists as diverse as Trisha Yearwood and Sarah Brightman. She has released over 30 studio albums and has made guest appearances on over 120 other albums, collaborating with a zany list of recording artists from Frank Zappa to Rosemary Clooney, including: Billy Eckstine, Emmylou Harris, The Chieftains, Dolly Parton, Neil Young, JD Souther, Gram Parsons, Bette Midler, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Earl Scruggs, The Eagles, Andrew Gold, Hoyt Axton, The McGarrigle Family, Karla Bonoff, James Taylor, Warren Zevon, Maria Muldaur, Randy Newman, and Nicolette Larson.
With the most remarkable set of pipes of my generation, Ronstadt remains the rarest of rarities, a chameleon like ability to blend her voice into the background or take center stage, yet remain dauntlessly distinctive. The voice is exceptional; like few others.
Ronstadt has received a total of 27 Grammy Award nominations and has won 11 statues in seven categories. Also on her awards shelf is an Emmy Award, Golden Globe and a Tony Award nomination. She was the first female in music history to have eight consecutive platinum albums. Ronstadt’s Spanish language album, Canciones De Mi Padre (1987) remains the bestselling non-English language album in USA music history. Ronstadt was the first female solo artist to have two Top 40 singles at the same time with Blue Bayou and It’s So Easy (1977). She has an astonishing 24 compilations or Greatest Hits albums and she is the bestselling, most successful touring, and highest paid female recording artist of that crazy decade we call the 1970s.
I admire her own compositions, but for me, Ronstadt’s greatest talent is her work as an interpretive artist. I don’t know which recordings I love the most. Certainly the three albums with the great Nelson Riddle: What’s New (1983), Lush Life (1984), and For Sentimental Reasons (1986), plus the pair of Trio albums (1987 & 1999) with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, also the rockin’ Living In The USA (1978) and the punky Mad Love (1980), because they played constantly during the happiest time of my life. Her cover of Elvis Costello‘s Alison gave me the courage to sing the song in my performances and for my auditions.
On a summer afternoon in 2013, Ronstadt announced that she suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, which has robbed her ability to sing. She claims that she will no longer perform or record. She uses a walker or wheelchair to get around. Ronstadt:
“I wouldn’t have suspected that in a million, billion years. It’s hard to wash my hair, brush my teeth, and put my clothes on. It’s hard to get up and out of a chair. No one can sing with Parkinson’s Disease, no matter how hard you try.”
I cried when I heard this news.
When Ronstadt was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2014, Stevie Nicks, Sheryl Crow, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt and Carrie Underwood honored her by singing her tunes because Ronstadt was too ill to attend. I cried again.
On 2015, President Barack Obama honored Ronstadt with the National Medal Of Arts, our country’s highest honor. At the ceremony, he placed the medal around her neck, and whispered to her how as a kid he had a crush on her. He’s not alone.
In December 2016, a group of performers who know or have worked with her gathered for a Ronstadt tribute show at the Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles, including Grace Potter, Brandy Clark, JD Souther, Lucius, Jackson Browne, Maria Muldaur, Aaron Neville, and Don Henley. 100 percent of money raised that evening went to The Michael J. Fox Parkinson’s Foundation.
A lifelong Democrat and of Mexican heritage, what do you think is the perfect Ronstadt song for our era: You’re No Good, Don’t Know Much, Livin’ The USA, Cry ‘Til My Tears Run Dry, Hurt So Bad? How about we settle on Lies?
Today in honor of her birthday, while composing this post, I am listening to What’s New with those sterling Nelson Riddle arrangements. I am feeling old, feeling wistful, feeling nostalgic for a better time, wistful over innocence lost. I love Ronstadt for being in my life and because, like me, as she expanded her horizons she also filled out a bit.
“Joy is never merely happiness, but a mixture of happiness, sadness, wonder, relief, and fear. It’s like a physical manifestation of a complex emotion. I wonder if they could measure what it is music does to your body.”