July 15, 1946– Linda Marie Ronstadt has been providing me with listening pleasure for 45 years, often taking a leading role on the soundtrack to my life’s ups, downs, fears, & 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, & 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 & campaigns for environmental issues & against the Conservative politics in Arizona where she resides in Tucson. Ronstadt has long championed Gay Rights & Marriage Equality:
“Homophobia is anti-family values. Period, end of story.”
Ronstadt has famously dated George Lucas, Jim Carrey, & Governor Jerry Brown of California, but she has never married.
“I’ll meet a guy & he’s real kind but isn’t inspired musically, & 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. & then after that it’s the problem of finding someone that can stand you!”
Ronstadt writes gorgeous music & her songs have been recorded by other artists as diverse as Trisha Yearwood to Sarah Brightman. She has released well over 30 studio albums & 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, & Nicolette Larson.
With probably the remarkable set of pipes of my generation, Ronstadt remains the rarest of rarities, with a chameleon like ability to blend into the background yet remain dauntlessly distinctive. The voice is an exceptional gift; like few others.
Ronstadt has received a total of 27 Grammy Award nominations & has won 11 Grammys in 7 categories. On her wards shelf is an Emmy, Golden Globe & a Tony nomination. She was the first female in music history to have 8 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 with Blue Bayou & It’s So Easy (1977). She has an astonishing 24 compilation or Greatest Hits albums & is the bestselling, most successful touring, & highest paid female recording artist of those crazy 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 3 albums with Nelson Riddle: What’s New (1983), Lush Life (1984), & For Sentimental Reasons (1986), & the pair Trio albums (1987 & 1999) with Dolly Parton & Emmylou Harris, plus Living In The USA (1978) & 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 & 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 & 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, & put my clothes on. It’s hard to get up & out of a chair. No one can sing with Parkinson’s Disease, no matter how hard you try.”
I cried when I heard the news.
When Ronstadt was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame last year, Stevie Nicks, Sheryl Crow, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt & Carrie Underwood honored her because Ronstadt was too ill to attend. I cried again.
Earlier this year, President Obama honored Ronstadt with the National Medal Of Arts. At the ceremony, POTUS placed the medal around her neck, & whispered how as a kid, he had a crush on her. He’s not alone.
While Ronstadt no longer sings, she can write. Ronstadt’s memoir Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir (2011) is well-written & a fun read. Interestingly, she says nothing about Carly Simon, not a word. But, she still dishes a whole bunch.
Today in honor of her birthday, while composing this post, I am listening to What’s New with those sterling Nelson Riddle’s arrangements. I am feeling old, feeling wistful, feeling nostalgic for a better time, & crying a bit for innocence lost. I love Ronstadt for being in my life & 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, & 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.”