Rediscovering Ronstadt

Yes, I watched Episode 3 of The Last Of Us (and paid for it by having “Long, Long Time” stuck in my head for well over a week), but my newfound infatuation for 76-year-old Linda Ronstadt was kindled by The Sound of My Voice, the superb HBO documentary about her that I finally got around to watching last month.

Directed by Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein, it’s an inspirational portrait of a hugely talented singer and wonderful human, told entirely through the words of Ronstadt herself and a host of other musicians and industry people. I remember admiring Ronstadt at the time of her album releases and liking a number of her popular songs, but was completely unaware of her breadth of musical knowledge, of her Mexican family heritage, and of her ability to take any song in any genre and funnel it masterfully through her perfect and astonishing voice. She may have had an innocent, girl-next-door demeanor and worn a Cub Scout uniform onstage, but the power of her vocals, which could be either raucous, sexy, or painfully heartfelt at the drop of a note, was unmatched.

The documentary covers every step of her career, from the Stone Ponies at the Troubadour through multiple covers of Rolling Stone magazine. Ronstadt, like David Bowie and other restless artists, was compelled to go in entirely new directions, risking her core audience without hesitation. Time and again, her “experiments” proved wildly successful, like hiring Nelson Riddle to produce two albums of old standard torch songs, or playing the lead in the Pirates of Penzance opera on Broadway opposite Kevin Kline. She recorded an album of Mexican love songs her father used to sing to her and it became one of the biggest-selling Spanish albums in history. Hell, she even kicked ass singing “It’s In His Kiss” in an appearance on the Muppet Show!

Ronstadt, as we would sadly learn, inherited Parkinson’s Disease and lost her singing voice well over a decade ago, The final scene in The Sound of My Voice is both gentle and heartbreaking, as she attempts a Mexican ballad with her nephew and cousin in her living room, her hand shaking, her eyes and smile still luminous but her voice a weak facsimile of what she once had.

As soon as the documentary ended, I burned a Ronstadt playlist for my car, alternating the rock numbers with the ballads and country-swing tracks to create an hour and twenty-odd minutes of joy. (In my opinion, her versions of “Tracks of My Tears” and “Tumbling Dice” are better than the originals.) The thing I’ve finally learned is that you don’t just listen to Linda Ronstadt, you wear her songs like a warm coat you never want to take off.


2 thoughts on “Rediscovering Ronstadt

  1. Scribe, congrats on a well-written article of my favorite female artist. I love her spirit and have followed her for decades. Whenever we drive to San Diego invariably a sweet CD of all her hits makes its way into our stereo. She has great stage presence and don’t let that cute face fool you; she has great pipes. Thanks for the great read.


  2. I too, have always loved Linda Ronstadt, and just ate up “The Sound of My Voice”. I find myself enjoying the soundtracks to so many series that seem to employ some music geniuses to put together an awesome music list, with music old and new. At my son’s wedding, the “Friend’s” soundtrack was played, and everyone young old were dancing, even though, when the show first came out, most of them were little and already put to bed, so parents could watch. There is so much great music now, be it current or old, and I have finally found a radio show here with a DJ (Ian Hughes from noon to 4 on kbcs Bellevue) that has a daily playlist of almost every genre one can think of. The only time I remember such a great DJ was back on Morning Becomes Eclectic by Tom Schnobel in LA in the late eighties.
    Thanks for your nice tribute to Linda, Jeff.


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