ANGELES — One of the most touching anecdotes in Linda
Ronstadt’s new memoir, "Simple Dreams,"
comes in the moment she told her parents she was
skipping out on college to pursue a career in music.
parents were upset and tried to talk me out of it,"
she writes in the book, published Sept. 17. "When
it became apparent that they couldn’t change my mind,
my father went into the other room and returned with the
Martin acoustic guitar that his father had bought in
my father began singing as a young man, my grandfather
had given him the instrument and said, ‘Ahora que
tienes guitarra, nunca tendrás hambre.’ (‘Now that
you own a guitar, you will never be hungry.’) My
father handed me the guitar with the same words. Then he
took out his wallet and handed me thirty dollars. I made
it last a month."
grandfather’s words were prophetic, setting the stage
for a career that’s stretched across five decades and
more than 30 albums. Thanks to her unparalleled voice,
Ronstadt became one of the most successful and emotive
rock and pop singers of the 1970s, not to mention the
only artist ever who’s earned Grammy Awards in
country, pop, Mexican American and Tropical Latin
in August, Ronstadt, 67, revealed that she wouldn’t be
singing anymore because of the effects of Parkinson’s
happened gradually," she said in an interview
recently with an almost matter-of-fact tone about losing
her ability to sing. "I was struggling for so long,
at some point it was a relief (to get the diagnosis and)
not to have to struggle anymore. What happens with
Parkinson’s is that in the brain there’s faulty
wiring, like the communication cables are broken. My
vocal cords weren’t getting the message.
is extremely difficult. There are a huge number of
little vibrations that have to be coordinated in an
exclusive way to produce a sound, to color, to shape, to
make an emotion, and you don’t do it on a conscious
level. The muscles have to respond to infinitesimally
subtle thoughts, whims and energy. Now I have a hard
time calling my cat," she said with a laugh.
in person Ronstadt navigates the twists and turns of an
open-ended conversation like an Olympic slalom champion,
deftly swooshing from one subject to the next with
informed and passionate positions, whether it’s her
belief in the importance of exposing children to music
early to immigration policy, the dangers of media
ownership being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands or
what she sees as the rapid deterioration of the nation’s
is making it a chore for her to walk from her Beverly
Hills hotel room to the downstairs restaurant for a bite
(she routinely carries a pair of ski poles with her to
get around). She was in Los Angeles from her Bay Area
home on a three-week, eight-city book tour in support of
"Simple Dreams" (Simon & Schuster, $26),
which carries the subtitle "A Musical Memoir."
been spending some time with David Hidalgo," she
said, referencing the singer, guitarist and songwriter
of L.A.’s venerated rock band Los Lobos. "I’d
always wanted to sing with him, and I finally did,"
she said shortly after easing herself into one of the
restaurant’s booths. She leaned against a large pillow
to help ease her back pain. "We talked about doing
a duet album, but my voice had already started to go. I
couldn’t do it, and that makes me furious."
little bitterness, however, evident in her amenable
demeanor. She smiles easily and laughs frequently, yet
her longtime friend, producer and manager, John Boylan,
says the book tour "is harder than any rock tour I’ve
done over the last 40 years. It’s very hard on
when addressing the effects of Parkinson’s (which she’s
convinced she’s been struggling with for years even
though she got a confirmed diagnosis only a few months
ago), Ronstadt does so dispassionately and with humor.
It’s as if she’s channeling what she witnessed as a
child when her mother’s back was broken in a car
accident. Ronstadt recalls in her book that it wasn’t
until the following morning, when her mother collapsed
in their kitchen, that the family realized she’d been
stayed calm, so I wasn’t aware that anything was
particularly wrong," writes Ronstadt, who has two
grown children of her own. "My father was helping
her, and he was pretty calm, too."
displayed the same sense of calm last week during a
public question-and-answer session and book signing in
Santa Monica. Ronstadt couldn’t immediately conjure
the name of someone she was telling a story about,
quickly dismissing it with a laugh as "Another
Dreams" recounts a career propelled by more than
Ronstadt’s voice. It takes readers on an engaging
journey from her beginnings as part of a large, extended
Mexican American family in Tucson through the Los
Angeles music scene of the 1960s to the heights of her
music stardom in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
former pop star and sex symbol touches on her
relationships with Gov. Jerry Brown (during his first
stint in office), filmmaker George Lucas,
singer-songwriter John David Souther and journalist Pete
stories are hardly salacious. Instead, she shares a wry
anecdote about Brown’s celebrated frugality: On their
way to visit singer Rosemary Clooney, Brown commandeered
a bunch of roses sent to Ronstadt by a fan and
repurposed them as a gift to Clooney.
most compelling are her musings about the music she
loves. In the book, she recalls a time in high school
when friends were raving about a new band, the Byrds.
"(They) were playing folk rock, a new hybrid taking
hold on the West Coast. … As soon as I heard their
creamy harmonies, I was mesmerized. It was clear to me
that music was happening on a whole different level in
Los Angeles. I began making plans to move to L.A. at the
end of the spring semester."
world would first hear the L.A.-based Ronstadt as lead
singer of the Stone Poneys. "Different Drum,"
their 1967 hit, was written by Monkees member Mike
Nesmith. The group released three albums before Ronstadt’s
status as the band’s breakout star was cemented with
the 1969 release of her solo debut, "Hand Sown …
charted several more minor hits over the next five
years, most of them walking the line between country and
rock. The backup band she assembled to accompany her on
tour soon launched a career of its own as the Eagles.
it was her recording of the McGarrigle Sisters’
"Heart Like a Wheel" that became the title
track of Ronstadt’s 1974 breakthrough album, her first
of three albums to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200
national sales chart.
catapulted her into the top ranks of pop-rock singers,
helping her become one of the five most successful
female artists of the 1970s in terms of chart
performance. Ronstadt had other big hits with covers of
energetic rock and R&B songs such as Buddy Holly’s
"It’s So Easy" and "That’ll Be the
Day" and Martha & the Vandellas’ "Heat
Wave," but she says she was never exclusively
committed to those genres.
never felt that rock ‘n’ roll defined me," she
said. "There was an unyielding attitude that came
with the music that involved being confrontational,
dismissive and aggressive — or, as my mother would
say, ungracious. …
cringe when I think of some of the times I was less than
gracious. It wasn’t how I was brought up, and I didn’t
wear the attitude well. Being considered, for a period
in the ‘70s, as the Queen of Rock made me uneasy, as
my musical devotions often lay elsewhere."
founding member Chris Hillman recalls meeting Ronstadt
at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, one of the focal
points of the folk-rock scene in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
"She’s one of the few pop artists who could make
a country album with Dolly (Parton) and Emmylou
(Harris), then do standards with Nelson Riddle and in
between throw in the mariachi songs," said Hillman,
68. "She knew the music, and she could sing."
heart has always been with the big ballads of love,
heartache and remorse that she learned to love as a
child. Not surprisingly, it’s the liberating spirit
within those songs that guides her today.
music opened the doors to everything: classical music,
jazz and passion," Ronstadt said. "From that I
learned how to sing in a joyous way about terrible
sorrow. It taught me what joy is.
is a transcendent state, and I learned that from Mexican
music. Joy isn’t happiness, it’s transcending the