Reader Chris Bonds wrote me that he was going to attend a presentation by singer Linda Ronstadt at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on Thursday. I asked him to let me know how it went, and he provided a detailed report. I asked permission to post it here, which he kindly provided; I know a lot of readers, including me, are big Rondstat fans.
It’s hard to believe, but Linda turned 70 this year. You may also know that in 2012 she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, leaving her unable to sing. That made me even more curious about how things went. Here’s Chris’s report, and I’ve added two videos of her earlier live performances.
You invited me to give my thoughts on Linda Ronstadt’s presentation last night at the Ham Concert Hall at UNLV.
There were lots more people there than I had expected to see. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of them appeared to be seniors. We were able to get front-row seats. On the stage were two easy chairs with a table in between, on which sat a laptop computer. There was no water. A large projection screen rose behind. After the usual welcoming announcement and acknowledgments of donors, Linda Ronstadt walked in, escorted by long time friend and producer, John Boylan, who she said was there to help her remember anything she might forget (such as her mother’s name, she added, with a smile).
Her talk was basically an outline of her musical career as chronicled in her book, which came out in 2013. She talked about her parents, grandparents, and great-grandfather; growing up in the desert near Tucson; the music she heard and sang in her home as a child; forming a folk group with her brother and sister; the formation of the Stone Poneys; and much else that you either already know or can read on Wikipedia.
Notably absent from her talk was any mention of her relationships with men. She did mention Jerry Brown’s name but indicated she was not going to talk about any of that.
Even though the Parkinson’s limited her physical movement, facial expression, and her speech was often rushed, coming in little bursts, her sense of humor seemed to be intact. She talked about meeting Emmylou Harris for the first time, saying “she was doing everything I wanted to be doing, only better, and she was beautiful. [I asked myself,] should I hate her?”
She punctuated her career highlights with photos and videos projected on the screen. The video clips were just long enough to illustrate that part of her story but not so as to slow down the presentation. Clips included “Blue Bayou,” “Pirates of Penzance,” “You’re No Good,” a duet with Aaron Neville called “Don’t Know Much,” “Different Drum,” and others.
One of the more interesting segments was her story about singing at The Troubadour in West Hollywood. As she listed some of the names of people who performed there in the 1960s and 1970s, I was astonished that I had never heard of the place. (I recommend you read the Wikipedia article about The Troubadour, if you don’t already know about it.) It must have been quite a scene to be a musician in that time, to actually be doing music and hanging out with all these people that someone like me knows only from listening to their records. Joni Mitchell, Jack Nicholson (before he was *Jack Nicholson*), Elton John, etc.
Following her oral history, she sat for a Q&A with Ray Suarez, who asked his own questions and followed them with audience questions on index cards. Mr. Suarez seemed especially interested in her stylistic changes, wanting to know why she would want, for example, to do an album of pop standards arranged by Nelson Riddle, risking her rock and roll fan base in the process. I thought at one point “he’s really pushing her to say something,” like he wasn’t getting the answers he wanted. But she was firm in her conviction that doing the kinds of music she wanted to do was more important to her than living up to the expectations of her fans. I thought that was excellent. She talked a little about what she is doing these days with a “problem-solving organization”, Los Cenzontles, in Richmond, California, near her home. You can read about the organization at loscenzontles.com.
My dominant impression was of a person who knows her own abilities and limitations well and who has always followed her own musical inclinations, which grew out of the music she knew growing up. She was never satisfied with her own singing, saying at one point she didn’t like her phrasing on her records. It wasn’t until near the end of her singing career that she seemed to make peace with herself and feel that she was in full control of her vocal skills.
JAC: Though written and originally performed by Karla Bonoff, “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me” is one of my favorite Ronstadt songs. The video isn’t great, but I like to show live performances. The original recording, from the 1976 album “Hasten Down the Wind” is here.