Linda Ronstadt is one of those artists whose name is familiar, but I don’t have a deep understanding of their oeuvre. I own, and like, her California country-rock album Heart Like a Wheel, but I cannot say much about the rest of her output, other than Phillip K. Dick always raved about Ronstadt’s voice. That said, she sounds like an interesting cat, I’ll have to dig a bit deeper into her music.
Ms. Ronstadt was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and acknowledged her singing career was over because of it. Stephen Deusner of Salon asked her a few questions…
SD: The descriptions of your childhood in Tucson are very poignant, but also very melancholy in the way the desert has changed culturally, geographically and especially politically.
When you’re desert born, you love the desert. It’s a harsh environment. People ask me why I don’t go where there are trees and streams and mountains. But when there are too many trees around me, I can’t see and I think somebody is going to sneak up on me. It makes me nervous. And I love the desert. I love those big, wide, sweeping vistas. During the time I was gone, developers came in and scraped it all away with bulldozers. They put up the ugliest tract houses you’ve ever seen, which aren’t built to last. They’ll be tomorrow’s slums because people won’t be able to live in those houses very long. They’re starting another Dust Bowl era by scraping away the topsoil. People don’t realize how serious that is. The Dust Bowl was the biggest natural cataclysm of the 20th century, and it’s starting again and no one’s taking an interest in it. They just continue to scrape off the topsoil and turn the desert into a wasteland.
Is there anything that can be done?
They have to stop scraping up topsoil. We lose in topsoil the equivalent of the size of Texas every single year. Without topsoil you can’t even grow any food. But people are making money and they’re greedy. There’s no regulation because the Republicans who control those areas don’t want any regulation on anything. They want developers to be allowed to operate in a completely unbridled manner and make as much money as they can — even if that means taking it from other people. That’s wrong. If we’re going to have capitalism, we have to carefully regulate it.
That sounds very similar to the fracking controversy in Appalachia, where they continue to use this technique despite its horrible consequences.
They’re going to do fracking in the Central Valley in California, and there won’t be any regulation. The pollution will get into the water and destroy the farmland. It’s a terrible thing to do, but people are only thinking in the short term and the Republicans are full of climate change deniers and science deniers. They don’t want to deal with inconvenient facts.
Early in “Simple Dreams,” you write very briefly about the immigration controversy in Arizona, comparing the border to the Berlin Wall.
What’s going on on the border is a disgrace. It’s just pure racism. They put the fence up as an affront to a country of incredibly rich cultural tradition. They didn’t put one up on the northern border. There’s no fence between the United States and Canada. So it’s just based on skin color. It’s racism.
Your diagnosis with Parkinson’s was so recent it didn’t even make it into the book. You’ve said that it has taken your voice. How else has it affected your day-to-day life?
I’m now experiencing life as a disabled person. It’s quite a shock. The hardest thing is that I just can’t get things done without depending on other people to help me. It’s hard to ask, and I feel like I’m always imposing. But I really am limited. Falling and choking are big danger for people with Parkinson’s. I’ve already had a couple of spills, and I don’t want to have any more. It’s not easy moving. You try to turn around, and you’ll fall down. So going through airports and just living in hotel rooms is difficult. When I came out on this press junket, I didn’t know how I was going to survive it, but it turns out I can do a little more than I thought I could. I won’t be doing it very much in the future. There is no cure. I don’t expect them to find a cure either, unless we get the Republicans the hell out of Congress so they stop holding up stem cell research. That’s what’s most promising in terms of finding a cure for diabetes, for Parkinson’s, for MS, for all kinds of things. It’s a shame to have to suffer from something that we don’t have to suffer from.That’s what’s most promising in terms of finding a cure for diabetes, for Parkinson’s, for MS, for all kinds of things. It’s a shame to have to suffer from something that we don’t have to suffer from.
(click here to continue reading Linda Ronstadt: “There are always predators around, and you have to keep an eye out for them” – Salon.com.)
and from Mary Jordan of the Washington Post:
A 67-year-old woman in a black hoodie stepped gingerly down from a golf cart at last weekend’s National Book Festival on the Mall. Battling Parkinson’s disease, she steadied herself with two walking sticks, and headed, one careful step at a time, toward the stage.
The applause started as a small ripple as the first few people in the audience spotted her. Then it grew into a full-throated ovation by more than 500 fans as she stepped up onto the stage, smiled shyly, and flashed the luminous chestnut eyes that made America fall in love with Linda Ronstadt.
“I guess I have friends here,” she said, to the roaring approval of a crowd that skewed a little gray, many still with a bit of a crush on the woman who sang such songs as “Blue Bayou” and “You’re No Good.”
As part of the festival program, I interviewed Ronstadt onstage about her new memoir, “Simple Dreams,” which focuses on her upbringing in a musical family in Tucson and the evolution of her career. One of America’s most popular recording artists of the 1970s and 1980s, she has been called the most versatile singer of her generation, a talent who could master rock and country and mariachi. Because of Parkinson’s, she’s no longer able to sing.
As we spoke before a crowd of fans, many of whom had lined up hours early, Ronstadt’s backstage shyness faded. Onstage, she seemed stronger, a force — and very funny.
“We weren’t all having orgies and smoking a big spliff,” she said, when I asked her to talk about the “sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll” lifestyle we all associate with rock stardom. Those stories are exaggerated, she said, and her nightlife was often cuddling up with her stuffed panda reading “Anna Karenina.” She admits that she did drugs, like so many others in her orbit then. But she said they weren’t really her thing: “My addiction was to reading.”
The jet-set days, a different city every night, were not always glamorous. Her luggage often didn’t arrive in time for the next gig, so she kept a favorite striped dress rolled up in her purse. She even wore it on “The Johnny Cash Show” and tossed it only because it was made of a “strange synthetic material that kept shrinking and shrinking” after so many washings in hotel sinks.
Millions of men in were in love with Ronstadt, but she never said “I do” to any of them. “I’ve had lots of nice boyfriends,” she said, describing herself as a devotee of “serial monogamy.” And, then to the delight of the crowd, she added, “with emphasis on the ‘serial.’ ” She was faithful to one boyfriend at a time, but never to one for all time.
“It just wasn’t a requirement for me. I’m not gifted that way. I have great respect for people who do make those kinds of compromises and really build each other up. The only reason to be with somebody is that they make you a better person and you make them a better person.”
Ronstadt famously dated California Gov. Jerry Brown in the late 1970s; they appeared together on the cover of Newsweek. In her memoir she said he was unlike many of the men she met through her music: “He was smart and funny, not interested in drinking or drugs, and lived his life carefully, with a great deal of discipline.”
Ronstadt said she is not political, per se, but she is a Democrat who gets fired up about the immigration debate, which hits close to home. Her father’s family has Mexican roots, and she told me she has many relatives in northern Mexico and Mexico City.
(click here to continue reading Linda Ronstadt, coping with Parkinson’s, reflecting on life in memoir, ‘Simple Dreams’ – The Washington Post.)