Oct. 27 was a day I will never forget. It was the perfect day. I enjoyed an afternoon with an amazing friend, childhood memories of my dad, reflections of my own life and the music of Linda Ronstadt.
It all started with a little text asking if I’d be interested in checking out the new documentary about Ronstadt. “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound Of My Voice” was playing at the Michigan Theater in downtown Ann Arbor. I obliged and the day began.
I love reading and learning about singers and musicians, which is odd for me to have never gone to see a documentary film before. This one was the perfect one to see. Oscar-winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman did a superb job of exploring Ronstadt’s incredibly versatile voice, spot-on musicality, diverse heritage and her battle with Parkinson’s disease. This woman was a pioneer for all women in the male-dominated music industry of the ’70s.
You know you’re in for something good when the trailer opens with a quote from Dolly Parton: “Linda could literally sing anything.” She was not kidding. I was excited to spend the day with my friend in his old stomping grounds, too.
I loved how it opened with Ronstadt guiding us through her early years, singing canciones with her family and the folk music onset with The Stone Ponys before giving prominence to her ’70s reign as a “rock queen.” She had an amazing vocal prowess, but her ear for music was not readily noticed at first. Hence, the first hit “Different Drum” from The Stone Ponys. Ronstadt was not on-board with her record company’s reworking of the track until it became a massive hit. From then on, she was open to suggestion, but that notion quickly faded as she took command of her music.
As her star grew brighter, the music and hits continued. She recorded five platinum-selling albums in a row. No other artist had ever done so at the time.
The documentary then spotlighted her album, “Simple Dreams,” to which I had a moment. I’ve often written in my columns how much my mom’s love for music influenced me, but on this day, it was all my dad - his musical influence to me was more than his resemblance to Don Williams (Thank you, Cindy, for that depiction.) You see, he had this 1978 Dodge pickup with a fancy paint job down the side. I remember it like it was yesterday. It had black leather seats and some red shag carpeting interior. And it had something else: an 8-track player. My dad only had one 8-track and it was Ronstadt’s “Simple Dreams.” It played every time we were in the truck. He loved it and so did we. We used to sing along with Ronstadt. “Blue Bayou” was my favorite. At the theater, tears began to roll down my cheek as I felt my dad’s presence.
Ronstadt’s early years were filled with music her mother and father both loved so much, music that would later mark its return in her career.
At the height of her fame, she approached record label execs about her interest in doing a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta. You can guess what their reaction was, but she did it anyway. The result was a major success, proving Ronstadt was more than just a rock singer. Never mind the fact that she had conquered the folk and country scene, too.
I loved her motivation to not be categorically perfect to just one genre. She showed what it meant to be a true artist, something several aspiring artists today could take away from seeing this documentary.
Classical and Latin music fields also were fair game for Ronstadt, to which she did them both with justice and conviction. She was heavily praised for her artistic directions.
Ronstadt’s career came to an end in 2009 when she was no longer able to sing and perform due to the complications of Parkinson’s disease. It was so sad to see her realization of her situation and to watch as many of her friends, fellow artists and peers spoke of her many talents.
Ronstadt had said something near the end of this amazing film that resonated so much with me. Someone had asked her about life after death and she replied, “Life after death is not the question. It is life before death. So how are you going to do it? How are you going to live?”
Although she will never sing and perform again, she is still touching us with her words. “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound Of My Voice” is a must-see. Thank you Linda for sharing your story with us.
David T. Farr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.