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Linda Ronstadt can’t sing anymore. Linda Ronstadt. Can’t. Sing. Anymore.

In an interview with AARP magazine she says:

No one can sing with Parkinson’s disease.  No matter how hard you try.

In her upcoming memoir, Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir, Ronstadt writes that “people sing for many of the same reasons the birds sing. They sing for a mate, to claim their territory, or simply to give voice to the delight of being alive in the midst of a beautiful day.” This was why Linda Ronstadt sang.

Past tense.

imagesWhen I was a girl, I wanted to be a rock ‘n’ roll singer. I had crazy dreams of hanging out with Whispering Bob on The Old Grey Whistle Test. I really did. I was 12 years old and living in Antrim, Northern Ireland, when Linda Ronstadt released the Prisoner in Disguise album, but by the time I was a college student in Belfast, I knew by heart the lyrics of every song she covered. I sang along with her, trying to convince myself that I was within her range. She covered the best of everything – Motown, soul, country, folk, rock – and she exposed me to the musicians who would score the soundtrack of my life. I think I bought all Little Feat’s albums because she covered their songs, and I only liked the Eagles because they were her backing vocalists. The Eagles were her backing vocalists. And even though they worked for her, she lacked confidence.

I got tougher being on the road with the Eagles. I walked differently, I became more foulmouthed.  I swore so much I sounded like a truck driver. But that’s the way it was. I was the only girl on the road so the boys always kind of took charge. They were working for me, and yet it always seemed like I was working for them.

Listening to her records, I would never have imagined the woman behind that heartsome voice could know vulnerability or inadequacy. I should know better. Moving through the world to the beat of a different drum is not always easy.

Ah, but how I recall getting ready to go out on a Friday night, singing along as she covered, with gusto, Neil Young’s Love is a Rose, Little Feat’s “Roll um Easy,” or – what would eventually become a kind of anthem for my own life, Different Drum –

linda2bronstadt2bus782I loved everything about her. Mostly her voice. It was all-American, and I wanted to be an American girl. Linda Ronstadt was the reason for my big hoop earrings, the perm I didn’t need, shirts tied at the waist, off the shoulder peasant blouses, and the odd flower in my hair. I wanted to be her, to stride onstage in a mini-skirt and a tambourine and belt out Poor, Poor Pitiful Me, leaving the Eagles gobsmacked, or Lowell George’s “Willin” on The Old Grey Whistle Test, the song I think about every time I see truck drivers pulling into the weigh station this side of the California border:

When I traded Northern Ireland for America and settled in Arizona, I remember feeling a tiny thrill that I had landed in the state where Linda Ronstadt lived.  But when our paths almost crossed years later, it would have nothing to do with music.

On the morning of January 16, 2010, more than twenty thousand of us gathered in Phoenix to march from Falcon Park to Sheriff Joe Arpaio‘s Tent City. We were there, in peace, to raise our voices against the Maricopa County Sheriff Office’s immigration tactics, and the indiscriminate attacks and raids against undocumented immigrants living in Maricopa County. True to form, “America’s toughest sheriff” was unfazed and announced that, from inside his jail, officials would play music over the PA system to drown out our noise – Linda Ronstadt’s music.

22441_1342401081222_3603082_nPeople arrived from all over these United States, from as far away as New York, Chicago, and Washington D.C. We carried signs that bore simple messages of humanity: “We are Human” “and “Stop the Hate.”

Leading us in that march, among others, was heroic United Farm Workers union leader and activist for the rights of farm workers and women, Dolores Huerta, who made an impassioned plea for the removal of officials like Sheriff Arpaio, and as she spoke to the growing yet quietening  crowd. As she spoke, I noticed a group of students from a local Catholic boy’s school. Bent in prayer, in support of their immigrant peers, they lifted my heart.

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And by her side, was Linda Ronstadt. She led us all the way to Tent City, urging everyone to be peaceful. And we were.

I’m here because I’m an Arizonan. I was born in Arizona. My father was born in Arizona. My grandmother was born in Arizona. I love Arizona, and Sheriff Arpaio is bad for Arizona. He’s making Arizona look bad because he’s profiling and he’s applying the law in an uneven and unjust way, and that weakens the law for all of us.

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Thank you, Linda Ronstadt. For all of it.

Un abrazo fuerte.

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