Our Northwest

Ronstadt spirited, upbeat despite Parkinson’s

Friday, October 11, 2013by  Jon Osterberg

Linda Ronstadt, whose 1970s “Queen of Rock” title belies her diverse musicianship, says she’ll never perform again after being addled by Parkinson’s disease.
   Yet while speaking to Seattle and Beaverton audiences recently to promote her new autobiography, “Simple Dreams,” the woman whose soaring voice thrilled two generations exudes amazing grit and cheer.
   “It’s genetic roulette,” Ronstadt told The Oregonian’s Jeff Baker. “My grandmother had (Parkinson’s). She was a lovely woman who gave me many good genes and she passed me that one. I could have done without that.
   “But I figure I’m 67 years old and I’ve had an unusually full life and everything after this is gravy,” she said. “It’s hard to complain when you’re 67 because you’re not going to die young anyway. Something’s going to get you, you know?”
   Ronstadt’s career caught fire in 1974 with her breakthough album “Heart Like A Wheel.” She became the first female to headline large arena and stadium concerts, then shunned commercial gain to follow her passion and record musical genres she’d heard and loved during her childhood in Tucson – country, pop standards, Broadway tunes, opera, jazz, and Mexican folk music.
   I saw Ronstadt perform live when I was 19. I was smitten. It was March 17, 1973, when she opened for Neil Young at the Seattle Center Coliseum during the nationwide tour that followed Young’s smash-hit “Harvest” album. With festival seating in effect, we surged to within 15 feet of the stage. I gawked upward at Ronstadt, enthralled by her strong, creamy voice and drop-dead gorgeous looks, shared by two backup singers called the Merry Sisters.
   Ronstadt’s band was superb. Indeed, over the years she assembled and performed with world-class musicians who went on to great success, including the four original Eagles. The Seattle Times’ Patrick McDonald wrote in his concert review, “The opening set of Linda Ronstadt and her band turned out to be almost as dynamic and entertaining as the feature act. … Her voice sounded sure and strong in every number.”
   During the years my wife and I dated, Ronstadt’s music stood central in the soundtrack of our lives. So two weeks ago at Town Hall, on a stormy Seattle night, we jumped at the chance to hear her discuss “Simple Dreams” and get an autographed copy, all for a mere $35. (Thanks to Elliott Bay Book Co.)
   Ronstadt's captivating writing style is a wonderful surprise -- I had no clue her gift with prose rivals her vocal styling and phrasing. Her narrative is active, colorful, and soulful, her words rich and descriptive.
   Best, her book publicist assures me it's Linda's creation, not the reflection of a great copy editor.
   Ronstadt graciously answered questions at Town Hall for an hour and 10 minutes. A bright and articulate speaker, she impressed me with her humility, conviction, and resolve. At the end she rose, smiled warmly at the audience, and walked unassisted off the stage to a standing ovation.
   I’m still smitten after all these years. Walk on, Linda.

   UPDATE: Linda Ronstadt has been nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as reported Oct. 15 by the Associated Press.

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