I just finished listening to Terry Gross’s powerful, moving interview with Linda Ronstadt on NPR’s Fresh Air. While I’ve always appreciated Ronstadt’s singing technically, I was never a huge fan.
I am now.
This woman’s devotion to the excellence of her art coupled with her fantastically expressive voice is a gift to the rest of us. Her love of singing surpassed her love of almost everything else in her life, and probably kept her from committing to a long-term relationship. And yet her songs are all about a deep interest in humanity, in human feeling. That emotional connection you hear in her voice was augmented by her openness to the full range of music…from pop to classics to classical to Mexican folk music to jazz to opera and ballet.
In August Ronstadt announced that she has Parkinson’s disease and her musical career is over. She no longer has the breathing and vocal control necessary to “sing a note”. She released a memoir, Simple Dreams, earlier this year.
In her interview, she discusses all this with clarity, courage, self humor, an obvious love of her craft and of life itself. And Terry Gross does her usual admirable job bringing out the depth of her subject.
For me, the killer moment is when she plays a song at the end of the interview: “Tell Him I Said Hello” from Ronstadt’s 2004 album Hummin’ to Myself. It’s one of her last. She describes having to change how she sang, realizing she was like an artist painting with a very limited palette of colors — black, white, maybe a little umber — and wanting to be sure there was a “strong drawing” underneath it.
To think that this beautiful voice represents her “limited palette” and is an example of her singing at its lowest ebb filled my eyes with tears and my heart with awe. I thought I’d share it.