Among the many observations both endearing and illuminating in Linda Ronstadt’s new memoir, “Simple Dreams” (Simon & Schuster, $25), which arrives Tuesday, Sept. 17, is the moment she recalls discovering her calling in life.
“I can remember sitting at the piano,” she writes in the first chapter of the 242-page book. “My sister was playing and my brother was singing something, and I said, ‘I want to try that.’ My sister turned to my brother and said, ‘Think we got a soprano here.’ … I remember thinking, ‘I’m a singer, that’s what I do.’ It was like I had become validated somehow, my existence affirmed.”
She was 4.
That moment of clarity didn’t have anything to do with the worldwide fame Ronstadt would achieve as one of the most powerfully emotive singers of her generation, or the 10 Grammy Awards she eventually would win for a remarkably varied career spanning country and rock, classic pop and traditional Mexican folk music, opera and Broadway.
“It’s weird, but that’s what I thought,” Ronstadt, 67, told Pop & Hiss during an interview for a full profile that will appear soon in Calendar. “I didn’t think I was a famous singer. I didn’t think I was a star, or that I could make the waters part — just that singing was what I was going to do. I thought maybe one day I’d get a job singing in a nightclub, and that would be cool.”
Her book — which she wrote over about 18 months, without the help of any ghost writers that often assist with celebrity autobiographies -- keeps the focus on the musical path she charted from her earliest days singing with other members of her extended Mexican American family in Tucson to her move as a teenager to Los Angeles to get in on the ground floor of the folk-rock-country explosion that erupted in the mid-1960s to her crowning as one of the queens of rock and pop in the 1970s and '80s and beyond.
In the book, Ronstadt doesn’t address the Parkinson’s disease she recently revealed in a recent interview for AARP magazine, a condition that has left her “unable to sing a note,” because she did not have a confirmed diagnosis until after the book went to print.
But in the interview, she talked about it almost matter-of-factly, although it is causing her at times to require use of a wheelchair or canes to steady her while walking.
“I had cancer a couple of years ago, but nobody wrote about that,” she said. “I’m 67, a lot of people my age have health challenges. I didn’t want it to sound like I was making an big announcement.”
Ronstadt is slated to appear Sept. 24 with journalist Patt Morrison at a Writers Bloc author conversation in Santa Monica. The event is sold out.
Here's a 1984 performance of Ronstadt singing the title track from her 1974 breakthrough album "Heart Like a Wheel," accompanied by the song's composer, Anna McGarrigle, her sisters Kate and Jane McGarrigle and Maria Muldaur.
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