Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 9/17/2013
Listening to her talented aunt Luisa Espinel tell glamorous stories of her life on stage, Linda Ronstadt dreamed of one day performing in a proscenium theater complete with arch, orchestra pit and footlights. The Grammy-winning singer achieved her dreams in innumerable ways like performing traditional Mexican songs from Canciones de mi Padre as well as recording Great American standards in What’s New.
With such a bold musical reach, Ronstadt admits she might have had regrets if she could never perform on a stage with a curtain.
An incredible four decade career producing an eclectic discography is the subject of Ronstadt’s gorgeously nostalgic memoir Simple Dreams. With the utmost candor, she shares stories of her musical roots, rise to pop fame in the Southern California music scene of the 1960s and 1970s and ambitions to stretch her repertoire and range.
Ronstadt’s musical origins were all in the family.
“Around sunset, someone would uncork a bottle of tequila or the local bacanor—a mescal-like spirit made from the agave plant—and people would start tuning up the guitars. The stars blinked on and the songs sailed into the night. Mostly in Spanish, they were yearning, beautiful songs of love and desperation and despair. My father would often sing the lead and then aunts, uncles, cousins and friends joined in with whatever words they knew or whatever harmonies they could invent. The music never felt like a performance, it simply ebbed and flowed with the rest of the conversation.”
Entranced by the records from Mexico her father played in the family living room, Ronstadt writes that her listening favorites were certainly the huapangos sung by the Trio Calaveras and Trio Tariacuri. She recalls tuning her young voice to the ranchera style of idol Lola Beltran, who influenced her more than any other recording artist.
Of course, in those days of local radio with no corporate format, Ronstadt listened to songs broadcast from a wide-open playlist in Tucson. She recalls having an appreciative ear for songs from George Jones, Dave Brubeck, the Beach Boys and the Singing Nun.
So, what does a recording artist who tours with Neil Young, solos under David Geffen’s Asylum label and trios with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris do after topping the R&B, country and pop charts? According to Ronstadt, who became a wildly prolific reader, you find inspiration in The Vagabond by Colette and think of the theatrical setting where you’ve yearned to perform.
You meet Joe Papp, who launched the careers of George C. Scott, Meryl Streep, James Earl Jones, Martin Sheen and Wallace Shawn while creating Broadway gold of the shows Hair and A Chorus Line. Then, you audition for acclaimed director and playwright Wilford Leach for a role in the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera The Pirates of Penzance.
“People ask me why my career consisted of such rampant eclecticism and why I didn’t simply stick to one type of music. The answer is that when I admire something tremendously, it is difficult not to try to emulate it. Some of the attempts were successful, others not. The only rule I imposed on myself, consciously or unconsciously, was to not try singing something that I hadn’t heard in the family living room before the age of ten.”
Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir by Linda Ronstadt is a highly worthwhile read of heartfelt nostalgia about the iconic singer’s musical origins and its imprint on her discography.
Category: Nonfiction, Music