Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Voice Is Silenced

There were few female singers who had more influence on my teenage years than Linda Ronstadt.

If there was a soundtrack to that time in my life — and, in an age when it is possible for people to burn their own CDs with the music they choose, I guess it could be done — it wouldn't be exclusively Ronstadt's stuff.

But a lot of it would be hers.

Not all of it would be her by herself, either. She collaborated with the likes of Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Gram Parsons, Jackson Browne, the Eagles and others. After she had risen to the top of the rock world, she worked in an entirely different musical style with orchestra leader Nelson Riddle.

But she didn't have to collaborate with someone else.

Of course, as a healthy adolescent male, I was also attracted to Ronstadt's beauty. There were other talented female singers on the scene at that time, but there weren't many whose looks could compare to Ronstadt's.

Well, maybe Olivia Newton–John. But she was probably the only one.

And I never thought her voice could compete with Ronstadt's.

Ronstadt had been making music for years when she finally reached the top of the charts with "You're No Good" and followed that with "When Will I Be Loved?" The Top 10 hits came fast and furious then — with "Heat Wave," "Blue Bayou," "It's So Easy," "Ooh Baby Baby," "Hurt So Bad" — and then there were the near misses, the songs that almost made the Top 10 but not quite — like "That'll Be The Day" and "Back in the U.S.A."

And that isn't all.

There were other songs that got lots of airplay and sold lots of copies but just didn't crack the Top 20 — "The Tracks of My Tears," "Poor Poor Pitiful Me," "Just One Look."

Ronstadt retired in 2011 and, in an interview with her hometown newspaper, gave Riddle all the credit for her "legacy."

That was an exaggeration. Her most successful recording with Riddle may have been "I've Got a Crush On You" from the first of three albums she made with him.

It was good, but its sales couldn't compare to her earlier hits.

Don't get me wrong. Her recordings with Riddle were exceptional, but so were the things she did in the 1970s.

And now we learn that Ronstadt has Parkinson's disease, which apparently has taken her ability to sing.

Well, I don't know enough about Parkinson's to say definitively whether it has physically taken her ability to sing or if she can still sing but the condition makes it more difficult. What I do know is what she has said.

"No one can sing with Parkinson's disease," she said. "No matter how hard you try."

Beyond that, she said she walks with poles on uneven ground and travels with a wheelchair.

The fact that she won't sing in public again may not mean much. Ronstadt, as I say, is retired. Even without the diagnosis of Parkinson's, she might never have performed in public again.

But the possibility always existed that she might be persuaded to make an occasional appearance, and now we know that we will never hear Ronstadt sing again — except through the recordings she made.

Here's hoping future generations continue to discover her music and that it will contribute to the soundtracks of many more lives.