Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice

She seizes control of her life’s narrative

Linda RonstadtI went to the 12:55 pm showing of the documentary Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany, NY on the day it opened in town. There were a total of five people there, and I suspect they’re all over sixty. (In fact, I know the pair of women in line were because they ALSO took the senior discount.)

I can tell you that we were all blown away. Sad that she no longer sing (mostly) because of her Parkinson’s disease. Her last concert was in 2009. If you’ve seen the movie up to that point, you suspect that someone who was less than the perfectionist she was/is could have milked her career for another two or three years.

Naturally, because I’m like that, I then went to the early Rotten Tomatoes reviews. 85% positive from the critics, 100% positive from the fans. I’ve decided to address the negative reviews.

“She suddenly seizes control of her life’s narrative, careening herself towards a series of bizarre, baffling creative decisions that inexplicably kept succeeding.” As the film makes clear, she was tired of being on the road in arenas.

The decisions to do Pirates of Penzance was a function of the music she grew up with. Joseph Papp would have given her the gig, but she wanted to be sure she was right for the part.

Ditto her three American songbook albums. She heard those tunes in her youth and wanted to sing them, getting someone like Nelson Riddle to arrange it, only to discover the man himself was available.

Her foray into Mexican music came from growing up singing in Spanish the tunes from her father’s heritage, Germans who moved to Mexico in the 19th century.

Hagiography?

“It isn’t long into the film when the hagiographic soundbites from famous interviewees become the dominant mode.” Also, “Ronstadt speaks of herself honestly and modestly, but the talking-heads tributes in this doc are trite.”

I have seen documentaries when one could say, “Why are THEY here?” as they ramble about the subject. But we’re talking Don Henley, who was a drummer for her in an early band before he met Glenn Frey and started the Eagles. Jackson Browne was part of that scene, touring with Linda.

Emmylou Harris was befriended by Linda after Gram Parsons’ death, as explained in the film. Dolly Parton, who in the extended trailer calls Linda a PITA. The alchemy of their three voices in the Trio sessions awed them all.

I got sufficient insight into Linda from herself and the others. There were details I had totally forgotten. The original version of Different Drum by the Stone Poneys – Linda Kenny Edwards, Bobby Kimmel- was not successful. But the re-recording made it to #13 on the pop charts in 1968.

If I had any complaints is that The Sound of My Voice gave short shrift to her latter output, at least a half dozen albums, including one with Harris and another with Ann Savoy.

If you love Linda’s music, see this film. If you’re not familiar with the range of her work, see this film. Here’s the Still within the Sound of My Voice, the opening tune from the 1989 album Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind.