RONSTADT

Progressive supranuclear palsy, a degenerative disease affecting brain activity, silenced singer Linda Ronstadt’s soaring, beautiful voice more than a decade ago. A voice that fueled record sales in the millions spanning an array of musical genres from rock, pop, jazz, country, big band and more. 

Ronstadt’s 1987 album, “Canciones de Mi Padre,”a collection of traditional Mexican mariachi songs in tribute to her father and grandparents, remains the biggest non-English language selling album in America. A voice that arguably landed Ronstadt among the best female singers, not to mention song interpreters, ever, stirred the passions of countless teenage boys throughout the ’70s and ’80s and, more importantly, inspired no telling how many women to pursue careers in music.

Though she’s tragically no longer able to perform or record, Ronstadt still has much to say. To that end, she, pre-COVID-19 at least, made several public appearances for talks and Q&A sessions and took to writing her thoughts in book form.

“Feels Like Home” isn’t the world famous Ronstadt of chart-topping hits, sold out arenas, Cub Scout uniforms, collaborations with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris or sharing the stage with the Rolling Stones to sing “Tumbling Dice.”

Some of that gets mentioned here, mostly in passing, but for the fuller version of those tales check out Ronstadt’s first book, “Simple Dreams,” from 2013.

“Feels Like Home” is more the before though also some of the during and after of Ronstadt’s superstardom reign and as such feels the more intimate and personable of the two. 

Credit that to the book’s conversational style though which Ronstadt, now 76, comes across as down-to-earth, regular, albeit extremely talented, folk. She comes across bright, well spoken and engaging — for further evidence of that, head to YouTube and watch her old interview show appearances from the ’70s and ’80s — if at times opinionated and a bit cranky though never really in a bad way. 

Informative yet casual, reading the book feels like a day hanging out with Ronstadt while being amazed by her ordinary demeanor lack of pretense despite her wealth and fame. 

At one point, Ronstadt writes of her sister showing up and helping her unload the bed of her old pickup. Hard to imagine any of the talent-lite, reality music show divas littering today’s Top-40 charts engaging in such. Much of the book if fact is the fruit of multiple home visits, road trips and other conversations with co-author Lawrence Downes.

What started as a proposed book of family recipes — which are still here — morphed into a proud, bittersweet Ronstadt love letter to her family and home. The Sonoran, a borderless region, encompasses Ronstadt’s hometown Tucson, Arizona and much of Mexico incorporating numerous cultures and languages all of which played into Ronstadt’s Mexican/Germanic ancestry and upbringing.

As did music of all styles. Ronstadt talks of family and community singalongs. 

“The music never felt like performance,” Ronstadt writes. “It simply ebbed and flowed with the rest of the conversation.”

Ronstadt writes lovingly and proudly of her parents and grandparents love of music, the letters of her great grandmother, Margarita Redondo Ronstadt, now preserved in the Arizona History Museum, and her aunt, Luisa Espinel Ronstadt, who traveled the world performing opera and Spanish folk songs through the 1920s.

Elsewhere Ronstadt writes of the Martin guitar she played early on in her career, which her grandfather bought brand new in the late 1800s and later passed on to Ronstadt’s father who later passed it on to her. Ronstadt has since passed it on to her nephew.

She writes of the courtship of her grandparents and F. Ronstadt, a carriage and agricultural implements, and later hardware store, founded by her grandfather and later taken over by her father.

On a more humorous, and actually, pretty cool, note, Ronstadt shares the tale of her father who, while a student at the University of Arizona, rode a horse up the stairs of the Delta Gamma sorority house in order to woo a coed.

Ronstadt holds scant love for the concrete and corporate progress that have altered much of her hometown while at the same time separating and marginalizing many a historic neighborhood. 

Sadness too she expresses over acceptance of her own mortality and the loss of family members now gone, most poignantly her brother Mike and sister Suzy.

“I miss her, and I miss Mike, who was taken far too soon,” Ronstadt writes dolefully. “[My other brother] Peter and I are plugging away.”

Sorrow sure, but also joy over a life well lived and family, friends, culture and music treasured.

The only drawback being that, for all the pictures of family, friends and places, I would liked to have seen more of Ronstadt herself.

But that’s a small c complaint and “Feels Like Home” is an otherwise wonderful read.

 

“Feels Like Home: A Song for the Sonoran Borderlands”

By Linda Ronstadt

and Lawrence Downes

Heyday Publishers

238 pages

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