LINDA RONSTADT, who had her first hit, "A Different Drum," in 1967 while singing
with a group called the Stone Poneys, is 54. She lives in Tucson, Arizona,
where she grew up, the daughter of Ruthmary Copeman Ronstadt, a homemaker, and Gilbert Ronstadt,
a hardware-store owner. Her two adopted children are her life's focus, but because she has
been troubled by a stalker, she declines to give their names and ages or say anything specific
about them. She never married, though she dated former California Governor Jerry Brown in
the '70s, and in the '80s she was engaged ("ring on the finger and all") to the writer,
producer and director of the Star Wars films, George Lucas.
I have known Linda for 20 years and I have always found her to be a luminous, passionate woman with considerable courage. From her tepid time with the Stone Poneys until now, in a different world, she has chosen paths that no other singer has dared traverse: Rodgers and Hart; Gilbert and Sullivan; a terrific mambo moment on CD; country collaborations with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Partom and a gentle encounter with lullabies on an album called Dedicated to the One I Love (See discography).
Although she loves to record, Linda doesn't hide away in the studio; she has made her music both on albums and onstage. She takes her chances, however apprehensively, in front of enormous groups of people.
There are no television sets in her house and no computers (she tried and sent back the iMac she received). She doesn't type and she writes only with an Aurora fountain pen or a Mont Blanc ("If anyone knows a fountain pen that's better, I want them to write me a letter and tell me what it is").
There is also very little recorded music heard in Linda's house, though she has save many Sinatra 331/3 albums, preferring those vinyl discs to CDs. ("I don't like the way CDs sound; they destroyed the pleasure in recorded music. I like hi-fi music.") Still, her 35 albums are all available on CD, including her latest, A Merry Little Christmas.
Recently we talked by phone, Linda in Tucson, me in New York.
Have you heard Joni Mitchell's album of standards, Both Sides Now, like the ones you made with [arranger] Nelson Riddle?
I didn't know she made one. I heard a standard she sang on a Herbie Hancock album.
"The Man I Love"?
Yes. It killed me.
For the first time since your records with Nelson Riddle, you've come back to standards on this Christmas CD.
I wanted to make a Christmas album because of choral singing. It's the most healthy thing a singer can do. It's that wonderful thing about conspiracy. Conspiracy means to breathe together and, in that way, a choir is an incredible conspiracy. You can ride on each other's voices. I can never get enough of it. We were making this CD in July here in Tucson, when it was so hot. It was psychedelic. I put this little chorus together. It's not a British choir, but being raised Mexican-Catholic - which is basically pagan - they are the cult of the original Guadalupe [a manifestation of the Blessed Mother that occurred in Mexico in 1531]. And the song on the album "0 Magnum Mysterium" was written about that.
The next-to-last song.
The record company changed my sequencing, which I'm very unhappy about.
Sequence is everything.
Everything. I had "O Magnum Mysterium" fourth.
Why did you allow it to happen?
When I'm tired, I just stop fighting.
Is there an album of your own that stands out for you?
I don't like any of my records. I don't. I like moments on the Trio records [with Harris and Parton], but I never listen to my albums when I'm finished.
I favor Cry Like a Rainstorm.
That one had the most input from me, in terms of arrangements. It had the most of my sensibility. I wanted a big orchestra, and I did help write some of the arrangements.
It's an extremely dark and romantic album. All your life there have been boys in the trees. Why no marriage?
I knew that my destiny was to sleep only with people in feet pajamas [laughs]. It's true. I don't think I have any talent for a relationship. I have some talent for motherhood and also for music.
Can you read music?
Not well at all, but I'm learning. And a friend loaned me his mother's violin. I'm studying.
If you never made another dime, would you be OK?
Oh, yeah, I think so, if the stock market doesn't keep doing what it's doing. I have one house. It's a modest house compared to the one I used to live in. I have a big garden, which I love. My goal is to grow everything I eat. I don't have anything against meat. I think that people should raise their rabbits or their chickens in the back - forget about cows, you know? Cows are the beginning of the downfall of civilization, because cows cause erosion. They are good pets - I love them. But not for food.
What do you read these days?
I just love the history of the world. And I read classic literature. I don't like to read modem fiction because I can't stand the twentyfirst century and I don't like the second half of the twentieth. I like Henry James and Edith Wharton, but I love Harry Potter. I've read all four of them, and I can't wait for the next one to come out.
Who would you consider your closest friend in the world?
You mean here in Tucson?
On the planet.
My friend Virginia Baker. But maybe Michi [New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani]. I talk to Michi probably four or five times a week. I got her to read Harry Potter. She loved it. She read all four of them. When she was sad about something, I told her "Look, you need to go to another world. Get Harry Potter." And she did. She couldn't put them down. I was so excited.
Let's say that it fell to you to name some realistic figure for president. Who would you pick?
Probably [former Senate Majority teader] George Mitchell. But if I could really name someone, it would be Wes Jackson. Do you know about him?
He's a farmer in Kansas. A prairie farmer, and he's an expert in biodynamic gardening. He won the MacArthur Fellowship, and the work he's doing right now is the most important work there is in the country. Because biodynamic farming is an agricultural system that would change the way communities are organized. It would eliminate sprawl development. It would change the greenhouse problem. It would change the erosion problem. The two things that dwarf everything else are water and soil erosion. We don't have water. We're polluting it. We're using it up. We're setting it in the wrong place. We're not going to have anything to eat because we won't be able to plant food.
What's the story on future Ronstadt music?
I understand what women say when they talk about working and having children. You've got to have the work be so much the center of who you are and what you do. It has to be your primary focus. You have to be able to put all your spare moments - even if it's those little moments that come when you're taking a shower or washing the dishes or picking your clothes up off the floor or something like that, you get those little inspirations if you're focused on that - that you can't when you have children in the house, because it's their turn, they get to have it. They're entitled to it. It is my great privilege, joy and pleasure to have them take up all my thoughts, but they do, and it means that a tiny little fingernail of my thoughts goes to my work. I was lucky in terms of my work in that I didn't have that distraction for all those years, but now I'm distracted completely. It's a fact.
I love the kind of music we make together. They practice their piano lessons, and we sing little songs together, and I have family members who come over and we do a bit of singing. There is a lot of music that goes on in my living room. But it's live music. It doesn't come through the television set. It doesn't come through the CD player. It doesn't come through the radio. People come over and they make music here. And the children are welcome to join in whenever they want.
Of all the people who have died who had been in your life, who Is the one person you'd like to see come through the door right now, family aside?
Who is your favorite singer of all time?
Maria Callas. There's no one in her league. That's it. Period.
** NOTE- THIS DISCOGRAPHY IS LISTED AS IT WAS PRINTED IN THE MAGAZINE- IT IS NOT 100% ACCURATE, AND NOT ALL TITLES ARE AVAILABLE ON CD.