Simple Dreams

By Linda Ronstadt

Simon & Schuster

242 pages; $26

By Dan Herbeck


Something very sad happened to the world of music in a San Antonio, Texas, concert hall Nov. 7, 2009.

It was the final concert for Linda Ronstadt, one of the most talented female singers of the past half-century. It was the final act in a spectacular career that included amazing accomplishments in a wide range of musical genres, a dozen Grammy awards and 100 million worldwide record sales.

Although a former rock star who has been in the public eye since the late 1960s, Ronstadt has always been a very private person. She only recently revealed that she has Parkinson’s disease and “can’t sing a note,” which is why she stopped performing four years ago. Now, she’s opened up a bit, telling her story in “Simple Dreams,” a thoughtful, gracefully written book that is billed on its front cover as “a musical memoir.”

If you are interested in reading all about Ronstadt’s music, the people she’s worked with and the tricky career choices she made, this biography will delight you. If you’re looking for the typical, gossipy rock star “kiss-and-tell” book, with lurid details about love affairs and drug abuse on every page, look elsewhere. Ronstadt, 67, does provide some juicy tales about life on the road, but not much about her many romances.

This is a book about music from a very accomplished, extremely versatile artist. To her great credit, Ronstadt has always done things her own way over the past five decades. When she had a couple of pop hits in the ’60s, record executives wanted her to continue in that vein, but she resisted. She wanted to record more folksy songs such as “Heart Like a Wheel.” She did it, and the album by that name put her career in high gear and became one of the biggest hits of the early ’70s.

In the ’80s, she went against the wishes of the record moguls again, making two trend-setting albums of “Great American Songbook” music with the brilliant arranger Nelson Riddle. They sold millions.

She also had great success recording country songs with her friends Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton. She recorded soul music, oldies from Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison, songs that bordered on punk rock and appeared in two highly successful New York City operas.

“Simple Dreams” has its oddities. Ronstadt, for one, has spoken about her illness in recent newspaper, radio and magazine interviews, but she never mentions it in this book. She never tells readers why she quit the music business. She occasionally makes loving references to her two children, but she never mentions their names, ages or hardly anything else about them. In a recent San Francisco Chronicle interview, she divulged that she has a daughter, Mary, 22, and a son, Carlos, 19, whom she adopted while in her 40s.

The never-married singer does discuss a few of her famous ex-boyfriends – California Gov. Jerry Brown, musician John David Souther and journalist Pete Hamill, but she never mentions her well-publicized romances with “Star Wars” producer George Lucas or actors Jim Carrey, Albert Brooks and Steve Martin.

She does offer some interesting tales about life on the road and her encounters with the Rolling Stones, Neil Young and the late singers Jim Morrison, Gram Parsons and Lowell George.

Apparently, men hit on her all the time, assuming that, because she was a rock singer, Ronstadt must be a loose woman. No story better illustrates that point than her tale of an incident in Nashville in 1969, when she appeared on Johnny Cash’s TV show.

Very late one night, she was in her hotel room when one of the show’s producers telephoned, insisting he had to see her right away to talk about some detail of the show. Ronstadt said no, but the man persisted, and finally, she told him he could stop by.

“As soon as he entered my room and closed the door, he removed every stitch of clothing he was wearing,” Ronstadt recalls.

Embarrassed and frightened, she left the room, telling the producer that she was going to call security if he didn’t go away. The man left, but he warned Ronstadt that if she told anyone about the incident, he “would make things very unpleasant” for her. At a meeting the next morning, the producer made a point of telling her in front of other people, “I left my watch in your room last night. Could you get it for me later?”

“I don’t remember his name, only that he was about to be married,” Ronstadt writes. “I felt sorry for his bride-to-be.”

Dan Herbeck is a veteran News reporter and music reviewer.