When I read the article in the NY Daily News that iconic singer Linda Ronstadt has Parkinson’s disease and can no longer sing, I felt deeply saddened about one of my favorite artists losing her precious gift. On a more personal level, I felt like another page had turned in my life, and as I age it seems that loss is more overwhelming each time it is experienced.
Linda is loved by her fans for many reasons, but mostly for that amazing voice that could rise and fall across the spectrum and capture moods, feelings, and moments that are still evanescent in their effect. Listen to her sing “I Will Always Love You,” and know that she owned that song way before Whitney Houston probably ever heard it. She could rock you harder than Joan Jett with “Heat Wave” and leave you a shivering mess of tears after “Long, Long Time.” As much as any performer I have ever heard, Linda could take a song and make it truly personal, as if she were singing it just for you in a crowded arena or if you were alone in your room wearing your headphones.
There are indelible moments in our lives, ones that we never forget for whatever reason. One such moment involved Linda Ronstadt and me (yes, I am serious). I was a New York City kid just graduated from high school. I had listened to Heart Like a Wheel and her other albums to date many times before the concert at Radio City Music Hall, and when I got there and walked into that beautiful arena, my heart was pumping as if this were a first date.
In essence it was like a first date because I had never seen Linda in person before. That year she had won a Grammy for “Hasten Down the Wind,” and I had seen her perform on television a number of times. I had a picture of Linda on the wall in my room sporting roller skates and wearing shorts and a T-shirt. To say this teenager was “in love” with her was no stretch of the imagination.
I got into my seat in the balcony and my friend sat next to me, and as the concert began I was caught up in swirling emotions. One song after another registered in my mind, but almost as if I were floating on some cloud, the ethereal nature of each expressive note lifting me on angel wings. And then, just as Linda finished singing a heart wrenching version of “Blue Bayou,” as her last syllable echoed in the rafters, something welled inside me, and in the second or two of silence that seemed incongruous at that moment in a hall filled with people, I screamed out, “Linda, I love you!”
I was mortified even as the words left my lips, wishing to grab them and suck them back inside me, but they were shot across time and space and I felt like everyone heard them and was looking at me. Linda, far away on the stage, smiled and didn’t miss a beat. She stared out into the abyss, the darkness of the hall and its thousand faces, and said, “I love you too!”
The crowd applauded wildly, and I started clapping too. My friend slapped my shoulder, and as she began singing the next song, tears were falling on my cheeks. On the subway ride home I was still shaking, almost as if I finished the first date and got an unexpected kiss before I left the girl at her front door. I had some kind of exchange – however public and initially humiliating it seemed – with the girl of my dreams. I went home, stood on my bed, and kissed that poster of Linda goodnight. Let’s just say that I went to bed with a smile on my face that night.
Now all these years later to hear that Linda is sick and can no longer sing is like a little death. How can the world lose such a voice and not mourn the silence? Linda tells AARP Magazine interviewer Alanna Nash that she was shocked to learn that she had the disease and noted, “No one can sing with Parkinson’s disease. No matter how hard you try.”
I am sure many other fans share my concern for the singing legend, whose memoir Simple Dreams will be released next month. Despite the inevitable feeling of loss we may feel about Linda never being able to sing again, one thing we all have is the legacy of music that she has left us. There is a body of work that I believe will stand the test of time, making Linda one of the most enduring voices in the history of rock and roll.
Personally, I wish Linda all the best and will keep her in my thoughts and prayers. Of course, Linda, I must say, even now after all the many years since that teenager screamed out to you across the expanse of space between upper balcony seat and stage, “I will always love you.”
Photo credits: rolling stone, radio city-ny daily news; award-AP