The applause started as a small ripple as the first few people in the audience spotted her. Then it grew into a full-throated ovation by more than 500 fans as she stepped up onto the stage, smiled shyly, and flashed the luminous chestnut eyes that made America fall in love with Linda Ronstadt.
“I guess I have friends here,” she said, to the roaring approval of a crowd that skewed a little gray, many still with a bit of a crush on the woman who sang such songs as “Blue Bayou” and “You’re No Good.”
As part of the festival program, I interviewed Ronstadt onstage about her new memoir, “Simple Dreams,” which focuses on her upbringing in a musical family in Tucson and the evolution of her career. One of America’s most popular recording artists of the 1970s and 1980s, she has been called the most versatile singer of her generation, a talent who could master rock and country and mariachi. Because of Parkinson’s, she’s no longer able to sing.
As we spoke before a crowd of fans, many of whom had lined up hours early, Ronstadt’s backstage shyness faded. Onstage, she seemed stronger, a force — and very funny.
“We weren’t all having orgies and smoking a big spliff,” she said, when I asked her to talk about the “sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll” lifestyle we all associate with rock stardom. Those stories are exaggerated, she said, and her nightlife was often cuddling up with her stuffed panda reading “Anna Karenina.” She admits that she did drugs, like so many others in her orbit then. But she said they weren’t really her thing: “My addiction was to reading.”
The jet-set days, a different city every night, were not always glamorous. Her luggage often didn’t arrive in time for the next gig, so she kept a favorite striped dress rolled up in her purse. She even wore it on “The Johnny Cash Show” and tossed it only because it was made of a “strange synthetic material that kept shrinking and shrinking” after so many washings in hotel sinks.
Ronstadt’s face — captured on millions of album covers — is still soft and open, but she is heavier now and it has rounded out a bit more. Her eyes still have breath-catching depth and luster, and her wit is razor sharp.
While others of her era have kept on touring, she left the road behind long ago. It wasn’t because of her Parkinson’s, which was diagnosed only recently. She said her dramatic life change occured when she adopted two children, who are now 19 and 22.
Millions of men in were in love with Ronstadt, but she never said “I do” to any of them. “I’ve had lots of nice boyfriends,” she said, describing herself as a devotee of “serial monogamy.” And, then to the delight of the crowd, she added, “with emphasis on the ‘serial.’ ” She was faithful to one boyfriend at a time, but never to one for all time.