Saturday, April 12, 2014

Linda Ronstadt: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's Class of 2014 M.I.A. V.I.P.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has gone and done it again. For the second time in its 28-year history, it took so long to get around to inducting one of my favorite female singers that by the time it finally did (last night, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn), the deserving songstress in question was unable to attend.

The first one was Dusty Springfield, who was eligible two years after 1986's inaugural induction class but didn't get voted in until 1999. By that time she was suffering from a recurrence of breast cancer, which she had spoken proudly of beating when I interviewed her for People magazine in 1995. Sadly, she would die of complications from the disease at age 59, less than two weeks before being officially inducted by Elton John.

This year the too-late inductee/no-show was Linda Ronstadt, who had been eligible as a solo artist since 1994. Ronstadt, 67, is suffering from Parkinson's Disease, which has forced her into retirement and left her unable to sing and presumably unable to travel around the country to attend the opening of envelopes, or Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.

What a pity. As thrilling as it must have been to see Glen Frey of The Eagles, her one-time backing band, welcome her to her rightful place in the mostly boys club (alongside fellow new inductees, including Nirvana, Cat Stevens, KISS, Peter Gabriel and Daryl Hall and John Oates) and see/hear Carrie Underwood, Emmylou Harris and Stevie Nicks pay musical tribute to her, you haven't seen rock & roll until you've seen Linda Ronstadt perform live.

Luckily, I got my chance on May 13, 1995, when she came to Radio City Music Hall in New York City on tour while promoting her Feels Like Home album. She proved that crashing guitars and banging drums, contrary to popular belief, are not what make rock & roll. The spirit of rock is in the pure force of your musical statement, which can roll in from a whisper to a scream.

Ronstadt always delivered both masterfully. She could deliver almost everything masterfully. Since she scored her first hit in 1967 as lead singer of The Stone Poneys with "Different Drum," she's sung in multiple musical languages (and actual languages, too), nailing every one of them: country, pop, soul, new wave, Broadway show tunes (via 1981-82's stage version and 1983's film version of The Pirates of Penzance, for which she was Tony- and Golden Globe-nominated), big-band jazz/The Great American Songbook, Mexican mariachi, Cuban pop, adult contemporary, children's lullabies and, of course, rock & roll.

I interviewed Ronstadt for People the same year I interviewed Springfield, and I found her to be chatty and no-nonsense. She didn't suffer fools -- or Dolly Parton -- gladly. When I asked her why there still wasn't a sequel to Trio, her landmark 1987 album collaboration with Parton and Harris, she said they had tried, but "Dolly just wasn't into it." (They would release the fruits of that aborted effort as Trio II in 1999, to far less critical or commercial fanfare.) So it's entirely possible that even if she had been well enough to travel to her induction, Ronstadt would have had better things to do.

And wouldn't that have been just like her: talented, gutsy, uncompromising? That, folks, is rock & roll.

Ronstadt Whispers

"Heart Like a Wheel" (from Heart Like a Wheel, 1974)

"Sorrow Lives Here" (from Simple Dreams, 1977)

"What's New?" (from What's New, 1983)

"Telling Me Lies" (Trio, 1987)

"Winter Light" (from Winter Light, 1993)

Ronstadt Rocks

"Willin'" (from Heart Like a Wheel, 1974)

"Heat Wave" (from Prisoner in Disguise, 1975)

"How Do I Make You" (from Mad Love, 1980)

"The Waiting" (from Feels Like Home, 1995)

"When We Ran" (from We Ran, 1998)

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