I am more than a fan—I’m actually kind of vaguely a product of Linda Ronstadt.
Back in the 1970s, my mother and aunt, the McGarrigle Sisters, released an album. My aunt Anna wrote the song “Heart Like a Wheel,” which then Linda Ronstadt covered. It was a hit and a very successful album for her, and she went on to sing a lot of songs by Anna and Kate (Wainwright’s mother). You know, for us growing up, those were the big checks—that’s what put me through boarding school, basically.
It wasn’t a distant kind of business relationship at all: Linda was so kind and normal and would hang out with my mom and my aunt whenever they were in the same area. There was Kate and Anna and Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, so it really was like the four McGarrigle sisters. My family owes so much to her and her work, her attention and her grace above all, because Linda always has great taste in songs.
What I always love about her voice is that she’s totally unaffected. Whether she’s singing a gospel song or a pop song or a country ballad, she never sounds like she’s putting anything on stylistically. Her voice and her phrasing and the volume is extremely solid. She takes the song and turns it into her own sculpture—a musical sculpture—and doesn’t try to turn herself into a sculpture to fit into the song.
She managed to encompass so many elements at once, whether it was being a sex symbol, or a great kind of interpreter of song, or an intelligent woman who was in it for the music but at the same time widely successful and mainstream being herself. Certainly there were some great outfits, photo shoots and looks, but you always got the feeling that she wasn’t trying to cover up who she really was. [She was] Linda Ronstdat in a baseball outfit or a Mexican outfit or a cowboy suit, but she was always first and foremost a person and then came the voice, and she had fun with it. I think that’s something that is really lacking today.
In the world of music, it seems like women—men, too, certainly, but especially women—have to go that extra mile, they have to create this whole persona where they’re completely varied with who they are. You never had the feeling that Linda was doing that. She was just totally being herself—of course, coupled with one of the most amazing pair of pipes that the pop world has ever known.
“Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir” by Linda Ronstadt releases September 17.