publications

Linda Ronstadt – Singer/Songwriter

An interview with the energetic, Linda Ronstadt, also known as the Queen of Rock, and unprecedented as a singer, songwriter, musician, record producer and actress can leave you breathless. Born in 1946, and mother of a grown daughter and son, Ronstadt has triumphed as one of the top-selling female vocalists of the late 1970s, with numerous smash hits expanding over four decades.

Raised on a ranch outside Tucson, Arizona, with two brothers and one sister, Linda spoke of how music kept the family together. Her father strummed his guitar to his traditional Mexican roots, while her mother played the piano and exposed them to a variety of music.

“I think I was only two when I made up my first song,” she mused. “I remember we all used to sing on car trips, songs like “Ragtime Cowboy Joe,” one of the regional farm songs my Mom knew from Michigan. All my cousins sang, too, in fact, my grandfather was the band leader of a brass oompah band. You couldn’t go very far without hearing some kind of Ronstadt.

“In first grade, we were made to sing hymns, and I would really sing while everyone else was sort of mumbling.” She laughed. “I attended a strict Catholic school, and when the nuns floated by, I didn’t realize they had bodies; they were so terrifying. Today they would be in jail for child abuse.

“I was an early reader and wanted everyone to just leave me alone, sitting quietly in the corner with my head down. I was so glad to get out of there, but by then, the damage was done. It made me more rebellious.”

“Aside from my family, some of my early influences were country star, Hank Williams, and Lola Beltran, who was revered in Mexico. I based my style rhythmically on what she did, so it was hard for me to understand some American rhythms at first.”

“Tucson had been an unusually musical community, particularly when there wasn’t much radio and television, so we had to make our own music, and then when we moved out of the 50s into the 60s, dad would take us to see someone perform, but it wasn’t exactly the “hottest” act. At the age of 17, the pop and folk music I really admired was going on in either Newport Folk Festival or Berkeley – you know, the really cool stuff – and the first person I saw was Ry Cooder with Taj Mahal at the Ashgrove in a band called The Rising Sun, and I went, ‘oooh, they’ve got some hot players over here in California,’ so I wanted to stay.

“All of American culture was focused through the lens of Los Angeles at that point, which was sometimes distorted, but you had to come to LA to make your bones, musically.”

While a student at Arizona State University, Ronstadt met a local musician, Bob Kimmel, and left home for LA with a few dollars tucked inside the pocket of her blue jeans, along with dreams of a musical career. There, the two met up with guitarist/songwriter, Kenny Edwards, and called themselves the Stone Poneys, and produced their self-titled debut folk album in 1967, and released two more albums, including top 20 hit “Different Drum,” written by Michael Nesmith of The Monkees.

After turning out three albums, the trio split, and Ronstadt began her solo career in 1968, a blend of Country and Rock, with her first solo album, “Hand Sown Home Grown,” helping to define the LA music scene in the early 70s with mellow-rock California sounds, and also collaborated with other musicians and songwriters, such as The Eagles, and Neil Young.

“The Eagles were assembled by my manager, John Boylan because he knew Randy Meisner, the original bass player, and I knew Bernie Leaden and Glenn Frey, and together we discovered Don Henley at the Troubadour, and we put all these people together to form a band for me when we were on the road, and then Glenn and Don started writing together and they got the chance to play their own stuff on stage, so it was mutually beneficial.”

“I opened for Neil Young and toured with him for a long time, and watched every single show (I don’t know that I’ve ever done that since), but he was so amazing and mesmerizing, and still one of my favorite musicians, and has one of the most unusual singing voices.”

In 1974 when Heart Like A Wheel sold over two million copies with the hit “You’re No Good and “When Will I Be Loved, “reached number one and sold over two million copies, Ronstadt was officially crowned a “Superstar.” Dubbed with that title, and simultaneously suffering from acute stage fright, she went on the road in an effort to connect to her fans.

When asked about her timid reputation, she said, “It’s against animal nature to have other animals staring at you.” She paused. “Because in the animal world, when they stare at you for a long long time, they want to EAT you!”

Many of Ronstadt’s hit records have been covers of other hits, including Buddy Holly’s, “That’ll Be The Day,” Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou,” raggae Jimmy Cliff’s, “Many Rivers To Cross,” The Rolling Stone’s, “Tumbling Dice,” and Warren Zevon’s, “Poor, Poor Pitiful me.”

Courageously, the ever-changing, yet consistent crystal clear voice of Linda Ronstadt has crossed all genres, including Country, Rock, Latin American, R & B, Big Band, Jazz, Contemporary Pop, Children’s Music, Opera, Cajun…and has received multi-platinum albums, an Emmy Award, a Tony-Award Nomination, and has recorded over 30 studio albums and sold a million records of six consecutive rock albums in the mid 70s.

During the interview, I pondered the real Linda Ronstadt, what’s behind those dark eyes – “So, you’ve always been so, ummm, diverse. Is that your persona, too – WHO are you?”

“Oh, my eclecticism,” she giggled, as she looked around her small flat in San Franciso — “Well, on the floor is a Navajo rug, and over there is an English needlepoint, and well, in design, when I like something, I have to have it, and in terms of music, too, especially when it’s footed in some kind of tradition.”

When Ronstadt had met manager, Peter Asher (formerly of the British pop duo, Peter and Gordon) her popularity soared. Yet, with her modest demeanor, perhaps attributed to her upbringing in the Southwest, the popular artist has left the media somewhat curious, especially while romantically involved with diverse men, from actors and athletes to musicians and politicians; she was once displayed on the cover of Time when she kept company of companion California governor, Jerry Brown.

Ultimately, once coined as a rocker chick and sex symbol, she has managed to keep her private life, private, but claims she was political in the turbulent 60s and again now. “We have to get rid of this government and replace it with an intelligent one before it destroys the United States,” she said.

In the 80s, the singer took an extremely sharp turn, as she ventured acting on Broadway, playing the role of Mabel in the opera The Pirates of Penzance (and later the film), and La Boheme which appealed to a different audience and led to working with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra who conducted her 1983 collection of pop standards, “What’s New,” “Lush Life” (1984), Sentimental Reasons (1986).

“The morning I woke up and knew Nelson Riddle was coming over to work with me and I was going to record songs I had been passionate about, was probably the most exciting day of my musical career.

“Those are the songs I’ll be doing in concert in Westhampton during the first half of the show, and the hits I’ve had during the 70s, 80s, and 90’s, for the second half, like a review of 20th century pop music.”

At the end of 1986, she returned to the contemporary sound, and recorded “Somewhere Out There” with artist James Ingram, and in 1987 returned to her country roots when she recorded the platinum Trio album with Dolly Parton and Emmy Lou Harris (still a close friend), a ten year project in the making; and of course, Cry Like A Rainstorm, which includes the four duets with the silky voice of New Orleans’ Aaron Neville.

In the 90s, Ronstadt returned to traditional Mexican and Spanish music, including a tribute album to her father, Mas Canciones; back to pop with 1994’s “Winter Light,” a Holiday album, another collection of standards, “Hummin’ To Myself” in 2004, and Adieu False Heart, a collaboration with Ann Savoy (Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band) in 2006. Ronstadt consistently topped the charts as a leading female vocalist of the rock era, and a favorite to many baby boomers (including myself.) In fact, after all these years I’ve kept an image of this iconic artist with stick legs wearing hot pants and roller skates. I wondered if it was only in my imagination. I had to ask:

“OH, she wailed, “Yes, it is an album cover. The reason for that is my friend, Nicolette Larson, another singer and close friend of mine, who used to skate with me in Venice, got bored during photo sessions while they changed film or whatever, so since we wanted to learn how to turn around on our skates and stuff like that, a photographer snatched a shot of me skating down the hallway under the florescent lights, and that ended up on the cover.”

After the interview, I went up into my attic, and rooted through old cardboard boxes, until I found the 30-year old album, “Living in the USA.” And there she was, all right – free skating down a long hall, holding herself up by the walls. And lucky for us, she’ll be rollin’ right into the Hamptons on the 17th of August… Can’t wait to see her – “She’s so good, she’s so good, baby she’s sooo good!”

publications

BUCKLE UP!

“This is gonna be a trip you’ll never forget!” my husband said. Unfortunately, these were his only words of wisdom for the next 3,000 miles. I winced, telling my own kids to listen to their father and get into the vehicular trap — the upgraded Audi Quattro SUV. Seems like yesterday when I was a kid, entrapped in our ’56 yellow station wagon we called “The Lemon,” and endured those “heart to heart” talks during the dreaded family vacation road trip.

Not much has changed. In a way, it’s still the same “Dad” behind the wheel with that Willie Nelsonesque sparkle in his eye whenever he heads out on the road like one of the Highwaymen. The more lost we get, the more he seems to enjoy the trip. It has nothing to do with where we’re going, as long as we’re going somewhere.

My husband reminds everyone for the kazillionth time — “Yeah, back in the 60s, I went cross-country five times in my camper that I named Wally . . . did I ever tell you that?”

We look at one another, then at the retired hippie, imagining his days when he was trying to find himself. It’s a shame, ’cause he’s been working nonstop ever since to pay for all the accumulated stuff — now that he’s found out who he is.

I, the mother of offspring often wonder why we we’re held hostage to his personal quest to find the grungiest tooth-pickin’ truck stop in the United States. It’s always the same, everyone anxiously waddles back to the car, cranky and bloated, and then we drive until exhaustion, as we pass one threatening motel after another.

Our American Princess daughter has tears in her eyes, as her younger brother remains oblivious. I’ll be darned if I could figure out which is worse — the car entrapment or the motel entrapment. The accommodations all look the same — the flashing signs: Color TV and Air-Conditioning, $29.95.

“Hold on,” Dad yelps with excitement. “It’ll be worth the wait — we have reservations at a lodge by the Grand Canyon.”

“Oh my God,” the Princess blurts out as she enters one of the lodges cabins. “This is what we’ve been holding out for? It smells like something died in here!”

From then on, we were coined with new names: Prudent and Prissy stay in one cabin, while our adventurous male counterparts stay in another. There’s something about the dark wood; makes you feel like you’re still outdoors. At nightfall the temperature drops to 100 degrees. The Princess takes it upon herself to call the front desk. “Excuse me, concierge?” she says, with the most polite New York accent she can muster, “but it seems our air-conditioning is not working.”

“Well,” the woman on the other end of the line snorts, that’s because you don’t have an air-conditioner.”

After days of driving and singing campfire songs like “Dum dum dada dada, dum dum dada dada . . . and after days of driving, we succumb to delerium. “One more dusty trail, and I’m gonna kill something,” our teenage Princess cries, while examining her manicure. “I need a shower so bad, these flies buzzin’ around my head won’t even land.”

But, Dad, the optimist, sits behind the wheel, pondering what could possibly be beyond the next bend. It’s another day of family closeness, and Dad has this need to prove himself. One day he has to show off his adventurous side. “We got lucky,” he announces. “I just got the last of the canoes, this side of the Mississippi.”

“That thing’s at least 100 feet long!” the Princess cries again. Of course the wonder boat capsizes in the muddiest of waters, leaving our foursome sloshing away below circling buzzards.

Yep, Dad certainly did prove something, and the following day, he wants to prove his dexterous side. After waiting for him in the parking lot of a ranch, he finally exits the stables with extra exuberance in his step. We have a bad hunch.

“Don’t tell me,” the Princess said. “You got the last of the horses, this side of the *%#@*%$ River . . .”

The young fellow, who actually wears a cowboy hat, walks the four horses to each of us, one at a time: Sunshine, Sweet Cakes, Old Chum, and Lightnin’. And it sure does run like its name, with poor dad’s dexterous arms clinging around its neck. Lightnin’ ignores the “No-U-Turns” sign and bolts clear around the lake with unyielding determination, back to the stables to eat its dinner which was awaitin.’ Regretfully, we failed to warn the cowhand about Dad’s finicky back.

Sometimes I think my father and my husband are the same man. No wonder television has often portrayed the father-figure as the bumbling idiot. Yet somehow, after passing years, and having grown children, I realize that father may have known best, after all — because after putting up with all the moaning and groaning, Dads somehow know that their kids will wear perpetual grins on their faces from having been “on the road” as family.

While cleaning out the attic, recently, I found some old photos of our vacations, and I did a double-take at one snapshot in particular. It’s the one with my fashion plate of a daughter standing on the edge of a rock at the Grand Canyon wearing a white suede cowboy hat and a red bandana with a short denim skirt. Then I look at her feet. Funny, I don’t recall her hiking three miles in those six-inch open-toed silver metallic platform shoes which have also been packed away under cardboard boxes with the rest of our memories ingrained in our souls . . . thanks to dear ol’ Dad.

publications

LIVE FROM IRAQ

Nephew of Westhampton Woman is Front and Center on the TV News
By
Janet Lee Berg

“Mom, Im in Kuwait. But, dont worry, Im a writer. Im here to write, not to get shot at.”

In our family, we happen to have a reporter in Iraq, my 28-year-old nephew, Marc Santora, who is still a wet-behind-the-ears rookie at the Metro desk for The New York Times. Like many families who have loved ones in the Middle East, we cant wait for his safe return. We watched him evolve from a goofy kid, to a well-educated adolescent, known for his zany sense of humor that matured over the years into one of suavity.

When he first started reporting, we couldnt help but smirk at his stealth silhouette, gliding by on the streets of Manhattan in his wrinkled, Columbo-like trench coat. “Have you been living in a car?” we’d ask.

Then, we stood back and took a second look, as every week following, this boy was producing front page articles and was given spectacular assignments that were actually featured as segues for prime time news. Why, he even got to hob-nob with big celebrities. The next thing we know, Marc is sent to London to Boot Camp for Journalists. There, he learns how to be a War Reporter training in first aid, preparing for attacks of chemical weapons, and learning how to cope with combat scenarios. He called my sister soon after, “Mom, Im in Kuwait. But, dont worry, Im a writer. Im here to write, not to get shot at.”

He loves Kuwait, describing it as a very beautiful, cosmopolitan city. In a recent New York magazine column, Marc is described by Maureen Dowd (who he was formerly an assistant to at the Times desk in Washington DC.) “He’s always been dying to smoke cigarettes and drink martinis in exotic datelines,” says Ms. Dowd. Next phone call home, his voice is up another octave, “Mom, Im in Iraq. Im watching the troops march in as we speak.”

Then, another call; on short notice, our entire family is instructed to turn on the TV to the McNeill Report, where he will be interviewed. There he was for almost ten minutes, answering questions like a pro. Here in Westhampton Beach I was slappin’ whoever was sitting next to me, silly with excitement. “Is that really him?” I asked in disbelief. What happened to the goofy kid who made those funny faces and loved practical jokes? Seems like yesterday he was running around the suburbs donning a Halloween mask, and now, hes running around in a foreign land donning a gas mask.

How does he, and so many others, especially those in the armed services, change so quickly into solemn thinkers, and responsible adults? The answer which keeps coming back to me is life before 9-ll and life after 9-ll. For Americans, especially New Yorkers, it’s two different worlds. And the young people in this country do not take freedom for granted, as they fight to keep it alive, here and abroad.

As the troops have been moving forward over the past few weeks in dismantling the Iraqi regime, in one of the worst sandstorms in years, my nephew finds himself in a one-man tent in the desert; living on cans of tuna (which he never liked back in the good ol’ US of A) and rations of Trail Mix. He will surely appreciate his fathers cooking when he gets home.

As we’ve been following the war and Marc’s articles, we are amazed at what takes place. He shares his story, as he observes Iraqi civilians while the British cargo vessel carrying relief supplies docks at a southern Iraqi port. Twice the Kuwaitis have been met by crowds that quickly turn into mobs, desperately taking whatever they could, climbing over each other like animals. He is deeply saddened to see the faces of the children.

There are cries heard from the crowds. Many have not eaten and are in need of basics. One 18-year-old, named Ahmed, from a town of 5,000, said we need food and shoes. We’ve been without water for over seven days, since the pipe supplying Safwan was damaged.
Another man, by the name of Abu Zahra, said Mr. Hussein’s soldiers remain loyal to him, and still lurk in the streets. The sight of them disgusts the people, even though some are friends and cousins.

Again, we read what this young reporter writes, this time from the outskirts of Basra. He describes rocket-propelled grenades launched at British troops, exploding above civilians on the highway, who run for cover, but an unknown number are wounded. The troops move closer to Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, hoping to avoid a street fight, which could be very ugly. The people leave the city in the morning and return in the evening by donkey-pulled carts filled with tomatoes. Or in orange and white carts that used to be taxis. There is a continual mass of black smoke from oil fires and the sound of sporadic machine-guns.

In Sunday’s paper, we read Marc’s article about the discovery of mass graves by the British soldiers, where there were remains of thousands of bodies at an abandoned military compound. The bones are obviously quite old in this part-jail, part-military makeshift morgue, where they also found a catalog containing black and white photos of the dead; many bodies had been mutilated beyond recognition. Others were shot in the head, obviously placed in the courtyard used as a firing squad. We’ve all heard about the horrors under the regime of this man, Mr. Hussein the brainwashing, the torture, the slaughtering of his own people.

Without a doubt, we have to stop the evilness of the Hitlers, and Osama bin Ladens and Sadam Husseins. It’s not pleasant, no matter what side you’re on, or how well you do; it’s hell and war will always be hell.