Linda Ronstadt on Losing Her Singing Voice to Parkinson's: 'I Miss It Every Day'
"I just can't make the sounds. … The first note comes out, and then my voice goes into a cramp," Linda Ronstadt told a packed audience at Manhattan’s 92Y Wednesday night. In a wide-ranging conversation with journalist John Rockwell, the iconic 67-year-old singer spoke about her recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, her myriad musical influences and the fact that her condition made it no longer possible for her to sing.
"I miss it every day," she said. "Singing is something I've done since I was 2 years old."
The evening, part of a tour publicizing Ronstadt's recently published book Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir, was mostly lighthearted and music-oriented, centering on her versatile career in which she sold some 100 million records and won 12 Grammy Awards.
She talked about how much she hated playing large arenas. "The sound was so awful," she complained. "The guitar solo you heard was played last week."
About her collaborations with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, she joked, "I used to call it the Dolly Ride and the Emmy Ride." The singer added that, "I like harmony singing better than I like singing lead." Of her biggest musical regret, the singer mentioned: "I would have loved to sing Kurt Weill, especially 'September Song.'"
She also chatted about her forays into musical theater with such productions as The Pirates of Penzance and La Boheme, both produced by the late Joe Papp.
"Penzance was the most fun I've ever had in my life," Ronstadt gushed, describing how she first approached Papp about someday working for him even though he had no idea who she was. "I want to be on a stage with a curtain," she recalled telling him.
Ronstadt also claimed that she never had any intention of writing a memoir. But the singer was won over when she was approached by a publisher who told her, "'You don’t have to write about your boyfriends, we just want to know about the music.'"
She completed the book before she was diagnosed with Parkinson's, although she said, "I think I've had it for a lot of years."
Originally, she thought the tingling in her arm and shoulder was the result of a pinched nerve. "It didn’t occur to me to go to a doctor," the singer recalled.
When she finally saw a doctor, he told her of his suspicions but asked her to come back in six months to have the diagnosis confirmed.
"I lived with the possibility that I didn't have it for six months, and that was a lot of fun," she ruefully admitted.
During the Q&A session, one audience member representing a Parkinson's awareness organization asked Ronstadt if she would lend her presence to their campaign. The singer politely declined, but added some advice for those looking to secure additional government funding to fight the disease.
"Just don't vote Republican, that’s the first thing," she announced to huge cheers.