A friend of mine recently observed that many of us have reached the age at which the losses begin to multiply. Not just members of our families and our friends, but people that are part of our broader circles---actors we like, authors whose work we enjoy (mystery novelist Elmore Leonard passed just last week), and now singer Linda Ronstadt.
She's still with us, but she can't sing anymore. Everybody was gobsmacked over the weekend by news that she has Parkinson's disease, and that she often has to use a walking stick or a wheelchair to get around. Sadly, it's not unusual for a 67-year-old person to get such a disease--but we don't think of Linda as 67. We remember her differently, like she is in this Pinterest photo gallery: young, vibrant, sexy.
The first thing the world heard of Linda was in the late 60s, when she was in a band called the Stone Poneys and they recorded "Different Drum." It was written by Michael Nesmith of the Monkees, and he freely admits that Linda did better by his song than he ever could: "she breathed eternal life into it." It's one of those 60s songs you probably know even if you don't remember the 60s. She scored a modest hit single under her own name in 1970 with the beautiful "Long Long Time" (1970 TV performance here) but it wasn't until 1974 that she had a legitimate smash: "You're No Good." After 1974 the hits came thick and fast. Two of my favorites are Motown covers: "Heat Wave" and "Tracks of My Tears."
It is fabulously difficult for an artist to stay relevant as trends change, so Linda's thing was to change with them--and sometimes move against them. In the late 70s, she adopted a new-wave sound. In the early 80s, she became one of the first artists of the rock era to embrace the Great American Songbook, recording three albums of songs from the 30s, 40s, and 50s, backed by a big band. Her 1989 album Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind returned her to the radio, especially the hit duet with Aaron Neville, "Don't Know Much."
It is possible for a person with Parkinson's to live a productive life--just look at Michael J. Fox---but Linda acknowledges that for a singer, Parkinson's means the end of the line. So this diagnosis means the end of her singing career. We wish it were otherwise, but she--and we--are at that age.
This week, I get to fill in for Pat on the Magic 98 morning show. (If you want a little taste of what it's like, set your alarm for 4:00 and try to grope to the shower in the dark without disturbing either your spouse or your pets.) I was a wacky morning show host for a while back in the '80s, but since then I've done most of my radio-ing at somewhat later hours of the day.
I'm going to be doing a little less radio-ing after this week is over. Effective Monday August 19, Sara Freeman--who's done just about every shift there is on Magic over the years--will take over the afternoon show from me, and she'll be in your ear every weekday afternoon from 3 to 7. I'm still going to be on Magic doing weekends and fill-ins, which is a job I've had with the Madison stations of Mid-West Family Broadcasting since 2006, and on Magic since 2008. We're all seeking the elusive work/life balance, and making this move is something I really wanted to do to maintain that.
I think I told the story of Melvin Funlinger at this blog once before. We were lined up outside the Coliseum waiting to get into a concert, sometime back in the late 70s, when we heard this guy with a scratchy voice start yelling, "Let us in!" He was a little guy, five-foot-five maybe, dressed like a biker if I'm recalling correctly. "I'm Melvin Funlinger and you better let us in!" I don't think he was all that angry, although he might have been well lubricated--at one point he started crushing beer cans against his forehead, all the while demanding that they "let us in!"
I never go to a concert without thinking of Melvin--or of how the concert experience has changed over the years. I can't remember the last concert I saw at the Coliseum. Although we've been to some big-arena shows at the Marcus in Milwaukee in recent years, we're more likely to go to smaller, theater shows now, mostly because the people we most want to see play that kind of venue. The Riverside and adjacent Pabst Theater in Milwaukee have become favorites of ours over the last couple of years--easy to get to, easy to park near, easy to get home again. And there are plenty of nearby places for dinner and a beer (or several) before the show.
Before the Steely Dan concert at the Riverside a couple of weekends ago, we were sitting outdoors at the Rock Bottom Brewery, which is just across the river from the theater, when a guy and his dog came in. The dog was wearing a Steely Dan backstage pass. The picture at the top of this blog is from the show, snagged from the theater's Facebook page. It wasn't until I looked at it closely that I realized you can see Ann and me in it, if you know where to look.
A few weeks ago, I was pulling out of my driveway when I saw a family of cranes out for a stroll in the yard--Mom, Dad, and the kids, just walking along, snacking on bugs or whatever it is cranes snack on. They were so calm that I wondered for a minute if I could walk over and pet one of them, although I decided against it, because Dad was nearly as tall as I am.
This past Sunday, three of them were back in the neighborhood. The picture above is Mom and one of the kids, who were chillin' amidst the landscaping of the building next door to ours.
We live fairly close to Pheasant Branch Conservancy in Middleton, and it's our guess that the crane family lives somewhere in the conservancy. They're obviously pretty used to semi-urban living, because it really is extraordinary how little they appear to be bothered by, for example, people walking up to them and taking pictures. Cars go by on the street and they don't even look up.
We're a little concerned, however, about the second young'un, who wasn't out with the rest of the family on Sunday. We hope nothing happened to that one.