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.