Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir
Linda Ronstadt Simon & Schuster
That subtitle is important – Linda Ronstadt’s autobiography concentrates on the music – and she wanted you to know that; you’re not allowed to be upset at the lack of scandal, gossip, drugs and judgment – this is about the music. And she writes well. And the story is exciting. Born into music – into a love of music – Ronstadt gives you the context around her love of so many styles, she became a diverse singer, capable of sounding wonderful as lead, as backing singer, as duet partner across light jazz, country, pop, rock and show tunes. Her book lets you know she was always a fan; that she did the listening, that she fell in love with the sound, that her life was saved by rock’n’roll.
And she’s not about to get sidetracked by dishing dirt, worrying about her health, basking in former glories or petty quarrelling.
Simple Dreams is a book that describes, often beautifully, always vividly, Ronstadt’s meteoric rise but more importantly it details the scenes she moved in, the people she worked with. It’s an interesting story and Ronstadt seems happy to paint herself as the sometimes bit-part player in her own life. She gushes over Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons, the birth of The Eagles, the excitement of the big stadium shows – and then the malaise that sets in from the treadmill of it all. But it’s always – and only – about the music. And it’s a wonderful book because of this.
Ronstadt was a massive star in the 1970s – a favourite across radio stations and bedroom walls – and she’s aware of this but always slightly baffled by it.
If there’s one major criticism, it’s that the book runs out of steam. The Trio albums with Dolly Parton and Emmylou are mentioned in passing, the beaut duo album with Emmylou gets a one-line mention, just a brief nod to duetting with Aaron Neville (it’s all very warm but just slight). To be perfectly blunt, the book dies away in much the same fashion as Ronstadt’s career has over the last 25 years. But that’s ultimately a small gripe given the wonderful passages and kind-hearted stories of musical appreciation, of scene-setting and engaging prose by an artist so enthralled by it all. It’s rather special to read a memoir where ego has been shelved.
Simple Dreams is a must-read for music fans – and Ronstadt’s vivid recollections of some of the great songwriters of the 1970s (James Taylor, Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, JD Souther) are loving tributes mixed with flyon-the-wall moments.
It’s a real page-turner too; never bogged down by one particular moment, for the most part this book makes for exhilarating reading. I expected to enjoy it – I wasn’t expecting to absolutely love it.