Nightstand | Linda Ronstadt
Parkinson's disease may have halted Linda Ronstadt's singing career, but there is no doubt that her classics, including You're No Good, When Will I Be Loved and Heart Like a Wheel, will grace airwaves for years to come. Ronstadt, 67, talked with us on Nov. 27 by phone from San Francisco about her approach to life with Parkinson's and her passions for music and books, as well as her memoir, Simple Dreams, which was released in September. Although the final list of inductees has not been announced, Ronstadt has been nominated for a spot in the 2014 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
What's on your nightstand?
I have two little piles of reading right now. The first one is Eric Schlosser's Command and Control. It's about the nuclear accidents and the near nuclear accidents we have had. It's just one of the most chilling things I have ever read. I've got Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It's really good and is about what influences the thought process. I've got two memoirs, Ian Tyson's The Long Trail: My Life in the West and Donald Fagen's Eminent Hipsters, which is just a great, smart read. He talks about life as a musician and how wacky it is. He's a Bard graduate, a great writer and so insightful.
I've also got Here's to You, Jesusa by Elena Poniatowska. It's a novel based on a woman involved in the Mexican Revolution.
I know you're already well-versed in Mexican history. What did you learn from this book?
I didn't learn anything I didn't know, but it was interesting to have the story written in a woman's voice. It shows a woman's perspective in that very interesting time. The women were absolute support for the troops. They worked, they cooked, but also, if they were a coronela, a colonel's wife, they'd command the troops if there came a time when her husband was not able to do it, so it was an interesting time for sexual equality.
Speaking of sexual equality, I recently saw a documentary on the Troubadour (a West Hollywood venue) in the 1970s. Your photo popped up in it several times. It seems to me that era had many male musicians who had sexist tendencies. How'd you stay on track? Were you reading feminist literature?
I do remember reading Ms. magazine, but I wouldn't really call myself a feminist. The truth is that with musicians, everyone likes it if music is flowing. You could be a goat or a camel even, but if the music is flowing nothing stops the groove. Music is a great leveller in that way in terms of racism, sexism or homophobic attitudes. A lot of those things sort themselves out in the musical arena. Music fosters cooperation, not competition.
How are you feeling, and have you relied on books to gain information as you navigate Parkinson's?
I'm not feeling too bad at all. I'm getting a lot of support from UCSF (University of California, San Francisco). They have a good program for people with Parkinson's, and I'm working on trying other treatments before drugs. ... I'm getting a lot of physical therapy. I just read a book by Jill Bolte Taylor, My Stroke of Insight. She's a neuroscientist who experienced a stroke on the left side of her brain. It's an amazing book about living from the right side of the brain, which is where artists live all the time. She described it as an "ecstatic" experience. How the brain works is extremely interesting to me now, although the ecstatic experience she describes has eluded me. … I think what's been most helpful are other Parkinson's patients.
You've got a wide array of books on your list. What's your book selection process?
I love to go to independent booksellers. My favorite thing is to go into a bookstore where people know books. ... In San Francisco, there's Browser Books on Fillmore. They always know what I want.
Can you share with our readers what singers leave you marveling?
There are many great singers, but there are several that I put in "the really exalted'' category. The first person that I heard in that category was Pastora Pavon from Spain. I was only 2 when I first heard her on the record player. She was considered to be one of the most important flamenco singers of the 20th century. Later on, I heard Yanka Rupkina from Bulgaria. She's had an influence on many in pop music. If you ask David Crosby about her, for example, he'd rhapsodize about her, and Emmylou Harris loves her, too. I got to sing with Yanka once, and I was thrilled. She brought me Bulgarian rose, an essential oil. Its scent was intoxicating. Actually, I read about Bulgarian rose later in a great book called The Emperor of Scent (by Chandler Burr). It was about (scientist) Luca Turin. Bulgarian rose is a prized perfume around the world.
Since you had both Spanish and English in your home as a child, what was your bedtime reading like then?
My father spoke Spanish, but my mother did not. So the books that we read were in English. We loved reading L. Frank Baum's Oz books with the beautiful art. He was a feminist. I loved the way he was into girl power and, you know, a lot of the things in the Oz books remind me of what the Internet is doing now, like the way his characters would use a magic mirror to see what people were doing. When you get up in the morning and check in with Facebook, it's like that. It's a magic mirror with a Mac.