She was born into a prosperous family of mixed Mexican and German heritage in the extreme heat of the Sonoran Desert in Tucson, Arizona in 1946. She left her home for Los Angeles at the end of 1964 to follow her dreams of being a singer. And from her official debut in 1967 to her final live concert in the fall of 2009, she became one of the most respected, loved, and appreciated figures in American popular music history. She is Linda Ronstadt. And although her already-lengthy career was abruptly ended by a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease in 2013 that crippled her voice, she had already achieved far more than she ever dreamed possible, while still being modest and forever plagued with self-doubts about just how great a singer she truly was. This great life is laid out in the heartfelt documentary film LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE.
Bracketed by a visit she made in early 2019 to her family’s ancestral home of Banamichi, a four-hour drive across the border into the state of Sonora in northern Mexico, THE SOUND OF MY VOICE charts all the myriad musical influences inside her family and through her love of the radio that sparked the desire in Linda to be a singer. She narrates a fair amount of the film in her own low-key, modest fashion as to what she encountered in her first few years in the music business, including her appreciation of The Doors as a band (but not their lead singer Jim Morrison); how she needed a band for a 1971 tour, resulting in the birth of the Eagles; and then the monstrous breakthrough she had at the mid-point of the 1970s with “You’re No Good”. Alongside dozens of clips of interviews that Linda gave over the decades, there are also interviews with the many friends and colleagues she associated with, including long-time producers John Boylan and Peter Asher; singer-songwriters J.D. Souther, Karla Bonoff, and Jackson Browne; record mogul David Geffen; Joe Smith, president of Elektra/Asylum records during Linda’s peak years of the 70s and 80s; and music critics/friends Cameron Crowe (of JERRY MAGUIRE and ALMOST FAMOUS fame) and the L.A. Times’ Robert Hillburn, plus a sizeable amount of concert footage to boot. All of them discuss the impact that Linda made on the music business and more than a few of their lives as well. And they also talk about how, after conquering the once male-dominated arenas of rock and pop, she branched out to explore other equally valid styles: opera (“The Pirates Of Penzance”); American pop standards (WHAT’S NEW?), the Mexican mariachi/ranchera music of her father’s heritage (CANCIONES DE MI PADRE), and many others, all of which put a lot of terror into her handlers and her producers, who feared how such diversions would derail her career. Those were risks that she was willing to take at a time of safety-first in the record industry, though she did acknowledge that they were risks; but she also felt that playing in big arenas and stadiums, though they made her tons of money, were absolutely not conducive to good music making, either for her or her fans (and indeed they weren’t).
Linda’s career was not without political controversy; but most of that is shunted aside for her music (notably there is no mention of the 2004 firestorm she created be advocating Michael Moore’s film FAHRENHEIT 9/11 onstage at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, and only a few minutes on her relationship with California governor Jerry Brown). However, there is a telling interview she gave to an Australian talk show host in 1983 with respect to her then-controversial decision to tour apartheid-ridden South Africa, and her astonishment as to how other aspects of her political beliefs (especially her disdain for nuclear power and then-president Reagan) could possibly be controversial. The great ride, of course, slowed down when her voice started faltering after the turn of the millennium, though the career-ending diagnosis wasn’t made official until 2013. Filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Freedman (THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK), however, don’t dwell extraneously on this tragic aspect of Linda’s life, only showing that it was there. And as Linda says near the end, she had a wonderful life, and she still intends to live out her life the way she had always done: with a lot of heart and stoicism.
While seemingly short at slightly under 100 minutes, LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE is an absolutely brilliant, uplifting pop music documentary on a woman who defied the historical sexism of the music business and became a shining light for future female artists to follow. Linda Ronstadt is an American treasure, and this movie officially seals that deal for all time.
P.S.: This film is more than worthy for an actual physical DVD release; and I hope it gets released in that form.