Linda Ronstadt fans invoke words such as “shameful,” “incomprehensible” and, as Don Henley put it recently, “another travesty” when they talk about her absence from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for which she been eligible for induction for more than 20 years.
“It’s not anything I’ve ever given a second thought to,” she said over breakfast earlier this week while she was briefly back in L.A. talking about her new book “Simple Dreams” (Simon & Schuster, $25). “I never thought of myself as a rock ‘n’ roll singer. I’ve thought of myself as a singer who sang rock ‘n’ roll, who sang this, who sang that.
“I remember one of the guys at my record company asked me once if I would induct somebody into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I said ‘I really don’t like going to things like that.’ And he said, ‘Linda, you have to do it if you ever want to get inducted yourself!’
“I said, ‘I don’t care if I ever get inducted,’” she said. “That was a long time ago—in the ‘80s, and that was the last I ever thought of it.”
From the Rock Hall’s perspective, “I think it hurt Linda that she didn’t write,” said one longtime Hall of Fame voter who asked not to be identified. “Unlike Joni Mitchell or Patti Smith or Chrissie Hynde--or later, P.J. Harvey or Kate Bush--she was viewed as a popularizer of songs, which isn’t as valued in the rock tradition as the pop tradition. She also was more pop in some ways than country or rock or soul, even though she incorporated touches of all that in her music.”
In “Simple Dreams,” she elaborates on why as her career unfolded she branched out to record tremendously successful collections of pre-rock standards from the Great American Songbook, traditional Mexican folk music that she heard growing up in her large, extended Mexican American family in Tucson, doing Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta “Pirates of Penzance” on Broadway and on film and tackling and full-blown opera with her starring role in Puccini’s “La Boheme.”
“I never felt that rock and roll defined me,” she wrote. “There was an unyielding attitude that came with the music that involved being confrontational, dismissive, and aggressive—or, as my mother would say, ungracious.…
“I cringe when I think of some of the times I was less than gracious. It wasn’t how I was brought up, and I didn’t wear the attitude well. Being considered, for a period in the ‘70s, as the Queen of Rock made me uneasy, as my musical devotions often lay elsewhere.”
Additionally, she told me, “there was a puritanical attitude about music that reeked out of Rolling Stone: the attitude that only a certain kind of music is hip, that you have to be funky. Where does that leave Jimmy Webb or Paul Simon or Kate & Anna McGarrigle or so many other great writers whose songs have nothing to do with whether they are hip or trendy or what they’re supposed to be doing this week? People write music from the most personal point of view, and that process endlessly renews itself.”
But Ronstadt’s attitude about industry awards isn’t restricted to the Rock Hall. She gave several of her Recording Industry Assn. of America gold record certifications to a friend who runs a music store in Oregon, where they’ve long been hanging on the walls.
And her 10 Grammy Awards?
“I don’t know where they are,” she said. “The first one I left in the back seat of a rental car. I’d rented a car to go to the show, and tossed it in the back when I left. I forgot about it and left it there in the back seat.”
Music, she said, is about something else for her.
Her two children — 22-year-old Mary and 19-year-old Carlos — “they use music the way all people should use music: to help you process your feelings and to help you get on with your life.”
That’s why she pays no attention to “American Idol,” “The Voice” and other reality singing competitions.
“I’ve never seen ‘American Idol,’” she said with more than a hint of pride. “When I go to heaven, I will be able to say I never watched it. Someone described the premise to me of pitting people against each other. That has nothing to do with art. It’s so counterproductive to put everybody in some kind of category. That’s got nothing to do with anything. I just don’t like it. I think competition is really good for horse races.”
A full profile of Ronstadt appears in Sunday’s Arts & Books section.
Follow Randy Lewis on Twitter: @RandyLewis2