Linda Rondstadt is still picture-perfect

  • By Greg Morago / The Hartford Courant
  • Thursday, July 22, 2004 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Note to Linda Ronstadt’s handlers: Nobody cares what she looks like.

Try to find a photo of Ronstadt for her new tour performing American standards with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and what you come up with is a portrait severely cropped, carefully lighted and artfully focused, It is the only photo the star’s media office has to publicize a career now in its fourth decade.

A search of newspaper archives yields only a few other similarly controlled photographs, as if Ronstadt were a museum piece frozen in time.

What’s the point of controlling the image of a woman whose musical instincts led her on one of the most fascinating and fruitful artistic paths in modern music, from California rock to country-folk to New Wave to operetta to the American Songbook to jazz to Mexican ballads to avant garde to samba and Afro-Caribbean to children’s lullabies to who knows where?

We’re not talking about some reclusive Norma Desmond; we’re talking about a fearless musical pioneer who hardly has stopped working since her career began in 1967.

Ronstadt’s fans know she’s not the slip of a girl from her “Hasten Down the Wind” days or even the roller-skater-thin lass of her “Living in the USA” period. She did, after all, turn 58 this month.

Just as important, she’s an artist, an artist of such exquisite taste that other star singers and musicians call on her to produce and consult. Her voice, one of the defining sounds of our times, remains as beautiful and powerful as ever.

Whether they grew up with her in her Stone Poneys days or discovered her in her return to classic rock in the late 1990s, fans care little about her “authorized” image. What they care about is that voice.

Her career has included wildly successful forays in rock and Big Band music, two genres she’s mining in her tour. Ronstadt performs her greatest rock hits and brilliant American standards (arranged by Nelson Riddle, with whom she made several albums) on the tour with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

How was it she was able to branch out and discover such varied music? Curiosity or plain bravery?

“It might have been plain stupidity,” she said. “It had more to do with fascination than bravery. … I’ve never tried to do anything I didn’t know before I was 10. I grew up listening to traditional Mexican music. My mother and father were both singing standards, my mother singing Gilbert and Sullivan, my grandmother playing opera. … It was just there.

“I thought everyone listened to that stuff. I loved it all. If I heard it and loved it, I wanted to do it. It’s total self-indulgence.”

For her next recording venture, Ronstadt got together with the Emerson String Quartet to do some songs she had earlier wanted to do with the late Riddle but that he felt wasn’t right for his orchestra.

“I decided I could do these songs with a quartet,” she said. “I wanted to hear it in a jazz context with a quartet or quintet. … We had a great time.”

Linda Ronstadt

7 p.m. Tuesday, Pier 62/63, Seattle. $65, 206-628-0888.

Linda Ronstadt

7 p.m. Tuesday, Pier 62/63, Seattle. $65, 206-628-0888.

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