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Ronstadt’s music and love of singing provided an outlet for a 20-something’s emotions

Jan Hearne • Dec 9, 2013 at 9:06 AM

In high school, only one boy gave me his class ring. This cute, sweet boy wanted me to go steady.Steady. What a lovely word, I thought — for about two weeks. Then I got itchy. I couldn’t explain it. I liked the boy. My friends liked the boy. My mother, though not thrilled with my going steady, liked the boy, too.What was wrong with me? That tape-wrapped ring on my finger felt like an anvil. I tried it on a chain around my neck. No better. One morning, after an end-of-school slumber party, I dropped a friend off at her house then drove around for awhile listening to music. A lovely, sassy soprano came on the radio, singing:Yes, and I ain’t saying you ain’t prettyAll I’m saying is I’m not readyFor any person place or thingTo try and pull the reins in on me.Linda Ronstadt hit the nail on the head: I just wasn’t ready. The boy and I broke up, didn’t remain friends, and never saw each other again. (Actually, Mike Nesmith wrote the song pre-Monkees, but Ronstadt delivered the lines so well, I have to give her credit, too.)Years later, when I was in my early 20s, I went through a “poor, poor pitiful me” stage. Naturally I turned to Ronstadt. That girl could sing of crushing, hopeless loss better than any of her contemporaries — well, except maybe Bonnie Raitt.In the late-1970s, my friend, Butch, called one afternoon, and asked if I wanted to go to the Ronstadt concert in Knoxville that night. His date had canceled. Yes, I did.This tiny woman, looking more like a girl, stood shyly on stage, and sang her heart out. No light shows, no special effects, no rising out of the stage floor in a designer gown amid a rain of fireworks. Ronstadt just sang and smiled a radiant smile, clearly loving the act of singing more than the performing.When she sang “Desperado” a cappella, the audience sat in stunned, worshipful silence. She was amazing.I thought the ride home might be my last. A torrential downpour hit as we were leaving the concert. Butch announced his MG had no windshield wipers, and I lived miles from the Knoxville Coliseum.We hung our heads out our respective windows trying to see in front of us. “A little left, a little right, slow down, stop,” I yelled. I was soaked and praying the whole way home, comforting myself with the thought, “at least I got to see Linda Ronstadt live.” That kind of nonsense works when you’re in your 20s.I have just finished reading Ronstadt’s memoir “Simple Dreams.” It is about the music; it is about the people she made music with. This is not a tell-all. The most she says about her love life is that she was “keeping company with” so-and-so at the time of a particular event. In a Time magazine interview nearly 40 years ago, she admitted John David Souther was the love of her life. They remain friends.When the book was released, Ronstadt revealed Parkinson’s disease had destroyed her voice. She will never sing again. According to her memoir, she had been singing since she was a small child. It’s all she ever wanted to do.In a subsequent interview, she said she doesn’t miss performing, she misses singing around the house, in the shower, in the car. She said she sang all the time.I don’t understand why things happen the way they do; I never have. All my life I’ve had music and books to help me figure things out though.For a while, the songs of Linda Ronstadt allowed me to grieve my little losses and move on.Jan Hearne can be reached at jhearne@johnsoncitypress.com.

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