Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir is the story of Linda Ronstadt’s musical life, including her influences and experiences before, during, and after her reign as Queen of Rock in the 1970s. In this memoir Ronstadt doesn’t explore her relationships or emotional life, which is fine with me. I’m more interested in the music. Although many interesting people step on stage in Simple Dreams—Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Nelson Riddle, John David Souther, Aaron Neville, The Eagles, Brian Wilson, Rosemary Clooney, and many others—they are presented in terms of their involvement in creating Ronstadt’s music from the late 1960s until the mid-2000s when she stopped making music publicly.
Ronstadt’s fascinating insights about creating, performing, and recording music include how she learned specific songs and genres, and the challenges involved in performing in various situations—clubs, arenas, opera houses, television studios. The Linda Ronstadt who comes through here is smart, entertaining, clear-eyed, and articulate. None of that is surprising in Ronstadt’s case, but it’s rare in show business memoirs. Simple Dreams can stand alongside Rosanne Cash’s Composed: A Memoir, one of my favorite books of the past decade.
Linda Ronstadt recently disclosed that she has Parkinson’s disease, an illness that has left her unable to sing. Although she doesn’t discuss her condition in this book, Ronstadt clearly implies that her career as a recording and performing artist is over. Those of us who are her fans may find this difficult to accept, but we can hope that she will continue to write about music from her perspective as one of the greatest and most successful American vocal artists. In the meantime, Simple Dreams gives us new ways to appreciate Linda Ronstadt’s musical contributions.