Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Trailer Park Tuesday: Simple Dreams by Linda Ronstadt

Welcome to Trailer Park Tuesday, a showcase of new book trailers and, in a few cases, previews of book-related movies.

Today, I thought I'd serve up something a little different for Trailer Park Tuesday.  Normally, I use this space to critique trailers of books and book-flavored films, but today's post will be something a little more autobiographical.  Those who have no interest in "David Abrams, the Teenage Years" are advised to click away now...

When Simon & Schuster sent me the link to a video promoting Linda Ronstadt's memoir, Simple Dreams, it triggered a complex chemical reaction inside me which flipped a switch on the time-traveling machine we all carry with us--that sneaky, deceptive contraption called Nostalgia.  Admittedly, I am a Man of a Certain Age and perhaps you have to be an MCA to have the same internal geyser-gush of feelings like I did watching and hearing Ms. Ronstadt in the video.  But then again, maybe not.  Maybe she speaks the universal language of harmony.  I like what she has to say on the subject at the opening of the book trailer: "I think that, inherently, music is a social form.  When people sing together, their heart rates synch up together.  So you form this incredibly intense conspiracy to commit beauty."  Nice.  I'm going to carry that phrase around with me and pull it out whenever anyone asks what I do for a living.  "I'm a conspirator committing beauty."  Watching the book trailer reminded me that Ronstadt has been in the news twice this year in headlines on the opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.  Just two months after she went public with the news that she can no longer sing because of Parkinson’s disease, she made the final nominations list for the 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Sadness and gladness.  The video also invited me to step into my own personal Way-Back Machine.  And now, if you'll indulge me, a personal appreciation....

*     *     *

Linda was the first.

Later, there was Rickie Lee, Emmylou and (much later) Alanis.  But Linda was the first.

In the days of my youth, when I was just a prickle-hearted teenager, I fell so hard for Linda Ronstadt’s direct-from-heaven voice that there was an audible thud when I hit the earth.  Something in my prepubescent soul made a sound like click-whirrrr-twang! when I heard that throaty, confident voice belt out It’s so easy to fall in love.  I just knew she was singing directly to me, a skinny, overly-nervous boy living in small-town Wyoming.

I went to bed each night, still skinny but somehow a little less nervous, knowing that Linda loved me.

Okay, maybe she didn’t love me (at the time, there was a certain governor out in California who had her attention), but she sure loved singing.  Her passion for music glistened on every note like drops of dew, like amber-colored honey.  Such was the purity of her pipes.  There’s no other way for me to describe her voice in its heyday than to say it sounded like a bell calling people to church.

I can remember the exact moment I fell in love with Linda Ronstadt.  I was working as a dishwasher in a mom-and-pop hamburger joint called The Happy Hound.  For years, this was the best burger experience in northwestern Wyoming…until the golden arches moved to town and sucked all the business away and Mom and Pop were sadly forced to close their doors.  Back in the kitchen, there was always the sizzle of meat patties cooked over an open grill.  Snaking its way through the flame-broiled smoke was the sound of a radio, perched just above the food prep area and always played at full volume.

One day, my hands deep in the sudsy water, I heard the sound of a lovelorn angel floating through all that grease and smoke.  I nearly dropped the dish as I heard:
I feel so bad I got a worried mind
I’m so lonesome all the time
Since I left my baby behind
On Blue Bayou.
For several bars, the voice was soft and yearning, then…then it broke out into a passionate cry of longing for her “baby and happier times” on the bayou.  My blood started sizzling like those hamburger patties.

It was, and remains to this day, one of the most melancholy—yet, hopeful—songs I’ve ever heard.  "Blue Bayou" is a wonderful display of her full range and it’s all laid perfectly over a soft country-rock backup that sounds like something from the Eagles.  Not surprisingly, she and the Eagles (and pals Emmylou Harris, Nicolette Larson and Karla Bonoff) all moved in the same musical circles at the time out there in California.  The laid-back sound those musicians produced in the 1970s and early 1980s shaped my generation.  Okay, at least it shaped me.

That day, when I got off work at the burger joint, I went right out and bought the album Simple Dreams.  The cover photo shows Miss Ronstadt sitting in front of a mirror wearing a silk negligee and showing a goodly amount of skin.  I don’t need to tell you my teen dreams were also fueled with gallons of teen hormones.

It’s difficult to talk about Linda Ronstadt’s music without also mentioning the girl-next-door sex appeal she oozed into the crevices of young minds like mine.  During her reign on the pop charts during the Carter administration, she was, I think, every boy’s cherub-cheeked, doe-eyed fantasy.  (Okay, she was my fantasy.)  My female contemporaries were no doubt drooling equal buckets over shag-haired Tiger Beaters like David Cassidy and Leif Garrett.  For me, it was a twentysomething singer who’d gotten her start with a folk group called the Stone Poneys.

I even bought a poster for my room.  Against a midnight-blue background, Linda looked over her bared shoulder (at me!) with those doe-y, dewy, sultry eyes.  In her hair, she wore a magnolia.  At least I think it was a magnolia; time has dimmed the memory…heck, it was a white flower, of that I’m certain.

I played “Blue Bayou,” “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me” and “That’ll Be the Day” while swaying in the middle of my room and staring at that poster.  Linda stared back, a smile playing at the edges of her lips.  I dreamed of being a backup singer in her band.  Don’t laugh, please.  Like I said, I was young, a bit foolish and very much in love with her music.  I had those kind of teenage-boy dreams where you think anything is possible (making your first million by age 30, sailing a yacht on Cape Cod in the summers, singing “ooo-eeee, baby” behind Linda Ronstadt—you know, those kind of dreams).

Of course, we all know what happens: I grew up, went to college, earned a degree, settled into a comfortable routine of family man.  Life had briefs spurts of excitement marked by Casual Fridays at the office or when I took the family cat to the vet to be dewormed—you know, those kind of things.

Eventually, I outgrew Linda Ronstadt.  Or, perhaps, she outgrew me.  She continued to release albums—big-band ballads, traditional Spanish language tunes, that Fievel-the-cartoon-mouse thing—all of them fueled with her still-powerful voice, but the songs had changed.  They weren’t the assertive-yet-tender love songs that defined my youth.  Linda had gone soft—literally and figuratively—as she grew older.  I moved on to women with a harder edge: Alanis Morrisette, Liz Phair and Fiona Apple (perhaps a little too sharp-edged).

I myself got softer, duller, greyer.  Time has moved on for both of us; we float in boats farther and farther away from Blue Bayou.  But every now and then, I find myself drifting across the lines on the highway and feel the need to pull over to the side of the road when I hear a voice, aching with love, coming from my car stereo speakers: I'm going back someday, come what may....

As much as I like the grungier gals on my iPod, they can never really replace my first love: Linda Ronstadt, Queen of My Teen Dreams.


  1. Linda was a babe all right, Dave. No argument from me. I loved her from the opening notes of "Different Drum," even before I knew her name. Lovely lady indeed.

  2. Pinup gal with killer pipes. Just thinking of her floods the heart.

  3. You Nailed It!!! I wonder how many of those posters where sold.

  4. The greatest singer of my generation.