I was a little bit heartbroken when I heard Linda Ronstadt had Parkinson’s disease and couldn’t sing anymore.
I wasn’t sad because I won’t be able to buy her new CD. I haven’t purchased any of her music since the mid-'70s, when, like nearly every teenage girl in my known universe, I bought “Heart Like a Wheel” and listened to it until the grooves wore out.
I was heartbroken for her.
I believe in singing my heart out. I believe in twanging along to sad country ballads and belting out hymns and giving my all to every tune I recognize on SiriusXM ‘70s on 7 — and then some.
Even when songs make me sad, they make me happy.
I can’t imagine not singing, and I don’t sing for a living. (You’re welcome.)
And so I thought: How must a woman who has won 11 Grammys and sold 100 million records feel?
Saturday, I found out — from the second row of a circus-sized tent in Washington, D.C., where Ronstadt answered questions about her life and her music, about her kids and Jerry Brown, about drugs and reading and her disease.
“I have to remind myself, I had an unusually long time at the trough,” said the 67-year-old pop star, sitting on stage in a hoodie and leggings, walking poles by her side.
“I had a lot of chances to do things that other people don’t ever get and I have to be content with that.”
Ronstadt has been everywhere promoting her first book, “Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir.” On NPR. In the New York Times.
And last weekend, part of an all-star lineup at the National Book Festival on the National Mall. Poets and prose writers, best-sellers and children’s book illustrators and Pulitzer Prize-winners, all of them both larger and smaller than life, reading from and answering questions about their work.
I had a short list of speakers I had to hear, and the singer was on it.
I worried about it.
Apart from catching her timeless voice on the radio — and pulling up ancient YouTube videos of the gorgeous singer with the golden pipes, I had no idea what to expect. Had she gone all Joan Rivers? Would she be addled or self-absorbed?
Thinking about seeing Ronstadt in person was like imagining running into my high school boyfriend after 30 years.
You avoided it like the plague, but in the end it wasn’t so bad: Oh, yeah. We all get old.
And she looked great, chubby and clear-eyed, gracious and dry-witted.
She answered questions posed by Mary Jordan, the Washington Post editor who ran the morning Q&A.
Did she do drugs? Sure, but: “I was the one who was knitting or reading.” (What she read: “Heart of Darkness.” “Magic Mountain.” What she knitted: sweaters.)
She answered a question about her relationship with California Gov. Jerry Brown: “Jerry liked passionate music and passionate women.”
And about men: “I had a number of nice boyfriends … I was a serial monogamist.”
And about never marrying — “I wasn’t gifted that way” — but admiring those who could make it work: "The only reason to be with somebody is that they make you a better person and you make them a better person.”
She talked very little about the disease she was diagnosed with eight months ago, although she has spoken about its progression, starting to need help with everyday tasks like washing her hair and brushing her teeth.
Instead, she talked about her two adopted children, now 19 and 22: “They wanted me there in the morning and at night, and that was kind of a shock.” (Answering a question about taking time off from touring.)
She talked about the power of music: “If music can’t make you cry, you’re a hopeless case.”
She talked about Miley Cyrus: “Sexuality and youth are a thing to celebrate … but you have to have dignity and you have to have respect for your own person.”
She talked about architecture and Legos (they stifle kids’ creativity) and about opening the door for immigrants and culture and guitar players (they don’t read as much as piano players) and her girlfriends, Emmylou and Dolly.
And before she went, her fans asked questions, prefacing them with lines like: “I had three posters of you on my wall in college.”
And: “In 1978, I sent you a fan letter courtesy of your dad at the hardware store, did you get it?” (Um, no.)
They praised her voice — that last high note in “Blue Bayou” — and expressed dismay about her not yet being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Then her time was up. She thanked her audience, now standing, and walked slowly off stage.
If her heart is broken, it didn’t show.