Written by: Patrick Howard | September 12th, 2019
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Rob Epstein/Jeffrey Friedman, 2019) 2 out of 4 stars.
There are things in life that are ridiculously overdue; things that have been kept from the general public for far too long. You and I each have our own respective lists, so there’s no need to compete for who has the best one. What we can all agree on is a feature-length documentary on the life and legacy of Linda Ronstadt, one of the most versatile and legendary figures to grace the American music industry, is sorely needed in 2019.
Academy award winning and nominated documentarians Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman lead us into Linda Ronstadt’s iconic collaborations with the likes of Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and Don Henley to her surprising Mexican upbringing while growing up in Tucson, Arizona. The documentary offers the typical interviews of all of the iconic musicians Ronstadt had the pleasure of working with and the unsurprising and decades-long praise they’ve had for her. These sequences aren’t terribly contrived because from them we do learn a great deal of the impact Ronstadt made on the genres of country and rock ‘n roll. In fact, the greatest highlight was learning how adamant Ronstadt was in creating a safe and all-encompassing friendship for other female musicians, like Emmylou Harris, who were trying to find similar success in what could be charitably called a musically inclined, commercialized boys’ club.
However, these intriguing bits of information sprinkled in an overly familiar compilation of sincere talking heads frustratingly undercut the true hook of the documentary: today’s Linda Ronstadt. In August of 2013, Ronstadt revealed to AARP that she had Parkinson’s disease and it had left her unable to sing a single note. Linda Ronstadt shifting the American music industry into another, unforeseen gear is a story I believe nobody would pass up, but the following chapter of said icon losing the one thing that defined her career deserves a full 90-minute runtime. Linda Ronstadt of 2019 is grossly underutilized and it’s evidently clear that Epstein and Friedman deem her only use is to be a meager framework of the more marketable glory days of her career.
As the story wraps up and we have a fair understanding of where she’s at in her life, I was uncertain how Epstein and Friedman wanted me to feel once the final shot cut to black. This will come across as a superficial conclusion, but with all that what was shown on the screen, I feel saddened by the way the latter years turned out for Ronstadt. If I had a single ounce of her raw talent and I witnessed it ripped away from me I would think those glory days were all for nothing. I refuse to believe that Parkinson’s disease will go down as the most defining 21stcentury moment of Ronstadt’s life. A simple online search and you’ll see that her activist contributions of the past 15 years for the LGBT community and the debates regarding immigration will certainly fill in that defining moment in her life without question.