Finally, in 1973, she asked Peter Asher, the former pop singer (Peter and Gordon) and the producer of James Taylor, to help complete
her Don't Cry Now album. On the road, anxious to please Asher, she brushed up on acoustic guitar, took command of a ragged band and,
in short, grew up. Heart like a Wheel was next. Asher is now her manager and producer.
"Peter," says Linda, "was the first person willing to work with me as an equal, even though his abilities were far superior to mine. I
didn't have to fight for my ideas. I thought I couldn't understand machines, you know, and it tUrns out that the joke's on me. I finally
realized, 'Gee, I can learn about digital delay . . . .' All of a sudden, making records became so much more fun. I used to get so
depressed when I was in the stUdio that I would slither under the console and go to sleep with the monitors blaring. Just to escape."
"For the first time," Peter Asher notes, "Linda feels more in control of her career, she knows when she has a month off, when she
has to do an album. She can see a pattern, a kind of reality to things. It's more like working for a living, as opposed to going through
all the craziness. Before, she always felt that events were just rushing her along . . . in a direction that was really up to the wind."
These days, Linda has the plucky air of a seasoned professional; and she has matured, as an artist and a woman. Ronstadt may still not
be the sex goddess her album-photo-infatuated fans lust for, but she's getting closer.
Linda's stage attire has become more refined, too. Her standard Levi's and white blouse tied at the waist are frequently replaced
by long, flowing dresses and halter tops.
But Ronstadt has quirks in her stage presence. She'll smile sweetly after a song, curtsy and then chirp, 'Didn't the Jerry Lewis
telethon last night suck?' Her onstage confidence has grown considerably, and she projects success, helped along by applause from the
audience, every time she begins a song.
Still, Ronstadt has hours of horror stories of stage terror and tearful backstage scenes dating as recently as the outset of her tour
earlier this year. "I threw up on the way to the airport . . . and for the first two weeks of the tour. I had taken six months off
because I'd become a physical and emotional wreck, and now I thought I had an ulcer. I just didn't think I was good enough. Finally, I
just went, 'Okay, I can go home and forget about it and get sued by every agent and promoter in the world and be completely
unprofessional, or I can say, 'Look, it can't get great in a month but I'm going to do a little better every night.' By the end of the
tour, a month later, I was looking forward to every night."
But, she adds, "Believe me, things are not hunky-dory. They haven't invented a word for that loneliness that everybody goes through on
the road. The world is tearing by you, real fast, and all these people are looking at you like you're people in stars' suits. People see
me in my 'girl-singer' suit and think I'm famous and act like fools . . . it's very dehumanizing.
"I think it's helping each other out that makes it bearable. The only way to deal with it is to have that real close camaraderie and
to keep recycling it and teasing and keeping the humor level up all the time. You have to do it in an aggressive manner, though, or else
it turns ugly. It was like group therapy, only worth more.
"When we came back to end the tour in L.A., I had my first feelings of a letdown. Suddenly, all these people weren't down the hall
and you can't all sit around and drink coffee. We were so lonely that we turned to each other, then they all went home to their old
ladies and I came home to the dog, you know."
It's very easy to become drawn in by Linda's tales of intense vulnerability, though Ronstadt has obviously been drawing on some kind
of strength all these years. "Anybody can hurt my feelings; it's not very hard to do. But they don't get a second chance. I am not a
professional victim, and there's plenty of those in this business because they see vulnerability as something attractive. If I see that
someone or something is going to hurt me, I'll get the fuck out of its way. It's too easy to get destroyed. But, yeah, I worry. I try to
walk that fine line between being strong and trying to avoid becoming callous. As soon as you're callous you not only shut out all
the pain, but all the good stuff too. You either close the door or you open it. I keep the door open with the screen door
slammed . . . and a strong dog at the door. That's the policy of my heart.
"When I first started doing this," she muses, drawing her legs up close to her chest, "there weren't really any other [rock/pop] women
singers, except for Maria Muldaur and Grace Slick. But Maria was the only one I really knew and neither of us could afford to go to
psychiatrists then. Nobody had gone ahead of us and broken any of the ground on the kind of emotional problems that you experience being
a woman in this particular place.
"I had a woman cousin at Yale, one of the first women to graduate . . . and they studied these women very carefully and found that they
developed all these masculine mannerisms . . . in other words, they completely succumbed to the peer-group pressure in order to get
recognition and acceptance. They all began to walk like a man. They began to cop butch attitudes, you know, and that's what's happened
in this male-dominated business. I felt it happening to me and I decided to strike that from my personality. I like being a girl."
Another valuable lesson she's learned, she says, came from Dolly Parton. Emmylou Harris had called Linda over for some vocal
and moral support when Parton dropped in on her sessions. They've since appeared together on Parton's syndicated TV show and become
friends. "I've never met anybody so free of neurosis as that person," says Linda. "I was devastated by her honesty and her charm and
sweetness. I'm sort of this Northern thinker and she's just kind of a Southern magnolia blossom that floats on the breeze. But she's
"She taught me that you don't have to sacrifice your femininity in order to have equal status. The only thing that gives you equal
status with other musicians is your musicianship. Period. It doesn't matter how butch you act, how much dope you can take or how many
nights you can stay up in a row."
Linda has been widening her circle of musician friends, too. Phoebe Snow and noted session vocalist Valerie Carter- whom she's
helping record a solo album, giving emotional and vocal support- are recent acquaintances. Snow turned her on to Charlie Parker
and jazz singing. "I intend to do some heavy hanging out with her," Linda laughs. "It's another sphere of music to drag in."
When Mick Jagger turned up at her recent shows at the Universal Amphitheatre, she was as surprised as anybody. She brought him to
the Valerie Carter sessions, where they hooked up with Lowell George and sang all night. Contrary to rumor, Ronstadt and Jagger did
not discuss a one-shot duet album. "But maybe," she giggles, "I ought to write up a resumé."
Meanwhile, Ronstadt's accolades pile up. She didn't bother to show up and collect her Best Female Vocalist award on Don Kirschner's
Rock Music Awards show (she called them the "Who Cares" awards). "My attitude is, 'Don't give me an award, send me money.'"
She doubles up with laughter. "I know how good or bad I am. An award won't convince me that a record that I didn't think was good is good."