July 16, 2004|
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
Her Own Woman
Linda Ronstadt isn't a big fan
of Las Vegas, but she keeps coming back, just because she
"I always feel
bad about being a (casino) shill," Linda Ronstadt says of her
periodic visits to Las Vegas. She nonetheless returns to the
Aladdin on Saturday, this time with the Baltimore Symphony
Linda Ronstadt will sing at the Aladdin again
Saturday, and that really amazes her.
The outspoken singer isn't a big fan of Las Vegas
-- "It's such a strange, weird place" -- and previous tour stops
didn't soften her attitude. She remembers "a horrible fight"
backstage with "the pushiest, nastiest people" when her
Mexican-themed "Canciones de Mi Padre" tour visited way back in
"My backstage is closed. I don't want people
around if they're not in the show. They wanted me to take a
photograph with the owner (at that time, Japanese businessman Ginji
Yasuda), who was busy gambling away his family fortune," she
"I'm not a picture pony. The man got really mad
because he was supposed to deliver this for the boss. I wound up
having him thrown out. He got very belligerent and very rude, and we
got very rude back."
Then there was her first visit, in the late
1970s. "It was owned by some mobster type, so they came in with guns
under their jackets: `Woo, the little lady.' It was just so
offensive. Each time, I couldn't wait to get out."
(James Tamer, the Aladdin entertainment director
when the theater opened in 1976, was later added to the list of
people excluded from casinos for alleged connections to the Detroit
Yet, the 58-year-old singer still manages to have
a fondness for the Aladdin Theatre, which survived the original
hotel's demolition in 1997. "The room itself had such beautiful
acoustics. Accidentally, they somehow got it to sound almost as good
as Carnegie Hall."
And so Ronstadt returns with the Baltimore
Symphony Orchestra, combining her country-rock hits of the '70s with
the Sinatra-era standards she recorded with veteran arranger Nelson
Riddle in the early 1980s.
The first of her three standards albums, 1983's
"What's New," paved the way for countless pop stars -- most
recently, Rod Stewart -- to use the classic songbooks of George
Gershwin and Cole Porter as an acceptable career move.
But Ronstadt remembers her management fearing
commercial suicide. "They were afraid I was throwing my career away
with two hands," she recalls. "I just didn't pay any attention."
The albums were big sellers, and any resistance
from the older generation was countered by support from the likes of
Rosemary Clooney. "Her feeling was that it was a sin to throw those
songs out," Ronstadt remembers. "The fact that we just threw them
all out in the '60s was an appalling waste. To rescue them from the
elevators was important."
A 1980 stint in the New York Shakespeare
Festival's production of "The Pirates of Penzance" turned the corner
on a career that previously ran the pop gamut.
Ronstadt's 1974 breakthrough album, "Heart Like A
Wheel" established her knack for giving new life to familiar, but
somewhat forgotten songs: "You're No Good" (first recorded by Betty
Everett) and "When Will I Be Loved" (the Everly Brothers) charted in
the top five.
"I always said, `You don't have to be original.
You just have to be authentic,' " she notes.
By 1980, she had voiced everything from
country-rock to new wave and sold more than 17 million albums. But
after "Pirates," Ronstadt stopped listening to the radio and
"started studying standards, opera and Mexican music. Those three
major forms of music I just internalized, and it took me about 15
years to do that."
Her past makes it easy to structure her current
show as a guided tour of "the American songbook," she says. The
standards in the first set give way to rock 'n' roll with a
downsized band in the second half.
But fans shouldn't expect to hear every one of
their old favorites. Some songs "are not who I am anymore," she
"Your story changes as your life goes on. We're
not one self or editions of ourselves. You can carry those
(editions) over, and they add weight to the current edition, but
some songs don't lend themselves that well. They really need to stay
back there for that particular moment."
The singer's political profile -- including her
late '70s relationship with former California governor Jerry Brown
-- are a past edition that does linger. "I've been dedicating
`Desperado' every night to Michael Moore, trying to get people to go
see `Fahrenheit 9/11,' " she says.
"They say the country is evenly divided, and boy
is that true. One half of the audience cheers and the other half
"I don't understand this country sometimes and I
really fear for it," she adds. "The government is making everybody
in the world hate us, including the people that used to be our
Anyone who disagrees with that is welcome to get
in line, behind whoever she manages to rile at the Aladdin this
"I keep hoping that if I'm annoying enough to
them, they won't hire me back," she says with a laugh.