Every year, I take a look at the Tribeca Film Festival programming guide and find a few films which stand out as “must-see.” It’s a sure bet that a documentary about one of my favorite vocalists would be on the list.
LINDA RONSTADT: The Sound of My Voice, directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman allows Ronstadt to tell the story of her life in her own voice. As I mentioned in my review of Rocketman (which yes, is a feature, so not exactly the same), autobiographies on screen can provide a mixed result in terms of my overall satisfaction. The Sound of My Voice did end up tipping in the favorable column however. Allow me to elaborate.
Given my age, let’s assume that I was very young or a bit refined in my evolving musical education when I “discovered” her music. In fact, it’s probably a mixture of both. Thanks to my parents, I am her hits filled the 1970s soundtrack of my pre-school years. As I got older, I began to back-catalog music of that era and was immediately re-drawn to her amazing vocal talents.
What this documentary also did for me was provide a greater context for just how successful and trailblazing her body of work was during this period. Of course, there is always the Wikipedia search or similar articles that could have told her tale. However, that pales in comparison to watching through words, videos and pictures, a personal reflection of an awe-inspiring career.
Although she is a touchstone in the world of 1970s Rock ‘n Roll, in my mind, I often associate her with Easy Listening music. One thing that The Sound of My Voice reminds me of, however, is that, you should not attempt to box Ronstadt in. Her musical influences and pursuits are varied and span multiple genres and languages. For example, when she delved into uncharted musical territory (such as Gilbert & Sullivan), her drive, determination, and seemingly boundless talent yielded success after success.
One of the most beautiful (in its telling) and heartbreaking parts of The Sound of My Voice is how she describes the ravages of Parkinson’s Disease. It quite moving to hear her describe how it prematurely hastened her retirement from the music industry.
(FUN FACT) Lastly, in the category of The More You Know … the documentary revealed that we can credit her for facilitating a meeting of musical minds which would in turn form a partnership known as Eagles.
All that said, there is a flip side. It is a minor quibble, but still worth noting. While The Sound of My Voice takes care to explore Ronstadt’s family history, the rest of Ronstadt’s personal history is presented in fits and spurts. As is the prerogative any autobiographer, being selective about how much detail you choose to share is a given (the hint is also in the title). The filmmakers recount her relationships with J.D. Souther and former Governor of California Jerry Brown, but only just. In the latter’s case, it is used as a lead in to discussing her political activism.
This is merely an observation. There is a solid argument that Ronstadt telling her story on her own terms (focusing on her music), means that the ‘other’ stuff, while salacious to a fame-and-scandal hungry audience, is pretty much nonessential.
As a further counterpoint, the scores of artists, collaborators and friends providing testimony offer valuable insight into Ronstadt’s inspiration and what drove her throughout her prolific career. In my opinion, that perspective is more valuable than any gossip.
As a female in the male-dominated world of Rock and Roll, there must be many volumes to mine beyond the “it was a struggle, but I came out on the other side” narrative. Nowadays, society and audiences are more attuned to and sensitive to exploring these factors. So I feel like it was a missed opportunity for Epstein and Friedman.
The Sound of My Voice is an engaging portrait of a singularly-talented artist, bound to please her most ardent fans. For a new audience, it is an affectionate introduction to Ronstadt. It also places her rightfully as more than noteworthy in any survey of 20th century American music.