Five minutes into the interview and Linda Ronstadt is screaming into the phone, “George Bush stinks!”
OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, but she brings it up.
Here we are, having a very pleasant chat about music, about her new Cajun-spiced album, Adieu False Heart, representing yet another direction from the pop queen known for such teen angst anthems as You’re No Good, and how it will translate when she plays tonight at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.
Coming along is her musical partner in this endeavour, Louisiana Cajun musician Ann Savoy.
Along with originals and covers, they’ve recast Blue Bayou in the new vein, a topic that leads to the New Orleans hurricane, which brings up the Bushy bile.
“He’s an idiot,” Ronstadt says, adding, “he’s enormously incompetent on both the domestic and international scenes.”
Welcome to the folk fest, sister. You are among friends.
You knew we weren’t going to get away from this without bringing up politics. Ronstadt, who just turned 60, is a celebrity lefty from way back, part of the ’70s No Nukes movement along with Jackson Browne, James Taylor and Jane Fonda.
Ronstadt had a relationship with famously liberal California governor Jerry Brown, though it was “strictly personal,” she says.
Her music may have changed from the sunny pop hits of yore to Mexican music to American standards to Appalachia to Cajun-influenced music to God knows what else to come – although “I never try anything that I didn’t hear in my house growing up before the age of 10,” she explains – but Ronstadt’s politics have stood fast.
She continues to support the Democrats. She drives a hybrid car. She left Tucson, Arizona, where she was raised, and moved with her two adopted kids to San Francisco, where the political climate is more “moderate.”
The singer got into trouble two years ago. It was reported that Ronstadt was fired from her gig at the Aladdin Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, escorted from the premises and told she’d never work in that town again – and all because she gave a shout-out to filmmaker Michael Moore.
The truth, Ronstadt says, “was infinitely less dramatic.”
The show was going well, she recalls. Before the second encore, she dedicated Desperado to “a great patriot” – Moore – and plugged his new film, Fahrenheit 9/11.
“Everybody went yay,” Ronstadt says. “But then the part of the audience who didn’t like the yayers went boo against the yayers.
“Then I said, ‘I am now going to sing Desperado’ and everyone went yay. There was no throwing things, none of that. When I got finished and was getting ready to leave, a woman came and said, ‘You can’t leave, the owner of the casino wants to talk to you.’ I said, ‘What do you mean I can’t leave? I’m leaving.’ I didn’t understand.
“She said she had orders not to allow me to leave. I thought, is she going to read me my Miranda rights? Is she a police officer? Then I thought maybe she was a person with emotional problems who went off her meds. Anyway, I climbed on the bus and off we went …
“Las Vegas is not my thing, anyway.”
However it went down, the story made the wires around the world, putting Ronstadt in the limelight for the first time in years. It begs the questions: This is a musician, playing a music concert and we’re supposed to be talking about music. Must everything be about politics?
“If you like escapist entertainment, go to Las Vegas,” Ronstadt says. “I think art helps identify and express your feelings. There’s a long tradition of troubadours and balladeers exploring social situations, behaviour, political ideas, people like Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan.
“George Bush is intellectually incurious, which is a nice way of saying it. He is not well educated, not well travelled. He’d never even been outside of the country. Can you imagine? His father was president, vice-president and head of the CIA, and it had never occurred to him to travel outside of the United States. So people like Jackson Browne or Bruce Springsteen, who travel the world, are very knowledgeable people and support other cultures, they’re not entitled to make a political statement more than George Bush?”
Good points, maybe, but does any of this belong in the act?
“Of course!” Ronstadt goes on. “Was it wrong for people like Peter, Paul and Mary or Joan Baez to speak out against racism? I think they educated a lot of people about something that was terribly unfair. Now the fact that we were lied to about the reasons for entering into war against Iraq and thousands of people have died – it’s just as immoral as racism.”
We have only a little space left to talk about music. Generally speaking, Adieu False Heart is some of the loneliest music Ronstadt has ever recorded. Too Old To Die Young is particularly poignant. It is literally a far cry from Heat Wave. Why so sad?
“I think that is a lot of human condition,” she says. “When you’re happy, you just enjoy that. You don’t have to write a poem or a song or a book about it. I think artists are there to help us identify our emotions, and a lot of us, by the time we’re 60, have been through a lot of different situations.”
She can say that again – and it’s a good bet she will.