George Varga The San Diego Union-Tribune
Linda Ronstadt ran into a crucial problem when she teamed up with former New York Times writer Lawrence Downes to write a cookbook featuring some of her family’s favorite recipes.
“It didn’t happen because I don’t cook!” said Ronstadt, 76, a National Medal of Arts recipient, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee and 11-time Grammy Award winner.
“So we decided to make it into a book about the Sonoran Desert and how surprisingly it’s the same on both sides (Mexico and the United States), even though they put this border fence at the environment.”
The result is “Feels Like Home: Song for the Sonoran Borderlands,” which will be released Oct. 4 by Heyday and sometimes reads like several books woven into one.
Enhanced by the vivid photography of longtime Ronstadt friend Bill Stein, “Feels Like Home” is a celebration of culture, music, geography, food and family ties that know no borders. . It is eloquently told by a singer who has dedicated much of her career to transcending musical boundaries, from country, rock and jazz standards to Broadway musicals, opera and the Mexican folk music she has grew up singing in Arizona with his family in Tucson.
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The book inspired a companion album of the same name, which will be released on Friday, September 30 from Putumayo World Records, organized by Ronstadt and Putumayo founder Dan Storper.
The 10-song collection includes songs performed by her and past and present musical pals like Lalo Guerrero, Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, David Hidalgo of Los Lobos and members of Mexican folk music group Los Cenzontles (The Mockingbirds) based in the bay area. .
“We worked on the album for many months because we wanted to make sure it was what Linda wanted,” said honcho Storper from Putamayo.
“The CD includes a 24-page booklet with photos, some excerpts from his book and his comments on each of the songs. The way Linda expresses herself is the heart and soul of who she is.
Bright voice silenced
Hearing Ronstadt’s luminous vocals in full flight on the “Feels Like Home” compilation album will likely be an emotional experience for many listeners.
His final gig was a 2009 rendition of songs from his 1987 release celebrating Mariachi music, “Canciones de Mi Padre” (“Songs of My Father”), the best-selling non-English language album in the history of the United States. She made her last recording, a collaboration with Ry Cooder and The Chieftains, in 2010.
Ronstadt was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2012. His condition was rediagnosed in 2019 as also having progressive supranuclear palsy, an incurable degenerative disease.
Under either name, her singing career came to an abrupt end and her life was profoundly changed. Previously simple tasks like eating or brushing your teeth are now challenges that require considerable focus for this genre-hopping vocal legend. Walking is difficult and she uses hearing aids, although she attributes these simply to a sign of aging.
“I can still harmonize in my head, even without playing music,” Ronstadt said, speaking by phone from his home in San Francisco. “That’s all I can do. I can’t sing.
Luckily, her voice echoes loud and clear on nearly every page of “Feels Like Home,” which was both a labor of love and a job.
“I can’t type,” she said evenly.
“That’s another reason why I needed a lot of help with this book. I have a lot of involuntary moments because of Parkinson’s disease and progressive supranuclear palsy. So it was slow. It wasn’t so bad when I was writing (his 2013 memoir) “Simple Dreams”, because my condition wasn’t as advanced as it is now.
write side by side
Even so, Ronstadt was fully involved as she and Downes wrote and perfected “Feels Like Home” side-by-side in her San Francisco home.
“I didn’t write or take dictation. This is her story and she wrote it with her voice,” he said.
“We went through the manuscript several times. I had my laptop and she had a printout in a three ring binder. We went through it page by page, then we did it again and again.
“I was never with her in the recording studio. But from everything I’ve heard, the way she wrote this book is very similar to the way she made records. She’s very particular about her singing voice and her writing voice.She could have been a great writer.
Does Ronstadt plan to do another book?
“Nope!” she says. “It is too hard.”
While the focus of “Feels Like Home” goes far beyond culinary matters, including heartfelt political commentary, the book features 20 of Ronstadt’s favorite family recipes. They range from traditional Sonoran cheese soup and chiltepin salsa to carne asada and a more contemporary dish called tunapenos, which are jalepeños stuffed with tuna.
“I learned of their existence from my sister-in-law, Jackie. “What is this gringo food?” I asked him. I was just shocked,” Ronstadt writes of her first encounter with tunapenos. “And then I ate one, and I was like, ‘Okay, I’m eating the whole plate.’ “
Letter to the Pope
The book also includes a chapter titled “Wait a Minute, Your Holiness,” which recounts the letter she and her friend, the Reverend Mary Moreno-Richardson, sent to Pope Francis seven years ago.
“When I learned in 2015 that Pope Francis had apologized to indigenous peoples for the brutal harm done to them by the Catholic Church during colonial times, but was also about to canonize the Franciscan missionary Junípero Serra, one of the brutalizers, the dissonance was too great to bear,” she wrote.
The letter concludes, “Our concern is that canonizing him would not only be an affront to surviving California Indians, it would tarnish the image of the saints we cherish. We implore you to reconsider the canonization of Junípero Serra.
Serra was indeed canonized later in 2015. Did Ronstadt expect Pope Francis to respond to her written plea?
“I’m sure he never saw my letter,” she said. “But I felt I had to write it down regardless and put it in the book.”
The subject of indigenous peoples is close to his heart.
Ronstadt’s grandfather, Federico Jose Maria Ronstadt, was born in the Sonora town of Banamichi. He emigrated to his hometown of Tucson – about 200 miles north – in the early 1880s.
Her new 218-page memoir is a valentine to her family and the Mexican heritage she has long celebrated in words and music.
Growing up, Ronstadt and his family traveled often and freely between southern Arizona and northern Mexico. The physical landscape was the same on either side of the border, as were most people.
“For me,” writes Ronstadt in “Mi Pueblo,” the fourth chapter of “Feels Like Home,” “Spanish was the language in which we were scolded and praised, and the language in which we sang. As I always sang in Spanish, it was always more natural for me to sing it than to say it.
When asked what message from her book she hopes will resonate most with readers, Ronstadt replied, “That (Mexicans) are just people, really nice people, especially in this particular valley ( of the Sonoran Desert).”