Ronstadt croons for culture

“The times, they are a-changin,’” Bob Dylan once proclaimed. It was a prophecy Linda Ronstadt couldn’t have phrased better herself.

As a kid growing up in Tucson, the Grammy winner recalls, “We didn’t have video players in the car. We’d play the radio, and whoever was driving was boss of the radio. We’d be in the back seat, and we’d have to sing to entertain ourselves, and we sang all this different stuff in harmonies. So harmony was always a part of my life, just like music was a part of everything I did, even washing the dishes.”

At school, it was no different.

“We always had music class, every classroom had a piano in it, and all the teachers were musically trained,” she says.

Nowadays?

“We’ve raised a whole generation of tone-deaf kids, who’ve learned music in a passive way instead of participating in it,” she says. “I mean, I was astounded when I first found out that kids were going to classrooms with no piano in ’em.”

That there’s a dearth of music in education is one of Ronstadt’s pet peeves, and the reason she’s making a rare appearance at the Fillmore this week — with her duet partner Aaron Neville — for Bill’s Birthday Bash.

The “duets” show — also featuring Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Jackie Greene; Phil Lesh and Greene; Ray Manzarek and Roy Rogers; and Tuck and Patti — benefits the Bill Graham Foundation and organizations such as Music in Schools Today, which provides children with instruments and music programs.

Such assistance, she says, “is so sorely needed.”

“It should be included in everything you learn, from your history lesson to your math lesson,” she says. “That way, you really get integrated art, and we’d have the kind of society we used to have in America, where people were really, truly creative.”

Ronstadt, 61, has grown more adventurous in recording. In 2006, she and Cajun queen Ann Savoy sang as the ZoZo Sisters on “Adieu False Heart”; they’re planning a

follow-up.

Lately, she’s been involved with Los Centzontles, a Mexican arts center in San Pablo that’s reconnecting children with their Veracruz heritage.

She also cites the Waldorf school system as exemplary.

“I walked into a sixth-grade class there, and they were all singing something from ‘The Magic Flute’ in perfect German, in perfect tune, a cappella,” she says. “If you start kids early on, in kindergarten, they start getting a relationship with

harmony.”

Times have changed for professional musicians as well, says Ronstadt, who doesn’t own a television, sees movies at neighborhood theaters and wishes inventors had stopped with FM radio.

“You take a guy like Ry Cooder, with no shortage of talent. … The record companies brought him along, and he wasn’t their highest seller,” she says. “But the rest of us in the music business tremendously depended on him — people like him, Randy Newman and Little Feat — because they were so inspiring.

“And it used to be that we all went and saw each other in clubs. When I was coming up through the ranks, Joni Mitchell would be playing the Troubadour, two shows a night, three on weekends. And we’d go see every single show she did.”

Still, she says she believes there there’s hope — that is, “If we get a concern for what’s really going on.”

“We’re losing pitch, but the talent doesn’t leave the gene pool,” she says. “It’s still there, even though the culture isn’t resonating.”

IF YOU GO

Bill’s Birthday Bash

Where: The Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., S.F.

When: 8:30 p.m. Friday

Tickets: $100

Contact: (415) 346-6000; www.thefillmore.com

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