Linda Ronstadt on Jerry Brown: Smart, Funny, Disciplined – and Kinda Cheap

Jerry Brown and Linda Ronstadt in 1979. (Sacramento Bee Capitol Alert)
Linda Ronstadt and Jerry Brown in 1979. (Sacramento Bee Capitol Alert)

Linda Ronstadt is getting great notices for her new memoir, “Simple Dreams.” She became a superstar in the 1970s with her album “Heart Like a Wheel.” The collection featured a great (and amazingly produced) series of covers from the likes of Phil Everly (“When Will I Be Loved?”), J.D. Souther (“Faithless Love”), and Lowell George “Willin’ “). But that was just one peak of a long career. She later recorded albums of American standards with band leader and arranger Nelson Riddle (“Lush Life” among them) and mariachi song collections (“Canciones de Mi Padre” and “Mas Canciones”).

More recently, Ronstadt, who lives in San Francisco’s Richmond District, has been in the news for her recent disclosure that she’s suffering from Parkinson’s disease and can no longer sing.

Ronstadt’s superstardom coincided with the emergence of Jerry Brown as a political rock star — Brown was first elected governor in 1974, the year “Heart Like a Wheel” came out. Ronstadt says they met at Lucy’s El Adobe Cafe in Hollywood when Brown was California secretary of state. Later, they became an item, though Ronstadt says “neither of us ever shared the illusion that we would like to share each other’s lives” as a married couple. His life, she said, was “too restrictive,” hers “entirely chaotic.” And she sums up Brown this way:

“He was smart and funny, not interested in drinking or drugs, and lived his life carefully, with a great deal of discipline. This was different from a lot of men I knew in rock and roll. I found it a relief. Also, he considered professionally many issues that I considered passionately: issues like the safety of nuclear power, plants, agricultural soil erosion, water politics, and farm workers’ rights.”

Ronstadt also recounts that Brown could be very spontaneous — and a little cheap. She had been invited to dinner at the home of singer Rosemary Clooney, and we pick up the story there:

“I was dressed and ready to leave for Rosemary’s when Jerry Brown came by unexpectedly. I told him I was on my way to dinner, and he said he was hungry and wanted to go too. I called Rosemary and asked if it would be all right to bring Jerry, and she said it was fine. As we were getting ready to leave, Jerry noticed a large box of roses someone had sent to me sitting on the table in my entryway. Probably feeling a little sheepish about inviting himself to dinner, and being a person who is notoriously tight with a dollar, he picked them up and said, ‘We can take these to Rosemary.’

” ‘But they’re mine!’ I protested.

“He shot me a mischievous grin. ‘If I take the card out, they’ll be hers.’ The flowers went with us to Rosemary’s house.”

It sounds like Ronstadt’s got a pretty good sense of humor. Here’s more evidence of that: video from a benefit concert (also featuring Jackson Browne and the Eagles) during Brown’s first run for president in 1976:

 

Ronstadt was interviewed earlier today by NPR’s Terry Gross on “Fresh Air.” She touched on many subjects, including why she never got married, sex and vulnerability, other female musical artists she admires, and more:

Linda Ronstadt: The Fresh Air Interview : NPR

Author

Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke (Twitter: @danbrekke) has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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