"I only mention them if they actually had some kind of place in the music," Ronstadt explains. "Having a musical companion to listen with is a huge thing; when you're sitting listening with someone with a shared sensibility, it expands your experience hugely -- by multiples of 10 sometimes." In Souther's case, she adds, "he was the one from the rock 'n' roll community who, when I started recording standards (with 1983's 'What's New'), went, 'What a great idea!' I feared his opinion because he's very judgmental and he's very condemning, but he loved those tunes and said, 'This is pretty good. I think you should keep going with it.' He liked the record and he came in and encouraged (Ronstadt's manager) Peter Asher, whose courage was flagging a little bit. It dragged us over the finish line a little bit, and I owe (Souther) a debut of gratitude for that."
Ronstadt says her publisher's attitude helped to convince her to do the book project. "They sent me a lovely letter and books by Renee Fleming ('The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer') and Rosanne Cash ('Composed: A Memoir') saying, 'We'd love a book like this. It doesn't have to be a kiss-and-tell book or anything, just about your work and how you want to talk about it.' I hadn't had any experience writing anything like that. I never kept a journal, never kept a diary, never written anything past a thank-you note, practically. I just tried to tell my story."
In writing the book, Ronstadt says she learned "to give myself a little bit of a break" from her often harsh opinions about her work. "I always thought I couldn't sing very well," she acknowledges. "I was always very frustrated by it, and I was always sorta disappointed by it. Everything I did always fell short of my expectations. But doing (the book), I think I cut myself a little bit of slack. I wasn't very good when I started, but the good news is I got better. I didn't become the greatest singer in all of pop music, but I became at least, for my time, the most diverse. I do wish the records were better, but they were as good as I could do at the time."
"Simple Dreams' " publication, of course, was preceded by the revelation that Ronstadt has Parkinson's disease and is no longer able to sing. She has no regrets about making it public -- "When you have Parkinson's disease it's kind of noticeable, and if I didn't say anything people were going to say I'm drunk because I have a hard time walking," Ronstadt notes with a laugh -- but she was surprised by how big a story it became.
"I told about 11 interviews I had Parkinson's disease and there wasn't much of response, and then I told AARP and I don't know what happened," Ronstadt says. "But I've had very nice support. I've heard from old friends that I haven't heard from in a long time, and a lot of people have given me very useful information. I don't like to make it look like I'm so special; at 67, there are a lot of people with health challenges. I'm not unique in that way."
Ronstadt -- who these days works with youth at the Los Cenzontles Mexican Arts Center in San Pablo, Calif. -- says the end of her singing career "makes me sad," but she tries to keep it in a positive perspective.
"I have to say it's a drag; it's the worst thing that's ever happened to me," she notes. "But I say to myself that I had a really unusually long turn at the trough, and I have to be satisfied with that and I got to live out my dreams musically in a way that a lot of people didn't get to. I was lucky that way and I'm grateful for it, and I have to just look around for other ways to make myself useful. And I will."