Rock star documentaries often gain their drama from the self-destructiveness of their subjects. Fame magnifies personal flaws too brightly and the star gets burnt out. This one, by Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman, is lovingly different. The Linda Ronstadt seen here has a soccer mom like determination to do things well. When tragedy strikes, in the form of Parkinson’s Disease, the tear jerker is in the final scene. Ronstadt, a woman who has always pushed herself to be a better singer, struggles to hit the notes of the simple songs of her childhood.
Ronstadt, rising to fame in the late 60s and 70s, was one of the most successful female singers of all time. She achieved 5 multi-platinum albums in a row and ten Grammys, earning her the quote of being ‘The Beyonce of her times’. That might be a little misleading though she was the highest earning female star of her era. Her focus on more languid ballads and lack of showmanship on stage probably won’t make the Bey hive buzz. Her true brilliance was her genre spanning breadth. She was one of the few artists to have concurrent hits in the rock, pop, R&B and country charts. After conquering those she pushed herself into musicals and operetta taking a Tony and a Golden Globe. At the height of her career she ‘came out’ as being of Mexican heritage and recorded Spanish language songs, bringing her a Latin Grammy Lifetime achievement award.
Born in an isolated town she grew up with music as her main companion. She was from a musical family and started her career playing in a trio with her brothers. On moving to LA she discovered the hot industry scene at the Troubadour. Eventually she became a central figure in the hybrid folk, country and rock sound that dominated until the disco revolution
With Ronstadt playing such a genre crossing role it does make the documentary reminiscent of one of those “Sounds of the 60, 70s, or 80s” infomercials. The fulsome testimonials from stars such as Dolly Parton and grey haired music industry execs reinforce this. But it triumphs as a showcase of Ronstadt’s legacy and the slickness comes from Epstein and Friedman’s craftsmanship rather than superficiality. Particularly the use of stills is outstanding, beating many a documentary that is about photography.
The Sound of My Voice will be a touching discovery for those who do not know Ronstadt’s work and a fitting tribute for fans that do. Ronstadt is not the stereotype wild child of rock but has ended up achieving something more meaningful than notoriety
Review by Andrew Hebden
Queerguru Correspondent Andrew Hebden is a MEDIA & CULTURAL STUDIES graduate spending his career between London, Beijing and NYC as an expert in media and social trends. As part of the expanding minimalist FIRE movement he recently returned to the UK and lives in Soho. He devotes as much time as possible to the movies, theatre and the gym. His favorite thing is to try something (anything) new every day.