Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice begins the same way as many documentaries about musicians. It opens with archival footage of the subject being introduced at a performance, then plays a few bars of a well-known hit (in this case “You’re No Good”), and then segues into a montage of magazine covers, Billboard charts, crowds rushing stages, and talking heads. Despite this well-worn framework, The Sound of My Voice is entirely satisfying and worthwhile. Like its title character, the movie builds on familiar elements to make something new and beautiful.
It’s fun to watch this recap of Ronstadt’s career, how she helped pioneer folk and country rock before going on to be the “first female rock ‘n’ roll star,” but it’s not the core of the documentary. In an interview at the height of her success, Ronstadt strolls along the beach, looking every bit the “Queen of LA” that Mick Jagger’s famous shirt proclaimed her to be. But this is what she says: “Rock and roll stars tend to … lose the ability to focus on themselves as a person rather than as an image, and that’s dangerous.”
After riding that anxious wave for as long as she could, Ronstadt used her clout to swim for the shore. For the rest of her career, she pursued passion projects. She starred in The Pirates of Penzance on Broadway, collaborated with Nelson Riddle on an interpretation of the Great American Songbook, recorded an album of Mexican folk songs, and more. Each time, people warned Ronstadt that she would ruin her career, and she’d always respond that she “cannot not sing.”
There’s melancholy, then, to the fact that Ronstadt hasn’t performed publicly in over a decade. Parkinson’s disease has robbed her of singing voice. Still, a scene of her singing a Mexican folk song with her brother and nephew in her living room (“I can’t let them sing this without me”) demonstrates that she can still harmonize and style beautifully. “Life after death isn’t the question. It’s life before death. How are you going to live?” she says in voiceover. The Sound of My Voice is a worthy portrait of someone who is exceptionally good at living.