“Tumbling Dice”/”Old Paint”
Linda Ronstadt, Simple Dreams (1977)
What with a new, well-received, documentary circulating, a Kennedy Center honor and even a recent nice word from Greil Marcus, who I never imagined was a fan, Linda’s having a moment.
Given her age and infirmity (Parkinson’s Disease) and the unlikelihood she will be attending any ceremonies that might be left to her ( Country Music Hall of Fame, maybe, of which she would be richly deserving), this might be her last ride in the spotlight before the long, black curtain falls. I don’t really need an excuse to listen but the occasion of ordering the DVD of the documentary for my birthday seemed as good as any. I pulled Simple Dreams almost at random. For all the years I’ve had it, it’s not one I’ve listened to a lot. It’s four hits are on plenty of comps, the radio, YouTube (often in what I assumed were superior live versions), the way we listen now.
Not for the first, or, I’m sure, the last time, she surprised me. I realized yet again, having overcome the prejudices the old guard rock critics (Marsh, Christgau, etc.) on dozens of previous occasions, I’m still not through breaking through. Every cut on the album is fine, and the eclectic approach that would was often called visionary when Ray Charles or Elvis tried it (even when it didn’t all work) was more typically called confusion, or pure calculation, when she did the same. (Just as an example of what critics used to say about Ronstadt, how far she could put them off their stride, John Morthland, in his otherwise invaluable study The Best of Country Music wrote “she owes Roy Orbison an apology for her massacre of ‘Blue Bayou.'” That wasn’t even close to the meanest thing anybody said and the song’s co-writer, Joe Melson, later revealed that Roy loved Linda’s version and that “Linda found what Roy was looking for.”…But what does he know?)
She wasn’t deemed to be…in control.
Not sufficiently anyway (too femme I suppose, though I always assumed that meant a little too independent as well, which was why she had to be presented as Peter Asher’s puppet for some people to admit they liked some of it–the iIluminati always reserve the right to mean the opposite of what they say).
Even after the penultimate tune, the studio version of “Tumbling Dice,” got the house rockin’, I thought surely–surely!–the album closer, “Old Paint,” would let me down.
But, maybe for the first time ever, I actually listened….And I realized it was of a piece with “Tumbling Dice” which, in her voice (and with her key lyric changes–I’m still disappointed that the Damn straight I heard for years is really Get it straight, but changing the opening line to People try to rape me still makes up for everything even if it turns out some day to be People try to rate me) turned out to belong to the same sort of cantankerous soul who ends up wandering the west in “Old Paint.” She might have gone from roadhouse rocker to cowgirl folkie with one of her usual head-snaps–and I might have reversed the order if it had been up to me–but that just meant you always had to run fast to keep up.
Funny. The older I get….the faster I run:
NOTE: Linda did so many killer live versions of “Tumbling Dice,” including one that was featured on the million selling soundtrack of the movie FM, that most people probably remember it better that way. So….why not?