When Linda Ronstadt Sings



Cassie is the name I’ve given to the homeless woman who walks by our house, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house, early every morning and returns by the very same route every evening. Sometimes, when the weather is bad, I have seen her take shelter in the Sulzer Regional Library. A haven for many of us in all sorts of ways. The song in this story, Adios,  was written by the brilliant songwriter Jimmy Webb. And Linda Ronstadt, who recently announced she was no longer able to sing. Well, all I can say is “Listen to her.”



Six sets of gauzy, hooded eyes watch her every morning. A shift change at night.


Bathed in the grey dawn light of a late October snow sky, Cassie leans in north. Head down, skin and bones, straining to push her shopping cart past the stately home of the Mayor of Chicago. Those six sets of eyes.  Cops in unmarked cars barely shift in their seats. Triangulating justifiable protection for the Mayor and his family.  They know there is no danger from Cassie.  She’s a regular. And the Mayor is usually gone by the time Cassie trudges past each morning.


The wide sidewalks, bare trees and spacious lawns sport a dog walker or two. Early morning commuters, walk to catch their trains. Cassie has her route. She is as much a part of the street as the wind. If the day turns rainy, she’ll sit in the entryway of the Sulzer Regional library. A child might see her and wonder ‘Is the sad lady hungry?’ A Mommy might step down from a gleaming black SUV and sense a presence other than her own. But that will pass quick. The doors of the library let the howling, hawk wind seep in with icy blasts like frozen train whistles.

But wrapped up in her coat, Cassie doesn’t mind. She doesn’t look up once. Never sees Mommy of the SUV or the curious child. The whooshing of the traffic like a white noise screens out everything but the song. The song starts up and Cassie is as far from that library lobby as she can be, hearing the voice of the timeless singer, Linda Ronstadt start to tell the story again with the words of the songwriter Jimmy Webb. Cassie hears Ronstadt sitting in the empty space right next to her, as if holding her hand, Ronstadt sings,


Ran away from home when I was seventeen

To be with you on the California Coast.


And that very instant , , ,

A golden, peach orchard breeze explodes in Cassie’s mind. Sweeping out weary, as if the California sunshine really could let us all, every one of us, start fresh and alive and spilling out fruit tree sun.


Ronstadt sings,

Drinking margaritas all night in the old cantina

Out on the California coast.


And in her voice, those times at the sunset ending of the work day when the promise of their night come rolling from quiet laughter and looks and then the love. As if they had their very own solid, smooth stepping stones across the wild and raging Pacific waters of their lives to come. Anything was possible back then. And whatever it was they could handle it. Could always get it done.


In the lobby of the library while she sits still as the ocean right before a storm, a security guard walks by. Just checking. He gives Cassie a look. Then keeps walking.


But Cassie in looking at the ocean from Highway One. Hearing only Linda Ronstadt sing,


Don’t think that I’m ungrateful

And don’t look so morose.


Every day, when the song comes and lifts her and she says goodbye to him again, she grabs hold of the endless currents of the love that runs between the lines of the song like the power of every one of the rivers flowing down to the sea. Not just one river. All of them. And she is wondering and knowing at the very same time, that of course he had to go and never come back. It was better that way. So much better that way.


Cassie listens to the song. Holding on to it for dear life. Her heart as blistered, raw and sore as her feet.


For a split second she lets herself ask again, “What happened?” Then she answers. Mumbling. To keep that security guard walking past. Cassie again tells the story. If only cause maybe this time there will some sense to it. She says, “He followed the winds and the crops to do the picking. Left me in town while he walked and rode the state and the fields. Fact, some days, most days. There was only that few minutes at the end of the work when he would come in sweaty from the fields and call me on the phone. There would be just those few minutes to review the whole day and tomorrow. But when he told me that he loved me? That was enough.


And Ronstadt sings,


We never really made it baby

But we came pretty close.


Cassie shifts her position. Crosses her arms. Saying in quick, mumbling bursts of staccato sounds unintelligible to the passing crowds through the library lobby.

I don’t know why he didn’t call that time he went up north to those winter green hills. I knew I couldn’t have that though. I was hungry. I was tired, he was gone. I couldn’t have silence. I couldn’t live with the silence. No one could. No one could.

Cassie shakes her head clear and wonders if he was ever really there at all. Tucked into her corner of the library. Safe now. Safe. This is not the streets. Right this moment, not the streets. The streets will come when she pushes her cart south as the library, a shelter now connected to that cantina, the California coast itself. Right now this moment, she forgets to blame. Forgets who was silent. The streets are too hard for that. It was too long ago. She only hears Ronstadt sing,


And I miss the blood red sunset

But I miss  you the most




While across the lobby he sits. He’s right there too. And neither of them know it. Cassie’s grizzled and grey silent fruit picker farmer from all those years ago. Head buried in a book. He lives for the library. Carries his life in two brown paper bags. Of course, Cassie doesn’t see him. She only looks down. And he doesn’t see her. But he remembers. Every single one of the all to few moments.


Yesterday he read that Linda Ronstadt will never sing again. And that might be true.


But as the old man sits directly across the lobby, in the safe and warm confines of the Sulzer Library, his great, gone past love just yards away; he hears the exact same voice, the very same song as Cassie does. He hears Linda Ronstadt sing,


And I miss the blood red sunset

But I miss you the most.


He hears that voice and thinks, she might stop singing. But with her voice . . .


There will always be someone who listens.


Click here and MAYBE the song will play

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6 Responses to “When Linda Ronstadt Sings”

  1. toritto Says:

    “And I miss the blood red sunset

    But I miss you the most



    Geez, you really know how to pull the strings Roger.


  2. chicagoguy12 Says:

    Frank—That is Linda Ronstadt and Jimmy Webb–I’d just an admirer.

  3. toritto Says:

    Hi Roger – Yes I knew who wrote those lines – it’s just been years and years since I read or heard them again. You brought them back. Thanks.

    • chicagoguy12 Says:

      Hi Frank–Thank you! I always assume no one is reading this stuff, so it’s a joy when someone does.

      I’ve been listening to Linda Ronstadt my whole life. And the way she tells a story when she sings has always helped.

      I once got the chance to see Jimmy Webb live. The way he writes a story in two lines–that’s always helped too.

      So–I’m just joining you in that chorus of thanks!

  4. Jeremiah Horrigan Says:

    Roger: Bundled-up, bitter-cold Chicago comes alive again in your hands, this time with a warm touch of the West Coast. And who better to convey that warmth than Ronstadt, who always found a way to give another’s song their most memorable interpretation. How do you improve on the likes of Roy Orbison, The Everlies, Warren Zevon? Listen to Linda.

  5. chicagoguy12 Says:

    Hey Jeremiah! That’s right. Just listen to her!

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