In Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, the singer narrates a 90-minute biography about her life and career. Look: I didn’t know who she was before I watched this, although I recognized her voice and many of the songs as background noise in some childhood memories (particularly “Desperado”). It’s easy to say that The Sound of My Voice feels like a Wikipedia bio filmed; I’m a millennial, and most of my learning comes from reading summaries of things that amount to check-list trivia. That’s the natural comparison for me to make. It’s not untrue, but it is unfair, and it speaks to the way in which a short film like The Sound of My Voice already feels like a quaint exercise in a culture where consumption of media is broken down into its barest parts by those of us who spend our days consuming factoids and think-pieces instead of art itself.
Back in the day, The Sound of My Voice would’ve made a nice VH-1 documentary, when we had the patience for that sort of thing. Ronstadt narrates over chapters dedicated to her childhood, her early successes, collaborations, romances and, finally, her current life with Parkinson’s Disease, a diagnosis that left her unable to sing as she once did (her last concert was a decade ago).
Famous faces chime in to help push the story along, including fellow singers, managers and former boyfriends — everyone talking about her impact and the difficulty of being such a successful woman performer in the 1970s and 1980s. I didn’t know anything about Ronstadt, and her narrating the through-line from her childhood singing to her medically forced retirement really made learning the basic facts of her life and career an effective experience.
Although the structure of a 90-minute documentary limits the depth with which Ronstadt’s life is depicted, the emotional through-line of her finding and losing her voice allows it to feel like a story well told.