Poor, Poor Pitiful Her

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Time was Linda Ronstadt could whip her fans into a frenzy by wearing a Cub Scout uniform and dating Gov. Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown. These days, the songstress is doing it by peppering her shows with political bons mots. Reports the San Diego Union-Tribune about a Sunday night show:

She dedicated her soaring version of the Nat "King" Cole classic "Straighten up and Fly Right" to "the good folks at Enron, who brought you the California energy crisis." She also dedicated the song to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom she chided for his recent claim that Democrats in Sacramento opposing his proposed budget cuts are "girlie men."

"Now I'm wondering," Ronstadt mused, "what if you're a female legislator? Does that make you a 'manly girl?' Or a 'manly woman?'"

She also gave props to Michael Moore–hailing him as "a great American patriot and certainly the man of the hour"–during her encore, which drew boos and cheers from the crowd.

Like a musical Moses staging a song-fueled parting of the Red Sea, the veteran star instantly split her sold-out audience of 1,360 in two.

Half the crowd heartily applauded her praise for Moore, the other half booed. In an instant, the intimate outdoor venue on Shelter Island filled with a roar of cheers and jeers that grew to a near-fever pitch.

As Ronstadt started to perform her encore, an impassioned version of the Eagles' "Desperado," dozens of concertgoers angrily streamed toward the exits, while others gave her an ovation.

Whole thing here. Reuters reports that the night before that show, Ronstadt was kicked out of The Aladdin for the same antics. When she went into her political bit, concertgoers "guests who spilled drinks, tore down posters and demanded their money back." That account here.

It may be a holdover from my admiration for SCTV, which once featured a hilarious bit in which funnyman Bobby Bittman insisted on interrupting a set with a call for solidarity on the Falklands War, but I've always enjoyed it when celebs launch into political jabbering in front of a paying audience.

Indeed, years after any given performance, it usually is the only thing worth remembering. And it's almost always more entertaining–whether intentionally or not–than whatever the performer is actually being paid to do.

NEXT: Cheney Gets Served

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  1. When she went into her political bit, concertgoers “guests who spilled drinks, tore down posters and demanded their money back.”

    Fucking protestors, always have to resort to vandalism. 🙂

  2. You know, when I go to a concert, I expect periodic patter between sets and songs, especially so the backup band can change instruments, re-tune, etc; singers can drink some water, and so on. And especially if it’s betweent the finale and the encore! They need to regroup and prep for a new song! Audience crybabies!

  3. FWIW, I would bet Ronstadt would’ve gotten a far tamer response had she simply heaped praise on, say, John Kerry instead of Moore. Moore is a ‘fire and brimstone’ kind of personality, much like Limbaugh and Coulter on the other side of the political fence. Her adding that Moore is “spreading the truth”, of all things, was additionally rubbing salt in the wounds.

    Moore is way off-base in calling the Aladdin Casino manager, who booted Ronstadt after the show, as being “stupid” and “un-American”. If an employee willingly does an act to alienate half of your customer base, what is a private business supposed to do? If I begin preaching politics to my clients at work, I’d be history (and justly so). Ronstadt was not hired to provide political commentary that could potentially anger paying customers who were expecting something different. She was hired to sing.

    Of course, let’s not discount the ulterior motive here. What better way for a has-been long-forgotten entertainer to appear in the media once again than to start controversy? Call it Janetjacksonism 101. Stir the pot, sit back, and enjoy the publicity.

  4. thoreau,

    “Just don’t claim that something unprecedented and reprehensible was done.”

    yes! that’s what everyone is claiming, “unprecedented and reprehensible”. way to go, knock ’em down!

  5. I’m thinking of voting for Kerry in November on the justification that if he wins maybe everyone in the entertainment industry will shut the hell up. It’s tangential to the Ronstadt story, but it seems every time I read a record review or some other nonpolitics-related piece these days, the writer has to veer off on some whiny rant about current affairs, to confirm the writer’s bona fides to the assumed correct-thinking audience, I guess.

  6. “Hey, listen. I don?t like a movie, I get up and leave.” I think the ire stems more from audience expectations than from anything else. If it had been, say, U2, anyone who didn’t expect some political monologues would be a fool. As it is, an entertainer who tries to sell anything other than the expected product is taking a risk that the audience will be annoyed. Ms. Ronstadt should not have been that surprised–her fan base includes a large number of country music listeners. Not a group known for its leftwards leanings.

    Frankly, as much as the Right annoys me, I don’t know what to think about the Left when it seems to be led as much by not-very-educated entertainers as by anyone else. I’m surprised there aren’t more Hitchens-types out there repudiating the more whacked out statements by Moore and various celebrities.

  7. “Still, Elvis (Presley, not Costello) said it best…”

    Actually, I think Elvis Costello did say it best: “I used to be disgusted, but now I try to be amused.”

  8. It’s not like Ronstadt’s politics — and onstage speechifying — have changed in tenor appreciably in the past thirty-odd years.

    Um, yes, that would be the problem, now, wouldn’t it. Most people grow up; Ronstadt hasn’t. A 20-year-old worried about being drafted and sent to Vietnam isn’t the same audience as a 50-year-old grandfather worried about his family being murdered by terrorists.

    Actually, I’m not certain that Ronstadt’s politics and “speechifying” haven’t changed. Has she traditionally advocated the belief that Americans are stupid, lazy, ignorant and violent? Or the belief that all non-leftists are either ignorant and stupid or greedy and corrupt? I don’t believe she has. But those are the beliefs that Michael Moore advocates, and now she’s shilling for him. Little wonder her audience is cranky.

    FWIW, I would bet Ronstadt would’ve gotten a far tamer response had she simply heaped praise on, say, John Kerry instead of Moore

    Well, it would still be guaranteed to irritate a good portion of her audience.

    It’s like the movie “Sneakers”. The good guys spend the entire movie trying to stop organized crime figures from getting their hands on unstoppable hacking technlogy — no problem there. They then trick some NSA agents in order to keep the U.S. government from getting its hands on the technology — again, reasonable. But then the movie ends with the “good guys” using the technology to backrupt the Republican Party and give all its money to left-wing causes.

    Which, of course, left a lot of the audience scratching their heads and saying “what the fuck”?

    It’s one thing to advocate a policy or an ideal. It’s quite another to advocate the belief that one party, or candidate, is Good, and the other is Bad. This is especially true because most people have fairly sophisticated reasons for preferring one to the other, or disliking one more than the other, while art and artists invariably present simplistic reasons why one is the Correct Choice.

  9. “But then the movie ends with the “good guys” using the technology to backrupt the Republican Party and give all its money to left-wing causes.”

    If memory serves, the also got the NRA too.

  10. Edit: they also

  11. Dan – good points, her audience did grow up while she’s still back in ’78.

  12. I suppose this kind of thing is the baby-boomer flip side of all those patriotic recitations and songs old-timers like Red Skelton, John Wayne, etc., used to do on TV variety shows back in the 60s & early 70s.

    I don’t know if the new liberal big mouth entertainers are more barf-inducing than the old super-Patriot guys. I suppose that with some of those old guys there might have been at least a sense of humility or even gratitude in their flag waving, whereas seeing someone like Rondstat forcing her views on an audience I wonder if it ever crosses her mind that most people probably don’t care what she thinks about anything at all.

  13. I recall a friend telling me that he had attended a concert on the last Eagles tour. She said she wouldn’t have minded the $150 price tag if the 10 minutes between songs where Glenn Fry and Don Henley pontificated about the environment and politics had been used to, oh, play Eagles songs. A local reviewer calculated that close to an hour was spent chatting.
    Douglas is right. People went to hear her belt out Tumblin’ Dice and Blue Bayou.

  14. The article is a real puff piece. I can’t help but wonder how the writer would react to the flag-waving rants of say, Ted Nugent. Would he be as quick to defend the Nuge’s right to “inspire and provoke”…

  15. It’s not like Ronstadt’s politics — and onstage speechifying — have changed in tenor appreciably in the past thirty-odd years. What next? Reports of scandalized Bible-belt families walking out of Bette Midler shows when she goes into her decades-old patter about the good old days performing in gay bathhouses? Vegetarians storming out of the aforementioned Ted Nugent shows?

  16. I have not read Laura Ingraham’s “Shut Up and Sing”, but I think I may take a look at it now.

    I do agree with the title. Less babble, more rock please. Play the damn music. Give us the obligatory “We Love You “.

    I always liked my driving instructors advice if ever pulled over. “Give me a ticket or give me a lecture, but don’t give me both.”. I’m pretty sure those people paid to hear the music.

  17. Oh, sometimes the politics works. For instance I saw a Megadeath show just after 9/11. Dave Mustaine went into a rant about the Taliban, Al Qaida and other terrorists around the world. He basically was pissed off that they thought they had the balls to declare a “Holy War”. Then he broke into the Megadeath classic “Holy War” with a guitar solo.

    That was cool and nobody threw away their drinks unless you are inclusive of one’s liver as a target.

  18. When I saw the Pogues play in 1989, a completely wasted Shane MacGowan kept berating the audience between the songs — and during them — but he was too drunk to understand most of the time. The one phrase he kept coming back to was “Fuck you and your Batman.”

  19. The Brando-Littlefeather thing was alright. If you win an Oscar, you get to talk about whatever the hell you want. You did the hard work, you beat all challengers, you get to use your 45 seconds to address the world.

    The ones that piss me off are those jerks who are brought in as announcers and feel that this gives them the right to spout off. This isn’t about you: You’re there to do a job. You’re there to honor someone else.

  20. While I sympathize with the position of the “shut up and sing” side of the debate, I do have to wonder what the offended concertgoers were expecting. I don’t think it’s a big secret that Rondstadt is a leftist and uses her performances as a soap box for her politics. What were a bunch of pro-American, flag-waving, conservatives doing at a concert featuring someone who is going to tweak their noses?

    Granted, they may have just liked her music despite the woman’s politics, but caveat emptor. You don’t like that Linda Rondstadt thinks Michael “Downsize ME” Moore is God incarnate? Fine. Just don’t throw a fit when you put yourself into a situation where you end up being offended.

    So put up with it, or go somewhere else.

  21. Mark S.

    You are missing a distinction here. she is an entertainer and her paying customers came to see her sing. she can think Moore is God’s gift to humanity; but she can’t rant that crap to customers who didn’t pay to watch that.

    If paying audience complain about Bill Clinton’s views in his speech, then your argument above applies. But singers, dancers, etc. need to keep the show close to what they advertise it to be.

    Not just politics – if they like telling vulgar jokes for example, that may be OK sometimes but not OK in front of some other audience.

  22. She got Dixie Chicked LOL

    So we have the people that want them to “shut-up and sing” when they LIKE the entertainment but get all in a twist if they don’t like (or care) about the entertainment (the Polanski brouhaha).

  23. Sometimes, I suppose, you expect the political. (What would a U2 concert be without Bono’s over-the-top, self-important rantings?) Still, Elvis (Presley, not Costello) said it best: “I’m an entertainer, ma’am; I’d rather keep my political views to myself.”

  24. If I buy something and it isn’t what I thought it would be, in most cases the people on this forum would say “Let the buyer beware!” Complain too much about the seller and you’ll be accused of being anti-market, at least on this forum.

    But if you buy concert tickets and the performer spends too much time spouting left-wing politics, this forum is horrified. “How dare that singer!”

    Complain that the singer is annoying, complain that the commentary is banal, complain that the concert sucked and you’ll never go again. Just don’t claim that something unprecedented and reprehensible was done.

  25. “Dan” and “Native NYer”; call me a sap, but I’d like to think that the 20-year-old who opposed the Vietnam War and the draft 30-odd years ago through moral conviction would now be a 50-year old who opposes the Iraq occupation alongside her or his children with even deeper conviction

    Undoubtedly some, perhaps most, of the people who opposed the Vietnam war for “moral” reasons would, 30 years later, oppose the Iraq war for similar “moral” reasons. After all, if you don’t give a shit how many South Vietnamese are enslaved or murdered by a Communist dictatorship, why should you give a shit how many Iraqis are enslaved or murdered by a Fascist one?

    However, that’s pretty much a moot point. The overwhelming majority of youth opposition to the Vietnam war stemmed from precisely one cause: fear of the draft. As soon as college students became at risk of being drafted, miraculously hundreds of thousands of draft-age men and women became “morally outraged” about the Vietnam war. As soon as the risk went away, so did the moral outrage; in the end, few among the anti-war crowd gave a shit what became of the North Vietnamese, or the South Vietnamese, or the Cambodians.

    So I think it’s perfectly reasonable that the vast majority of former 20-year-old war opponents, who opposed the war solely out of fear for their lives, might today support the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — again, out of fear for their lives, and those of their loved ones.

  26. This is pretty funny, from a feature story/interview with Ronstadt published just six days ago:

    “This is an election year, and I think we’re in desperate trouble and it’s time for people to speak up and not pipe down. It’s a real conflict for me when I go to a concert and find out somebody in the audience is a Republican or fundamental Christian. It can cloud my enjoyment. I’d rather not know.”

    So merely being informed of the existence of a single person with differing political views will “cloud the experience” for her, but she’ll make damn sure her paying customers — whose money she’s all too happy to take regardless of political or religious persuasion — are exposed to her political views. Nice.

    She also made sure to drop the Nazi bomb:

    The state of the nation: “I saw a movie recently about a camel and these people in Mongolia, and I relate to them better than people here in this country. It looks like (Germany’s) Weimar Republic to me here.”

    Spectacular.

  27. And at the risk of being misinterpreted, I know the Weimar Republic was not the Nazi era. I’m sure she used it as shorthand for “The period just before Bush I Mean Hitler No I Mean Bush Took Over.”

  28. In comments made prior to the Aladdin incident, she said she hoped she’d lose the job anyway. At the Aladdin, in addition to praising MM, she also shat on Vegas, and dissed the “LR’s greatest hits” promotion. She apparently believes that her art is too pure for her fans, and for Sin City.

  29. Only post-jazz-era musicians are hit with the curse of becoming “greatest hits” acts. Certainly Ellington and Sinatra in the ’70s, Johnny Cash in the ’90s and Les Paul probably just last week would do plenty of numbers from their back catalogues, but the shows weren’t sold as “greatest hits” revues. Would it have occurred to anyone to pitch them that way for any pre-rock performer?

    “Greatest Hits” means you’ve got nothing new left. Think of how annoying and suffocating and just plain wrong it must be for someone fully capable of tackling new material, even if it only amounts to a few songs in a 2-hour set. It’s not like Ronstadt is a burned-out songwriter herself and is boxed in on that basis. Forget “pure art”. Why humiliate the artist? And why exactly can’t she rail against it? Is all public complaint Unamerican now?

  30. No big surprise about Whoopi and Linda…after all, who uses “Slim-Fast” other than dumb-ass calorie sponges who can’t simply watch what they friggin’ eat or maybe get a little exercise. And Alladin? Nothing but a Fleecing House where the terminally ignorant line up to pay way too fucking much for “entertainment”, to look at phony, plastic facades and to generally throw their hard-earned cash in the direction of known thugs, shysters and criminals–money that would be better spent on some evening Adult Education classes.

    Hey now!

  31. Linda Ronstadt still has a gig? Who knew?

  32. “Dan” and “Native NYer”; call me a sap, but I’d like to think that the 20-year-old who opposed the Vietnam War and the draft 30-odd years ago through moral conviction would now be a 50-year old who opposes the Iraq occupation alongside her or his children with even deeper conviction. To do otherwise is not “growing up”. It’s called hollowing out from inside.

    If becoming prgamatically self-interested is so mature does that mean that a libertarian who inherits a sports franchise and millions of shares in a big-box-retailer would be a fool for not ditching all that dewy-eyed conviction and embracing heavyhanded use of eminent domain?

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