Richard Thornton | May 9, 2017 | 23
A Thursday morning salute to Louisiana and Linda Ronstadt
A Miracle on the Washington Mall
Because of her German last name, most people don’t know that Linda Ronstadt’s mother was mestizo. She carries a very significant level of Native American DNA. This is why she was so beautiful as a young woman. During the late 1980s, Linda became tired of the deteriorating rock music scene. She astounded everyone by reaching back to her ethnic roots and switching to being a singer of traditional Mexican and Native American music. She went on to receive many awards for her “ethnic” music, but never was as popular with mainstream America. Sadly, Linda is now afflicted with Parkinsons Disease and thus, will never sing again.
Learning to remember again
Linda Ronstadt’s name has a special meaning to me that only those who have had a dibilitating neurological disease or injury could understand. In October 1987, while I was alone on my farm in North Carolina and packing to move our entire cheese creamery operation to the Shenandoah Valley, a tick somehow got into my bed and injected bacteria of five potentially fatal diseases . . . including Lyme. At the time, no one knew that weird “bulls eye” bruises on your body were associated with borellia spirochete bacteria. However, my new GP doctor in Virginia, who was from Ireland, correctly discerned that I had some sort of insect-borne disease and sent me to infectious disease specialists around Northern Virginia . . . all who proved to be totally incompetent.
After three years of bouncing back and forth between specialists . . . including the head of infectious diseases at the University of Virginia’s College of Medicine . . . I was running a fever of 103 at night, but not in the daytime. That’s Relapsing Fever. I had no feeling on the left side of my body, dragged my left foot like Frankenstein and lost my short term memory. I could not add 1 +2. Each specialist had taken their chunk of money then referred me to another specialist.
While my wife was out of town, I went back to my Irish General Practitioner, who was outraged that the infectious disease specialist at the University of Virginia had not even taken a blood test and merely referred me to a psychiatrist. This is because my now ex wife was having an affair with her married principal and wanted to get rid of me . . . so she told the doctor that I was not really sick. I went back to my Irish doctor rather than going to the shrink.
My doctor sent me to the local hospital to get a full range of blood tests . . . something the other doctors had never done. By the grace of God the head of forensic medicine at this hospital had specialized in insect-borne diseases in his post graduate residency at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He took seven vials of blood and did the work himself so that there would be no charges. At 8:30 at night he called me with this information. He couldn’t understand how I could even walk, much less drive to the hospital. I had a 16,000 white cell count and a 73% blood chemistry shift . . . 100% shift means you are dead. He was puzzled though, because I also had an unusually high level of arsenic in my blood.
The internist told me that I had two weeks to live unless I immediately was put on a powerful intravenous antibiotic called rocephen. He did not charge me a penny for his time or the first massive dose of rocephen. I had to go to the hospital every day for two weeks to get more rocephen treatments, but could walk normally after only three days of therapy.
Then came the memory problem. A friend of mine in Washington, DC was working with soldiers and sailors, who had memory loss from being near explosions. She had discovered that there were certain words, which for unknown reasons would unlock the nerve circuits to lost memory. Once the victim could always remember that word, all of his or her memory came back.
In our therapy sessions, Deena would go through hundreds of words from my past . . . hoping to find some word, which got the right response. Nothing worked. Then one afternoon, she mentioned casually that she and a friend were going to see Linda Ronstadt at Georgetown University perform Mexican music.
Linda Ronstadt were THE WORDS. By forcing myself over a period of about four months to remember Linda Ronstadt’s name, all my memory came back . . . and then some. While fighting all the diseases, my body had stimulated the pituitary gland. Over the time I was getting regular physicals at the doctor, I had actually grown an inch in height while fighting horrific infections. My arms were two inches longer . . . my chest was four inches wider and my skull was over an inch greater in circumference. So when I came out of this nightmare, I was smarter than when I went into it.
The People’s Inauguration – 1993
It will probably never happen again because of the threat of terrorism, but in 1993 over 1 1/2 million people traveled to the Mall in Washington, DC to celebrate the music of America, after Bill Clinton’s inauguration. Like most people probably, I braved the crowds primarily to watch Fleetwood Mac, who were performing for the first time together since 1982. However, the National Park Service had set up large white “circus tents” along the Mall where regional music was featured. Every possible music tradition in the United States was represented.
The greatest folk and regional musicians of the nation were there. Few of the tents even had stages. The grass lawn of the Mall was covered with plastic film and saw dust. The performers were standing at ground level and using improvised microphones and speakers, more typical of high school sock hops . . . but no one cared.
They were only being paid token fees and travel expenses, but these musicians came joyfully to celebrate our rich cultural heritage. However, nobody had expected 1 1/2 million people to crowd into Downtown Washington, DC. It was impossible to even enter most of the tents. So the National Park Service quickly set up speakers outside the tents. The sound quality wasn’t so great, but at least everyone standing near a tent could hear what was being played inside.
I noticed one tent that didn’t seem as crowded. At least there was a place to stand inside the tent. It was the “Native American and Desert Southwest Pavilion.” Cool . . . I liked Mexican and Native American music. Once we were inside, I spied a few empty seats on the far left of the front row. Washingtonians were too politically correct to walk to the front and sit down. Why not? The next performance had not begun, so we pushed our way to the front and I sat down on the farthest left chair.
A little bit later, I heard a woman speaking in Spanish to the left of me, expressing astonishment at the number of people. A few seconds later, someone bumped into my shoulder. Then in perfect English she said, “Oh I am so sorry . . . there were so many people crowded outside, we couldn’t get to the performer’s entrance so the rangers had to open a flap in the tent to get us in.”
I looked up. My chin was about a foot away from the belly button of Linda Rondstadt! OMG! I am not worthy!
Linda was backed by a mariachi band and she was wearing a typical Mexican folk singer’s dress. Their first song was an outstanding performance of a Mexican folk song. It went over like a lead balloon. The crowd began chanting, “Blue Bayou!” “Blue Bayou!”
Linda smiled . . . and signaled to the band to stop their prelude to the next Mexican song. She chatted with the musicians for a couple of minutes . . . then began to sing this song below like an angel.
Linda Ronstadt at the Fox Theater in Atlanta – December 1, 1977
This concert is considered to be Linda’s greatest performance. Fortunately, it was filmed by the Australian Broadcasting Company, so it is ours to enjoy for all time. We honor Louisiana, while Linda sings a song first made famous by Roy Orbison in 1961. After her incredible rendition of this very difficult song at the Fox Theater, it became Linda’s “signature song.”
Here is the entire concert at the Fox Theater, if you have the time and interest . . .
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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.
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