Without a doubt, Dolly Parton is the purest anomaly of Americana.
To clarify, I’ve always resisted the common identity of “country western” music, partially based on the notions of stereotypes, (rednecks!) but mostly because it never cast the same spells on me as the raw magic of rock and roll or oldies R&B. Despite my lacking C&W lifestyle, Dolly Parton managed to imprint me with a serious sense of devotion from as early as I can remember. (FACT: I checked my KLOUT score the other day, and it told me that I was influential in Dolly Parton. Coincidence? I think not.)
At the very least, Dolly has made me wiser to the endearing qualities of this musical neighborhood, or dare I say, neck of the woods; but truth be told, her impression holds much more than that. The general population may be indifferent, but behind the scenes, Dolly Parton is America’s Sweetheart, whether they realize it or not.
How do I decide this? Let me count the ways. She has a bonafide backwoods background. She really writes music. Lots of it. She’s one of the only women who can truly get away with being exaggeratedly superficial, AND make it actually look pretty. She’s been married to the same man for decades. She never had children. She played an important role in culture with Porter Wagoner’s television show. She has some surprising opinions and tastes that you wouldn’t expect from the demographics she belongs to. She’s philanthropically active. She acts. She’s a business woman. She owns THEME PARKS GUYS. Why isn’t there a statue of Dolly Parton in every city hall? Why do I meet so many people not much younger than me who have never even heard of her? (Not lying.)
Unlike some honky tonk counterparts singin’ songs about a fantasy heartland despite their comfortable metropolitan upbringing, Dolly really lived the country folk life. We’re talking poverty that should make us think twice before rolling our eyes at our paychecks as we crank up the heater and bitch about smartphone apps. She literally grew up in a freaking cabin in the rural mountains of Tennessee, sharing one room with 12 siblings. She later raised some of these siblings when her career took off. This upbringing has kept her humble and generous and frugal throughout her career.
Dolly Parton has been married to Carl Dean for almost 50 years. He supposedly has only watched her perform once and is just a very private person. Despite all the rumors in her career, she insists that she is just a flirt and she’s remained loyal to her husband, who is her true love. One of her most popular songs, Jolene, is actually partially inspired by a woman in town that was a little too interested in her husband. (I would hate to be that woman!)
With giant blonde wigs, extravagant false eyelashes, legendary augmented chest, Dolly Parton turns faux beauty tricks bigger and better than all of us. There’s something adorable about her that trumps the superficial assets associated with heinous celebrity housewife shows or sexy lifeguard dramas or x-rated films. I can’t think of anyone else that could get away with admitting she was inspired by the local prostitute to create her signature style because she felt boring and ugly. She even once had her own line of wigs!
Some of the most charming duets of all time are Dolly and Porter Wagoner’s from his television show in the late 60s and early 70s. She later even had her own television show.
Some celebrities play it safe by not revealing their stance on controversial topics, and some celebrities have no qualms making their views a serious agenda displayed loudly in their work. Alternatively, some musicians stick to their own kind, and others re-invent themselves in genre bending endeavors. It’s no secret Parton considers herself to be religious and patriotic, two things that are unfortunately (and inaccurately) often associated as a formula for the extremist right arena of politics, and considered more thematically appropriate for the country music genre. Yet Parton doesn’t think twice about supporting gay marriage; collaborating with way artistically different Cat Stevens/Yusef Islam and then defending him among severe patriotic scrutiny; covering categorically different or potentially sacrilegious material by Led Zeppelin, among others. (Follow that link for a hilarious rage post about how evil she is for covering Stairway to Heaven.) I think Dolly Parton does what she wants, not what she thinks she needs to do, and most importantly, she doesn’t let it get in the way of everything else or get too loud about it.
She’s realistically generous. Parton has started her own brand of a literacy program in the Imagination Library, and has contributed to a large amount of charitable causes in her career. There are varying citations of Dolly’s feelings on never having children, from being suicidal about it to being relieved, but she has claimed that not having kids meant she could mother the rest of the world.
I mentioned earlier that Dolly also acts. I might take that back. Is playing a sassy southern bell really acting for her? Maybe not. But if I made movies I’d probably write-in this character into every film I made so I could hire her. She is co-owner of Sandollar Productions, which produced Father of the Bride and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, among others. Check out this gem from her acting career, “Rhinstone” with Sylvester Stallone.
I’ve never been to Dollywood and I’m ashamed of myself for it. I refuse to believe my cynical friends who remind me that she isn’t there. Whatever. Maybe she doesn’t have time to play at this park all day waiting for me to finally make the trip there, but I’m sure her spirit is in every nook and cranny. She actually owns several theme parks, restaurants, and live shows.
January 19th is Dolly Parton’s birthday. Say something to her. On Facebook (seriously y’all, she has less than a million fans?! And Gangnam Style does?) or on Twitter. Go do it, do it right now, just don’t take my Klout score please.
* Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and header image courtesy of Dolly Parton’s website.