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Sunday 18 February 2018

We will Always Love you

Gingham Girl: Dolly Parton has said her famous song 'Jolene' is about a flirtatious bank teller
Gingham Girl: Dolly Parton has said her famous song 'Jolene' is about a flirtatious bank teller
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

It's not Miley Cyrus, but I think you'll agree the tale has a certain quaint dime-store novel charm. Anyway... Once upon a time, during the filming of her movie Nine To Five in 1979, Dolly Parton was coming home one night after a dinner in a restaurant in Los Angeles with some pals. They'd had a couple of Margaritas. Parton was in one chauffeur-driven car and some of her pals were in another. Dolly decided it was time for her mischievous side to come out. When one of her female friends in the moving car opposite her on the highway "flashed me – she started unbuttoning her blouse" – Dollie responded in kind by pulling up her shirt "and I flashed them with one of them", the superstar told Rolling Stone in 1980.

"So anyhow, they did something else, and the next time around, I mooned them." Not to be outdone, and the Margaritas perhaps really kicking in, Dolly had an idea as her car sped towards The Beverly Hills Hotel, which she soon communicated to the driver: "I'm gonna take all my clothes off – I have to – but you can't look. You've got to look straight down the road! So I started takin' off my clothes. And I tell you, I had 'em peeled off. I had my clothes layin' on the side.

"All I could think of, mainly, was that stop sign, I opened up the door and I started walkin' around the car in the moonlight. Here I was, just Snow White – you know how fair my skin is. There I was, and I tell you, I thought the girls were absolutely goin' to die. I just did it real casual, and then I just flew back in the car. Then all of a sudden I realised I was naked. I was so embarrassed, but feelin' so proud that I had done it."

Once you get past the well-rehearsed gags ("I was the first woman to burn my bra – it took the fire department four days to put it out") and the screaming, over-done kitsch – and admittedly, it is difficult at times to get past all of that – the hard fact remains with Dolly Parton: one of country music's greats, she has influenced everyone from Shania Twain to Alison Krauss and others like Natalie Merchant, Ellie Goulding and The White Stripes, who covered Jolene.

The 67-year-old singer who grew up poor in rural Appalachia, Locust Ridge, Tennessee, as one of 12 children, has given us some heartbreakingly real songs like My Tennessee Mountain Home, Joshua, Coat Of Many Colours, I Will Always Love You and of course, the aforementioned Jolene. Released in 1973, the last was written by Parton about "a tall, red-headed bank teller" who Parton believed was flirting with her husband. Onstage – another well-rehearsed and exaggerated routine doubtless – Dolly is prone to say in a preamble before performing Jolene that she "fought this woman tooth and nail for her husband".

I've met Dolly twice. Once for breakfast in London six years ago, and before that in 2000 in her suite in The Shelbourne Hotel. Both times she was this almost cartoon figure: it was like meeting Minnie Mouse who made adult jokes about the unreal size of her fake fun-bags. She gave me a big lipstick-y smooch-y kiss on the side of the face as I left her room that evening in D4. I put it on as the main picture on my Facebook page.

Joking apart, Dolly has a certain authenticity to her music, not least in the song – my personal favourite – In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad) as she sings: "I've seen Daddy's hands break open and bleed/ And I've seen him work till he's stiff as a board/ An' I've seen momma laying in suffer and sickness/ In need of a doctor we couldn't afford/ Anything at all was more than we had/ In the good old days when times were bad."

For once, she is not looking for laughs but tears.

Dolly Parton's Blue Smoke World Tour: June 10, Belfast, Odyssey Arena. June, 11 Dublin, The O2. June 12, Cork The Marquee.

Sunday Independent

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