Wednesday 13 December 2017

Why we'll always love Dolly Parton

Ed Power

Ed Power

How do you explain the timeless appeal of Dolly Parton?

Aged 67 the kitschy country singer remains wildly beloved, as the excitement over her just announced world tour demonstrates (tickets for her June 11 and 12 dates in Dublin and Cork go on sale today). Without a hit in decades and rarely on the radio, her stardom endures.

This was made doubly clear as, shortly after the tour was announced, her old collaborator Kenny Rogers spoke for the first time about rumours of an affair with Parton in the early '80s (coinciding with their uber hit 'Islands In The Stream'). Actually there wasn't much of a bombshell. "Tension" had indeed fizzled, "teasing and flirting'' had occurred. However, it never went further: apparently the steamiest thing they got up to was dueting 'Islands' ... on Top of the Pops.

Big deal, you might think. Two singers experienced a tingle of attraction half a lifetime ago – what of it? And yet, Rogers' willingness to broach the topic constituted a seismic happening in the gossip universe. Quite obviously this had more to do with Parton than Rogers, whose trek around Ireland in May barely evinced a shrug beyond his (admittedly robust) fanbase.

We just can't get Dolly out of our heads. It's possible we are attracted to the contradictions in her story.

Parton has long flaunted her artifice: inevitably dressed like the world's campest barbie doll. But her tawdry sartorial leanings contrast vividly with her hardscrabble upbringing in impoverished Sevierville Tennessee. Famous people often like to cultivate the notion that they come from nothing. Parton, born in a one-room shack without plumbing or electricity, genuinely did.

Nor was there anything manufactured about her talent. Parton was a real-deal songwriter who penned many of her best loved hits, most notably 1973's searing 'Jolene', in which the narrator begs the titular 'other women' not to steal her husband (apparently it was inspired by Parton's suspicion that her husband was besotted with a teller at their local bank).

The charisma she projects on stage is by all accounts replicated in person. Those who have had the pleasure describe Parton as almost super-humanly charming in person.

There's a school of thought that people like Parton because she is ridiculous but the theory doesn't stand up. Cher is as OTT as pop stars get yet who amongst us cares she has a new record out? Nor is it her undeniable vocal prowess – otherwise news of a Celine Dion comeback would have prompted wild cheering in the streets.

Maybe we adore Parton for her ability to be absurd and sincere at the same moment. She dresses like Elton John's idea of a Mardis Gras float and sings songs that pack a devastating emotional wallop.

Whichever way you slice it, that's a unique formula, one it is difficult not to be dazzled by.

Irish Independent

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