The Poetry In Music: Dolly Parton

Yesterday, I participated in The Poetry In Music at Bound To Be Read Books.  A huge thank you is in order to Franklin Abbott, the Godfather of the Atlanta Queer Lit Scene, for taking the time to invite all the poets for the event.  Another huge thank you is in order for Jef & Jeff for hosting Poetry In The Music at their bookstore; they do a fantastic job to support the Atlanta literary community!  I was thrilled to participate in the event with fellow poets Collin KelleyJanet MetzgerRupert FikeBryan BorlandTheresa DavisJef BlockerTaryn CrenshawCrystal Monds and the women of Esoteric LorePoets.  We were asked to discuss one of our favorite singers and share a song by him/her.  I don’t think anyone who has spent more than two minutes with me will be surprised that I discussed Dolly Rebecca Parton.

I began with a quote:

You can’t tell me that people are any way other than what they are supposed to be.  I don’t think gay people are trying to just be different just to make other people miserable.  I think people are being who they are, and I think they should be who they are.  I think we should be a little more tolerant, a little more accepting and understanding of not just the gays but other people, minorities.  We just don’t have enough love to live in this world.
~ Dolly Parton, from an interview with Larry King (Nov. 2010)

I immediately thought of Dolly’s “Shattered Image”  when Franklin asked me to participate in The Poetry In Music.  The message in the song is one that many should abide by, and I appreciate Dolly’s honesty about what inspired “Shattered Image.”   The mantra of the song is that you shouldn’t judge other people.  Dolly, as usual, has amazing lines in the song:

You gather your stones by stooping so low.
You shatter my image with the stones you throw. 

and

If you live in a glass house don’t throw stones.
Don’t shatter my image ’til you look at your own.

and

Don’t open my closet if your own’s full of trash.
Stay out of my closet if your own’s full of trash.

I recall an interview Dolly conducted when promoting her  2002 album Halo & Horns that her life was a bit difficult after move to Nashville.  Dolly moved the day after her high school graduation.  At her graduation ceremony each senior announced what they wanted to do with their lives.  Dolly announced before everyone in the audience that she was going to move to Nashville and become a country music singer.  As the story goes, one that Dolly backs, everyone in the audience laughed at her.  I digress.  Life was tough after her move to Nashville.  Dolly admitted that she would take food from trays that were left in hotel hallways for pickup.  She said people in Nashville were talking about her; some of the things being said were not true and some were.  Dolly’s thought on it all:  “Just because they were true didn’t mean I wanted people talking about it.”  Then she wrote “Shattered Image.”

However, I did not share “Shattered Image.”  Recently, I was hospitalized for three days due to a nasty case of cellulitis.  This experience brought “Light Of A Clear Blue Morning” back into my life.  Dolly had a bitter career breakup with Porter Wagner– a breakup that had to be settled in court.  Dolly stated that after the judge ruled on the case she drove home and pulled up in her driveway as the sun was rising.  She went inside and wrote ” Light Of A Clear Blue Morning.”

It’s been a long dark night 
And I’ve been a waitin’ for the morning 
It’s been a long hard fight 
But I see a brand new day a dawning

I’ve been looking for the sunshine 
‘Cause I ain’t seen it in so long 
But everything’s gonna work out just fine 
Everything’s gonna be all right 
That’s been all wrong

‘Cause I can see the light of a clear blue morning 
I can see the light of a brand new day 
I can see the light of a clear blue morning 
And everything’s gonna be all right 
It’s gonna be okay

It’s been a long long time 
Since I’ve known the taste of freedom 
And those clinging vines 
That had me bound, well I don’t need ’em

‘Cause I am strong and I can prove it 
And I got my dreams to see me through 
It’s just a mountain, I can move it 
And with faith enough there’s nothing I can’t do

And I can see the light of a clear blue morning 
And I can see the light of brand new day 
I can see the light of a clear blue morning 
And everything’s gonna be all right 
It’s gonna be okay

I can see the light of a clear blue morning 
I can see the light of a brand new day 
Yes I can see the light of a clear blue morning 
And everything’s gonna be all right 
Everything’s gonna be all right 
Everything’s gonna be all right

It’s gonna be okay

‘Cause I can see the light of a clear blue morning 
I can see the light of a clear blue morning 
Yes I can see the light of a clear blue morning 
Everything’s gonna be all right 
It’s gonna be okay

I can see the light 
I can see the light

It’s gonna be all right 
It’s gonna be all right

“Light Of A Clear Blue Morning,” first appeared on Dolly’s 1977 album titled New Harvest…First Gathering, which went to#1 on the country chart and #71 on the pop chart. My favorite arrangement of “Light Of A Clear Blue Morning” is on Dolly’s 2003 album titled For God and Country.I can list more reasons than you would care to know as to why I love Dolly so much. Topping my list is the fact that Dolly is an amazing songwriter who stands true to herself. Dolly has never taken her eyes off her goals and dreams.  Porter Wagner and others in the music industry told Dolly that she would never be famous if she kept writing songs about her mountain roots.  Dolly didn’t listen.  Dolly followed her gut.  Look at the legacy that is Dolly.  Who from her senior class is laughing now?

Happy Birthday, Dolly!


I love Dolly Parton for many reasons — she’s funny, has the voice of angel, writes some damn sad but true songs, and, well, I could continue to make a list.  But, I will say this: I think I love Dolly most of all because she got to where she is today by doing it her way.  In an interview, Dolly once said that Porter Wagoner pulled her aside and told she’d never make it in the business if she kept writing songs about her Tennessee mountain home– she needed to what everyone else was doing.  Dolly didn’t listen.  She followed her heart and passion.
So yeah! Who doesn’t know the name Dolly Parton?

NEW: "Change It" by Dolly Parton

As you may or may not know, Dolly Parton wrote all the music for the Broadway musical 9 to 5. As usual with a Broadway production, a cast album has been released—-this is lovely, but I don’t have much of an interest in anyone but Dolly singing songs that she’s written. (You shouldn’t expect anything less from a Dolly fanatic!)

Well, I am happy to say that Dolly recorded one of the songs from the cast album. “Change It” sung by Dolly was released as a single today. Yes, I downloaded it. I’m not completely won over with the song as I was with her single “Better Get to Livin’.” Yes, “Change It” has the ole Dolly charm that Dolly fans love and expect, so I am sure I’ll come to enjoy and love it more and more as I listen to it. And, I’m sure when something crappy or extremely frustrating happens with me, well, I will feel in tune and possibly madly in love with the message in “Change It.”

You may purchse Dolly Parton’s “Change It” on iTunes!

Dolly’s "Jolene" on NPR


All Things Considered, October 9, 2008 – When Dolly Parton launched her career on a country-music television show in the late 1960s, she says, she used to sign autographs every night after the broadcast.

“One night, I was on stage, and there was this beautiful little girl — she was probably 8 years old at the time,” Parton says. “And she had this beautiful red hair, this beautiful skin, these beautiful green eyes, and she was looking up at me, holding, you know, for an autograph. I said, ‘Well, you’re the prettiest little thing I ever saw. So what is your name?’ And she said, ‘Jolene.’ And I said, ‘Jolene. Jolene. Jolene. Jolene.’ I said, ‘That is pretty. That sounds like a song. I’m going to write a song about that.'”

Parton says that she got the story for her song from another redhead in her life at the time — a bank teller who was giving Parton’s new husband a little more interest than he had coming.

“She got this terrible crush on my husband,” Parton says. “And he just loved going to the bank because she paid him so much attention. It was kinda like a running joke between us — when I was saying, ‘Hell, you’re spending a lot of time at the bank. I don’t believe we’ve got that kind of money.’ So it’s really an innocent song all around, but sounds like a dreadful one.”

200 Words

When Parton released “Jolene” in 1973, it became one of her first hit singles. The song has only 200 words — and a lot of those are repeated. But Parton says that that very simplicity, along with the song’s haunting melody, is what makes the character of “Jolene” memorable.

“It’s a great chord progression — people love that ‘Jolene’ lick,” Parton says. “It’s as much a part of the song almost as the song. And because it’s just the same word over and over, even a first-grader or a baby can sing, ‘Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene.’ It’s like, how hard can that be?”

“Jolene” has been covered by more than 30 singers over the years, and in several languages around the world.

Jack White’s emotional rendition of “Jolene” has been a staple of The White Stripes’ concerts for years.

“I thought to take the character and change the context and make this red-headed woman my girlfriend, and that she’s cheating on me with one of my friends,” White says. “Then, that would be what I could really get emotionally attached to.”

White says that the character of Jolene has fascinated him for a long time.

“I love the name, first off,” he says. “I thought that was an interesting name when I started hearing that song as a teenager. And I guess later on, as a songwriter, I started to think about names starting with ‘J,’ like that could be used almost accusatory, like Jezebel… Jolene.”

“Jolene” launched country singer Mindy Smith’s career five years ago, when Parton said that it was her favorite version of the song.

Smith says she could relate to the vulnerability of the woman pleading with Jolene.

“I think the main character is really the person singing about Jolene,” Smith says. “Jolene’s a mess. She just steals things.”

A Universal Character

Parton says that Jolene is so popular because everyone can relate to her feelings of inadequacy— competing with that tall redhead in the bank who was after her husband.

“She had everything I didn’t, like legs — you know, she was about 6 feet tall. And had all that stuff that some little short, sawed-off honky like me don’t have,” Parton says. “So no matter how beautiful a woman might be, you’re always threatened by certain… You’re always threatened by other women, period.”

Parton says that “Jolene” has been recorded more than any other song she’s written — in styles that range from Olivia Newton John’s 1976 disco version to the Goth rendition of the post-punk band The Sisters of Mercy.

Click here to see the article on the NPR site.