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.”
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.
The day after my “Bette Davis Eyes” entry, I some how managed to knock over a cap less bottle of water during the night. Yes, water equals no stains; however, water soaking a laptop equals possible big trouble. My laptop has not functioned properly unit t0day. Praise be to Dolly for a working laptop!
Here’s some blurbs of stuff that I have wanted to blog about when I was laptop-less:
*BIG NEWS: I’ve worked in retail pharmacy since I was 16; I’ve been with my current employer for 6 years. This month all of this is changing because I am leaving my job for another. Well, I am leaving as a full time employee. I’ll probably dedicate an entry to tomorrow to this change.
*Listening to NPR this morning I found out: In April of this year soldiers serving overseas had their duty time increased from 12 months to 15 months. My Opinion: The increase is bullshit.
Georgia Speaker of the House, Glen Richardson, wants to abolish property tax and implement a 4% on EVERYTHING…… yes, everything means the items that weren’t taxed before like doctor visits, etc. My Opinion: I’m not on Speaker Richardson’s abolishing boat.
*The Southern Baptist Convention has asked all churches belonging to the group to pray for rain in Georgia and think about what God is telling us. My Opinion: A poem is in the works on this topic.
Since last week was crazy, I am posting two Marilyn Nelson poems this week to keep with my POTM series. However, this entry is different from the other entries because I am not posting the words to the poem— instead, I am posting a link to NPR so you can hear Marilyn Read “A Wreath for Emmett Till” and including a Youtube clip of Marilyn reading a selection from the poem.
Click here to access the NPR article on “A Wreath for Emmett Till” and hear Marilyn read her work!
Other interesting news– “A Wreath for Emmett Till” was the center of some controversy in California. Check out fellow poet Robin Kemp’s blog entry for more information. I interviewed Marilyn before the drama occurred; however, I’m doing an update with Marilyn to include the “controversy.”