Happy Birthday, Dolly Parton

“I’m not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes because I know I’m not dumb… and I also know that I’m not blonde.” – Dolly Parton

An American original. A living legend. I have too many favorite Dolly Parton songs to list, and I love her stuff with Porter Wagoner. Speaking of which, have you seen the episode of Drunk History where this adorable wasted man describes Dolly’s break with Porter? If you haven’t …

He loves her so much! The slam on the table at the end.

The clip at the top is a compilation of different performances of “The Seeker,” and in that clip she shows that transcendent (and yet primal) affinity she has with her audience, which has lasted 5 decades now. In that clip, you can see her honesty about where she’s coming from, and her joy in doing what she is doing.

One small note on the clip above: what she does in between the :49 second mark and 1:04 is an example of why I love her so much. She playfully slaps her own cheek, throwing a grin at her guitarist, reveling in who she is with up there, what they are creating. She loves her band, she loves her backup singers, she loves the audience. This is a woman who couldn’t, literally couldn’t, be anything other than what she is. Boobs and wigs and plastic surgery and all. She is always herself. The surface does not hide the self. The surface IS the self, something some people really have a hard time with. Honestly, if I never hear the phrase, “Such a shame what she’s done to her face” ever again – about anyone – I will be a happy woman. With Dolly, people murmur that she would “be beautiful” without all the glitter, cleavage, surgery, wigs. They tsk-tsk, they cluck-cluck how sad it is “what she’s done to her face.” As though THAT is her defining characteristic as opposed to her immense contribution to American culture. So those people, with all their words about valuing people for who they ARE, don’t value Dolly for who she is AS she is. They think they’re reassuring us plain gals out there that “we don’t have to do that to our faces”, but really, they’re just concern-trolling. How about a celebration of Dolly’s songs, her heart, her lyrics, and not only her sheer staying-power as an artist, but the fact that she keeps writing songs that matter, she keeps touring, she covers songs that make us re-think them entirely. (Her cover of “Both Sides Now” re-invents it as a zippy bluegrass tune, complete with banjo, and it gives the song guts, verve, she makes the well-known melody MOVE in a new and fresh way.)

Dolly Parton has never stopped developing herself as an artist. But she has also never forgotten what made her fans value her in the first place.

Why on earth would you look at a fabulous creature/creation/human like Dolly Parton and decide that concern-trolling her appearance is your best first response?

But this has always been the case with Dolly. People see the boobs, the wigs, the nails as false. Or trashy. No no no no. She thinks she looks beautiful. She is beautiful. And from the beginning she allows us to see her heart. She forces us to look past whatever “persona” someone may have, she forces us to see “both sides” and NOT judge a person on their surface.

To quote Oscar Wilde:

It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.

Integrity. Guts. Smarts. Sweetness. A thick skin. A gift for writing unforgettable songs and melodies that stay with us for decades. A performing style that is transparent, joyous, inclusive. A business-smart sense. A connection to her roots – ALWAYS. She’s got it all.

And she’s a hell of an actress, too.

Happy birthday, Dolly.

We’re so lucky to have you.


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13 Responses to Happy Birthday, Dolly Parton

  1. Maureen says:

    Happy belated birthday, Dolly!!

    I absolutely love her, and she is a treasure. I have never heard her cover of Both Sides Now, and it is wonderful! Thank you for this post, Sheila!

    • sheila says:

      Oh I’m so glad to have shared the Both Sides Now clip then! That whole album of covers is amazing – I highly recommend it! And sometimes she has the original singer singing backup for her – including them in her “spin” on the song that made them famous. It’s great!

      She’s the best. So glad she is still out there among us, doing her thing.

      • Mike T. says:

        Yes indeed, many thanks for sharing something that I, too, had never heard before (but will be hearing many, many times in the future). Who but Dolly Parton would think of such an upbeat version of a wonderful song (by another transcendent woman) that is so often performed in a doleful fashion? That seems to be what she and her work are really all about; the will to live joyfully and courageously in the midst of all the pain, confusion, and sorrow life sometimes offers.

        I’m tempted to describe her as a “force of nature”, but I honestly think she is a force of God. A lot of people seem to love her; I think what I am really is in awe of her.

        • sheila says:

          Mike –

          // Who but Dolly Parton would think of such an upbeat version of a wonderful song (by another transcendent woman) that is so often performed in a doleful fashion? //

          I know!! I so agree!

          There are some people who seem to have a divine gift, or sense of purpose, or ability to connect – not everybody has it. She always has.

        • sheila says:

          “I know I’m not dumb. And I also know I’m not blonde.”

          There could not be a more perfect or Dolly-ish response to such a dumb comment!!

  2. Debra T. says:

    I always look for the Dolly song on your playlist posts.
    I have a big Dolly love. She is my Elvis.

    • sheila says:

      She is just the best. As with Elvis, she encompasses so much of our culture – expresses so many different aspects of it – with an authenticity that is transparent. She has never been anything other than what she is. Very few human beings ever manage that, or are able to sustain it.

      Love her.

  3. Maureen says:

    I know this is way after the fact, but I bought this CD-couldn’t find it on ITunes. I listen to it on the way to work, and it is absolutely delightful. Her voice fills me with joy, and thank you so much for sharing the Both Sides Now clip-I hadn’t heard about this album!

    • sheila says:

      Isn’t it wonderful? One of my favorite recent albums, in general. Great stuff!! Glad you discovered it!

      • sheila says:

        I also love how she has the original singers come and sing with her – Cat Stevens and Judy Collins and all the rest – It’s such a DOLLY album, but it’s also one big act of tribute.

        It’s wonderful!

  4. Dolly is one of the people I try to think about when it seems like America has finally sunk to the low point that has always been its dark potential. She is a joyful presence, and an example of how our culture is capable of generosity and warmth. She is sincere and utterly open, which are American qualities that sometimes seem overlooked. She is also, by the way, an expressive and creative artist who is capable of bringing some light into the dark just by her existence.

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