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Dolly Parton talks about days future and past
Country music legend and gay icon has a new CD and is hard at work on a musical version of ‘9 to 5’

by Lawrence Ferber

Of course I believe in gay marriage…’
— Dolly Parton

On Dollywood: ‘I would give up the park before I would say anybody’s not
welcome — certainly not because of sexual orientation or color or any of that.’

On her latest CD, “Those Were the Days” (Sugar Hill Records), Dolly Parton freshly interprets a handful of beloved protest/antiwar songs from the ’60s and ’70s, including “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” “The Cruel War” and “Imagine.” These ditties certainly strike a fresh nerve today, as we suffer more and more casualties overseas in a war that seems increasingly abstract. Yet for all of “Those Were the Days” political relevance, the lady insists that she doth not protest too much.

“ I wasn’t protesting anything,” Parton says. “Truth is I’m not a political person but I am extremely patriotic and I purposely chose songs that reflected the times. We’re at war and we can’t just ignore that. Songs like ‘Imagine’ still give you hope there’s a better place and better way. I would love for us all to live happily ever after but the least I can do is sing about and speak of [what’s going on] and that’s what I was doing.”

With a posse of talented guests including Norah Jones, Keith Urban, Kris Kristofferson, Alison Kraus, Mary Hopkin, Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens) and members of the Grand Ole Opry, Parton injects rich bluegrass flavor and some of her finest vocal performances into additional classics like “Crimson and Clover,” “Blowin’ In The Wind,” and “Me and Bobby McGee.” While touring the 12-track album and some of her greatest hits, Parton is also composing her first stage musical, “Nine to Five,” which is set to debut on Broadway in 2007 (Parton is collaborating with the film’s original screenwriter, Patricia Resnick).

Parton was raised in the deep conservative south of Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains. In 1964 she moved to Nashville, recorded a single, and the rest is history. While driving through Kansas City on her tour bus, Parton gave me a call to discuss her current album, gay marriage, the lesbian rumors about her and best friend/assistant Judy Ogle, and her nearly 40-year marriage to Carl Dean.

Q. So did you set out to make a political album, Dolly?

A. No. In fact, I don’t think a lot of these songs are political. I recorded twenty-five songs, including ‘The Games People Play,’ which is about how people won’t tell you the truth and all that sort of stuff, and ‘Joy to the World.’ If [this album] does good I have enough recordings left over for another album.

Q. Some of your guest stars are politically aware and outspoken. When Bush first called for a constitutional amendment against gay marriage, Kris Kristofferson, who’s recognized as an activist, spoke out against it. What are your thoughts on gay marriage, Dolly?

A.Well, I say it in a joking way, because so many people are down my neck about everything. Of course I believe in gay marriage — why shouldn’t they have to suffer just like us straight couples do? (laughs) But I am for everybody. I believe everybody has the right to be who they are, do what they do, and have all the rights that they can have. If you’re going to live as a family and be a family you should have the same rights as everybody else.

Q. Let’s talk about your dichotomous fan base for a moment. If I may use a breast analogy, on one teat you have the gays suckling, and on the other teat, the right-wing rednecks.

A.Yes, and don’t think I don’t pay for that! In fact, sometimes because I love all people I do get a lot of flack from the Bible Belt. So be it. I have many, many gay and lesbian friends, many people I’ve worked with through the years, many people in my own family. So I’m certainly not going to sit in a seat of judgment, nor am I the kind of person who’s not going to say what I think and feel. I’ll pay the consequences.

Q. Have any rednecks learned anything or become accepting of gays and lesbians because they’ve met under your umbrella?

A. I don’t think people are going to learn anything they don’t want to learn. The people who are totally against it are totally against it. But they’re also against many other things. Years and years ago I had some [concert] bookings all around the South. There was a CMA awards show where I had won either the female or entertainer of the year and Charlie Pride, the black singer, presented it to me. When I went up on stage he kissed my cheek to congratulate me. And I got crosses burned in my yard and the biggest part of my dates canceled in the South, people calling me “nigger lover!” I thought, “How can people be so blind and stupid and cruel?”

Q. In 2004, the organizers of Gay Day at Dollywood were asked to remove “Dollywood” from the name of the event. And on the big day the KKK protested outside the park. What are your feelings on Gay Day at Dollywood?

A. I think it’s fine. We’re a place of business and all people are welcome. But the gays need to help me, too, because you have no idea what I put up with by accepting and loving everybody. In fact, I have rounds with my business people as well at the park. I say, ‘What would you have me do? Am I going to say they’re not welcome here?’ Of course not, because they are. It’s just one of those things, damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Just know that any of those things that happen like that are not my doing. I have to try and balance and do whatever I can because it’s very possible I could even lose the park over things like that. But if that’s the way it should go down I would give up the park before I would say anybody’s not welcome — certainly not because of sexual orientation or color or any of that. You’ll always be welcome in my heart and home.

Q. So what’s going on with “Nine to Five” the musical?

A. Well, I’m sitting on my bus right now with a lap full of songs. I’ve written probably 20 songs already, there will probably be 13 to 15 pieces of music in the play.

Q. Who would you like to see play Doralee Rhodes, your part from the movie?

A. I don’t know yet. She’s going to have big ol’ titties and big hair, though! I talk about that in some of the songs! One is called “Backwoods Barbie,”and in it she’s talking about “I’m a Backwoods Barbie, too much makeup too much hair a push up bra and heels, it might look artificial but where it counts I’m real.”

Q. You were on Larry King recently and discussed scandals and gossip. What’s the most outrageous rumor you’ve heard about yourself?

A. Oh hell, I don’t know. Half of the articles will talk about how many lovers I have, male and female, and all the affairs I’m having and then in the same article they’ll say I’m crippled-up and my back is broken and I can’t get up. I’m like, buddy, I sure get around for a woman all crippled-up from them big ol’ boobs!

Q. What about those Judy rumors?

A. Oh, Judy’s my best friend since we were little bitty girls and we’ve never had any kind of sexual relationship. Because Judy’s not married they’ve got to tag us together. And I’ll joke with her — “They think you’re a lesbian because you’re not married.” And she says, “Hell, I’d rather they say I’m a lesbian than call me an old maid!” We are very close and together all the time. She takes care of all my wardrobe and scheduling and because she doesn’t have a family she’s free to travel and she loves to travel. It’s not like I’m carrying around this lover to accommodate me. We work our asses off!

Q. If you were to have a female lover or lesbian experience with someone, whom would you choose?

A. Oh, I don’t think in those terms. I told you — I’m trash! When I’m thinking of having an affair I think in terms of all the good-looking guys. But I’ve never really had a desire to be with a woman and that’s the honest truth. I love them all. I think women are beautiful. I have five sisters. I’m close to women and know them inside out, but I’m a guy’s gal.

Q. You played the host of a radio advice show in 1992’s “Straight Talk.” Did a lot of people ask you for advice after that?

A. They did and they still do! They call the Dolly Mama! I’ve got something to say about everything — whether it’s right or whether it’s wrong you ask me I’ll tell you what I think.

Q. Let’s say a queen came to you with this one: “Oh Dolly, I met a guy in the bar last night and he said he loved me and I woke up and my watch was gone but I think he really loves me.”

A. (Laughs) I get a lot of that kind of shit! I don’t think I can help you there. Love is not only blind but it’s also stupid! If that’s what you’re calling love I think you’re looking for love in all the wrong places!

Q. There’s one more bit of advice or knowledge I’d like to ask you for, Dolly, to coin a phrase from a song — when will we ever learn, when will we evvverrr learn?

A. I think that will have to be when God comes back to slap us upside the head and says “What are you people thinking?” It looks like we’re never going to learn because it seems like we would rather fuss, fight and kill one another than try to put our arms around, accept and love each other. But there are those of us like John Lennon, myself and [others] that at least can imagine what that world will be like.”

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