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,
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,
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
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
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
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
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.”