Saturday, May 15

She Come By It Natural by Sarah Smarsh; Dolly Parton, Songteller of Dolly Parton and Robert K Oermann – Review | Biography books


With a career spanning more than half a century, Dolly Parton is an all-American figure that we assume is immutable fixed in the public mind. Wooden hut, Jolene, from 9 to 5, Breast augmentation, Dollywood, cloned sheep And now the Moderna vaccine, to which he contributed $ 1 million: For all those who have a superficial familiarity with Parton as a country singer with a cartoon physique, there are others who understand his mettle as a businesswoman and philanthropist.

However, it turns out that there is still a lot to discuss. Although Parton’s cultural reach has always been unexpectedly broad, your production company created Buffy the vampire slayer – Recently, this more clearly defined star has started to turn unexpectedly hazy around the edges.

These two books and a podcast have reintroduced Parton, in part in the wake of seismic upheavals in the US Last year, a nine-part podcast series, Dolly Parton’s America, sought to make sense of it as an unexpected unifying force in the country. Host Jad Abumrad was amazed at how Parton’s fandom included “drag queens, evangelical Christians, and hipsters,” all happily coexisting within her rhinestone glitter.

Acknowledged apolitical, Parton has long acknowledged his LGBTQ + audience, infamously enter a drag contest similar to Dolly Parton and lose. A lifelong believer, he has scolded his more critical fellow Christians. She has stated, without ambiguity, that black lives matter. All of this, while retaining its red, apple pie core audience – that’s “Dollitics.”

Abumrad also asked Parton if she considered herself a feminist, only to have the author of countless songs, movies, and women’s career movements. repudiate the term, as he had done many times before.

One reason is class. Academic and writer Sarah Smarsh – one of the contributors to Dolly Parton’s America – delves deeply and precisely into the flagrant contradiction of that feminism that does not dare to pronounce its name. Originally conceived as a writing grant for the US roots music magazine. No depression, which published its four-part analysis in 2017, She comes for her natural now available as a book in the UK; A June 2020 foreword updates the Smarsh study.

The author is from rural Kansas and wrote an earlier celebrated work: Heartland: a memory of working hard and being broke in the richest country on earth. You are in a good position to understand how Parton directly sang to rural women about unwanted pregnancies and deception of men, about hard work and how to escape intolerable situations.

Smarsh’s central argument about Parton is that her form of feminism, one enacted in practice, is as valid as that claimed by academic theorists and protesters. Women who work multiple jobs, Smarsh notes, often don’t have time to participate in third-wave demonstrations and texts. Furthermore, educated feminists have previously tended to look down on women like Parton, who as a teenager called herself the local sex worker.

Parton, Smarsh argues, has always known exactly what he was doing: driving a Trojan horse through first the country music establishment and then the entertainment world in general. That Trojan horse was spectacularly well disguised, in a ridiculous caricature of femininity. The Trojan horse also had a large, distracting chest cavity that confused everyone for decades. “[Parton] I was … simultaneously challenging gender norms and reveling in gender performance before that was a political act, ”writes Smarsh. “Country girls like me were watching.” She concludes that Parton has been “perhaps the most powerful and least political feminist in the world.”

Deceptively political ... Dolly Parton in 1978
Deceptively political … Dolly Parton in 1978. Photograph: Harry Langdon / Getty Images

Parton herself has come a little closer to agreeing. Last May, in an interview for Time 100 talksShe said: “I guess I’m a feminist if I think women should be able to do whatever they want. And when I say feminist, I just mean that I don’t have to, by myself, go out and carry posters … I really feel like I can live my femininity and show that you can be a woman and that you can still do whatever. you want to do.”

His explanation didn’t invoke class, but the disconnect was there, deactivated, as always, by Parton’s conciliatory verbal finesse. “It’s just that there is a group of people who fit into that category more than I do,” he said. “But I am for all of our girls. I think everyone has the right to be who they are. “

One of Parton’s best boss moves was writing I will always love you, one of the most enduring songs of the 20th century. It was her farewell salvo to Porter Wagoner, a country television host two decades her senior, who hired Parton as her partner and became increasingly proprietary about her affairs. Finally, he went solo and played the song in his office to say goodbye.

I Will Always Love You has been a hit in three different decades, most recently in its incarnation of Whitney Houston. Elvis Presley wanted to cover it, but Presley’s voracious manager wanted half of the publication’s profits and Parton refused to budge. More impressive still, Parton probably wrote Jolene, another of the most enduring songs of the 20th century, on the same night as I Will Always Love You.

Smarsh’s book is excellent, but such is Parton’s verbal dexterity that the last word should really come out of the Trojan horse’s mouth. A recent coffee table book, Dolly parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics, Written by the singer with Robert K Oermann, it contains a great deal of her words, Parton’s recollections of her genesis and her life after death, including that of the first draft of Coat of many colors, one of his defining songs. Ironically, since it’s a song about his poor mother sewing rags to make Parton a winter coat, it’s scrawled on a Wagoner’s dry cleaning receipt.

• She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the women who lived her songs by Sarah Smarsh is published by Pushkin (£ 9.99). To order a copy, go to guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply

• Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics by Dolly Parton and Robert K Oermann is published by Hodder & Stoughton (£ 35). To order a copy, go to guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply


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