Gentle readers, it has been far too long since I posted anything here. I’ve had lots to write about but no drive to do so. As the seasons have changed and things are green and lovely, my mood to write has come back. My topic today is one that’s very near and dear to my heart.
I talk a lot about my Holy Trinity of Self-Rescuing Princesses: Princess Leia, Wonder Woman, and She-Ra. Only one woman is fit to be their queen, and she is probably the person I’ve been a fan of the longest. Her name? Dolly Parton. I have loved Dolly ever since I can remember. In fact, my mama has a cassette somewhere of me at about 2 or 3 years old talking about wanting to be a “singer star like Dolly ‘Partment.” (I know—I was adorable. I also called a hippopotamus a “hippo bottom boom,” but that’s not relevant to our story.) I don’t remember how I became aware of Dolly, but living in East Tennessee very close to where she grew up, it’s probably not hard to imagine that exposure to Dolly would be almost unavoidable. My grandparents ran a western store back then called the Circle F, and I remember rifling through the single record rack they had. Maybe Dolly was among the selection. Maybe I heard her on the radio or saw her on TV. However it happened, she became a full-on obsession, along with the Muppet Show. Maybe she reminded me of Miss Piggy? Who knows?
So why the sudden resurgence of my Dolly Parton fandom? Well, it just so happens that we are going to Dollywood next week! I’ll write more about Dollywood in a minute, but it also has a lot to do with how many icons have died this year. Yes, I was saddened by the passing of Prince and David Bowie, but I started thinking about people that would really upset me when they pass away. Dolly is at the top of that list. I will be inconsolable. I remember singing “9 to 5” and “Here You Come Again” into a hairbrush as a kid (and as an adult). I begged my grandparents for a pair of red cowgirl boots as a kid. They also supplied me with little western outfits to go with them, and in my imagination, I was Dolly Parton singing to a crowd of adoring fans. Sure, as I got older, I found other singers and bands I loved, but Dolly was the one that really ignited my love of singing.
Dolly has been writing songs practically her entire life. She’s still writing songs. Did you know she doesn’t read music? She’s written thousands of songs, and yet she doesn’t read music. That’s pretty amazing.
Anyway, in honor of my pilgrimage to Dolly’s hometown, here’s a list of reasons why I love Dolly and why she inspires me so much.
She’s a Boss-Ass Babe.
Much like Peggy Carter knows her value, Dolly has always been her own advocate. She went from being on local radio at a very young age to being a superstar/media mogul who has traveled the world. She has written most of the songs she performs and has been honored in various ways. And though she has houses in LA and Nashville, she never misses an opportunity to give back to her hometown. She has done so much for East TN, from bolstering tourism and jobs in Sevierville by building Dollywood, to her Imagination Library initiative, which sends books to children up until a certain age. Even when her accountants told her not to invest in Silver Dollar City and turn it into Dollywood, she knew it was the right thing and did it anyway.
So let’s talk about Dollywood.
Dollywood is one of my favorite places on the planet. From its opening in 1986 to my senior year of HS in 1996, my grandparents bought me a season pass. During summers I would stay with them in Knoxville, and we would spend a lot of time there. I have a lot of wonderful memories of the park, from scandalizing my Granny by sounding out the word “Whorehouse” in front of her pastor’s wife to riding rollercoasters and getting my Granny’s hair wet on water rides. When I was going regularly, there weren’t many scary rides. Looking at their website, they have a bunch of new rollercoasters and thrill rides, and it looks like they’re keeping up with much larger theme parks in terms of quality. (I’ll tell you for sure once we go.)
If you’ve never been to Dollywood, I can tell you it’s an experience. It’s very much on theme with Dolly’s Smoky Mountain upbringing, with very homespun, folksy décor and music. They’ve worked to retain the beauty of the mountains while featuring a lot of rides and attractions. There are a bunch of shows, including music and even an eagle show. (They run an eagle sanctuary for eagles that can no longer live in the wild.) You can see a replica of Dolly’s childhood home, her tour bus, and even an interactive museum chronicling her life. If you’re a season pass holder, you get to go in before the park opens to the public each year, and Dolly holds a parade. One year (early ‘90s, maybe?), we went, and Dolly rode by in a carriage with Burt Reynolds. It was one of the highlights of my short life to see them so close I could almost touch them.
I’m very excited that one of the rides that has survived since the Silver Dollar City days is the Blazing Fury. It was the first rollercoaster I ever rode. I mean, it’s more of a dark ride than a rollercoaster, but for tiny Geeky Vixen, it was thrilling! I really hope the dialogue hasn’t changed. I still miss the Flooded Mine. They tore it down to build another ride, and it probably should have been torn down far before it was, but I remember riding it with my dad and my uncle and singing along to the song. Incidentally, every time I rode with my dad, he put his hand in the water and splashed me. On more than one occasion, a booming voice would come over the loudspeaker and tell us to put our hands back in the boat or we’d have to get off. The best part was the characters inside the ride. Most of them were animatronic, but a couple of the prisoners were blank-faced dummies that they projected faces on. It was immensely creepy, but it was super cool, too.
She’s comfortable in her own skin.
Dolly found an aesthetic years ago—as she calls it, trashy. One of my favorite quotes of hers is, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” Even in the ‘70s, when women like Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt (with whom she collaborated with several times over the years) were rocking a more natural, Bohemian look, Dolly was buxom and bleached-blonde. She’s seldom seen without a ton of makeup and 5-inch heels, covered in rhinestones or fringe or bright colors. It’s not a look that would work for everyone, but she makes it work perfectly for her. She doesn’t care if others like how she looks. As long as she’s comfortable with herself, that’s all that matters.
She’s been married forever.
Dolly and her husband Carl have been married for 50 years, though with Dolly’s aggressive schedule, they’ve probably only been together in the same room for a fraction of that. They decided from the beginning that they were going to live life as it made sense to them. It’s clear when Dolly speaks about Carl that they have a strong foundation. Mr. Geeky V and I have tried to do the same, and it’s worked for us for over a decade.
Some of my favorite quotes are attributed to Dolly Parton. Here are a few of my favorites:
· It’s hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world.
· Find out who you are and do it on purpose.
· Storms make trees take deeper roots.
· The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.
· 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.
· If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one.
And last but not least, the music!
Dolly has written so many songs, and her voice is like no other. I can listen to song after song of hers and not get tired of them. If you’re only familiar with “Islands In The Stream” and “9 To 5,” here’s a list of songs to check out:
· “Here You Come Again”
· “Dumb Blonde”
· “Just Because I’m A Woman”
· “My Tennessee Mountain Home”
· “Tennessee Homesick Blues”
I forgot to mention her movies, but the main thing you need to know is that 9 to 5 is awesome, and the others are hit or miss.
So that’s it. Keep an eye on my Instagram (@geekyvixen) for dispatches from the tourist trap that is Pigeon Forge. Until next time, gentle readers!