when i was a kid, dolly parton was everywhere.
she had her own variety show, she was on magazine covers, she wrote books, she was constantly popping up on tv shows here and there, she was all over the radio and she was a bona fide movie star. bizarrely enough, she was a real doll, as far as i could tell. a little too big, a little too blonde, a little too pasty, a little too much make-up -- just like barbie!
as a kid, i had play clothes and i had school clothes and i had church clothes. but it was dolly who taught me what stage clothes were. they weren't necessarily costumes, by the way, and they were always beautiful. it seemed as though they were meant to augment some inner part of who she was. she made me wonder what my stage clothes would look like. i honestly think i started assembling those gowns and such, in my head, as i was watching her.
i didn't know much about her personally, except that she came from a big southern family. i liked that, because i did, too.
i'd like to say that i kept up with dolly over the years, wondering what she was up to or hearing about some oldies tour she was doing or something like that. but she was always there like always, and like always, she was everywhere. she never faded into the where are they now? bin. she was never a has been. she just kept going. she was always there. even when she wasn't there, she was there -- as a songwriter, as a producer, as a philanthropist. it wasn't until much later that i realized the true nature of her creative impact.
her trajectory is an interesting one. once she achieved success, she simply maintained it. no simple feat at all, to be sure. i think she's been able to pull it off because she's so grounded. she got married at 18 -- and stayed married. no alcohol/drug problems whatsoever. she didn't have any children to take up the lionshare of her time and energy and her husband had his own life. so she kept working, and as opportunities came her way -- producing movies, for example -- she took them. she used all that glitz, a closet full of blonde wigs and those gigantic ta-tas to distract everyone from the fact that she's actually a supersmart businesswoman and a gifted songwriter. no one is exactly as they appear to be.
think about it: would she really have gotten that far if she'd been a flat-chested brunette?
nevermind the 45 grammy award nominations or the 7 grammys, the 42 country music association nominations or the 10 cmas, the academy of country music's 39 nominations and 7 awards, the two oscar nominations, the tony nomination. ignore the grand ol' opry induction in 1969, the star on the hollywood walk of fame in 1984, the star on the nashville walk of fame, the honorary doctorate. recieving the kennedy center honor in 2006. that theme park, the one that employs thousands. yeah, nevermind that stuff.
get this: she's a multi-instrumentalist (guitar, banjo, autoharp, piano, fiddle, harmonica, drums, appalachian dulcimer and pennywhistle). she's sold more than 155 million albums worldwide. she's written more than 3,000 songs. she's got 41 top 10 country albums and 25 number one singles. she's had a top 5 country hit in each of the last five decades. as of a few years ago, she has her own record label. she's had her own publishing company ever since her days of performing and writing songs with porter waggoner, and needless to say, she owns all of her publishing. actually, she's always owned her publishing -- something that most recording artists/songwriters toss to the wind just as soon as they get signed.
at this juncture, i'd like for you to think about your favorite performer and ask yourself if they play any instruments, if they write any songs, or if they own any of what they're creating (if they actually create anything at all). most of the recording artists in this industry wake up one day and realize that all of a sudden, they're out of fashion and everyone has moved onto the next. they usually have no assets, no homeownership and no money. if their relatives didn't clean them out, a nasty divorce ravaged them financially. or it's drugs and alcohol that caved them in. that old chestnut.
what do you think kris kross is doing or the rest of those little kiddie hip-hop send ups like abc - another bad creation? (hey, they were from the atl!) where in the world is sinbad? he had is own talk show! and he hosted that vibe late night talk show! and he was emcee for the ms. universe pageant! remember how big kid n' play were? what do you think they're up to now? look at the jackson 5. (ew.)
why didn't that happen to dolly? probably because she doesn't do r&b. (heh.) let's face it. r&b is producer-driven, trendy and mostly disposable. on the other hand, country music fans are infamous for their rabid loyalty. not being in a band and having to deal with those group dynamics couldn't have hurt, either. oh yeah. and she's not a corporate tool.
for me, it really boils down to her songs -- she wrote them, she owned them and she used that financial base to do whatever she wanted creatively.
i don't think i could ask for a better role model.