A Slower Version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” Has Me Revving It In Neutral


Sam Wilkinson

According to a faithful reader, I'm Ordinary Times's "least thoughtful writer." So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

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16 Responses

  1. Avatar Krogerfoot

    Right on, I remember getting bent out of shape over some hack in the 80s writing that Dolly Parton “famous for being a celebrity” or some foolishness. I mean, the woman wrote “Rocky Top Tennessee” and “Coat of Many Colors” – what have you done, I shouted at my newspaper.

    Regarding 1 and 2, it’s never occurred to me to imagine that Dolly herself is losing her man to Jolene. Isn’t the genius of the song that it puts us in the narrator’s shoes and jolts us into identifying with her helplessness and humiliation? “I’ll appeal directly to my man’s new lover, beg her to take pity on me because she can do better, but I can’t.” It’s lunacy, and kind of scary since it’s a small next step to more drastic and irreversible action, and we recognize our capacity to feel that way.

    It also occurs to me that the song gets a lot of love from male fans.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Krogerfoot

      Dolly herself is losing her man to Jolene

      According to wikipedia, Parton claims she was writing from experience:


      Even beautiful/famous people aren’t immune to insecurity (often quite the opposite).

      It also occurs to me that the song gets a lot of love from male fans.

      I think (girl group songs aside) American pop songs where a female narrator is doing the begging are fairly rare. The males beg all the time: for sex/love, for forgiveness, pleading “don’t do me like that”.

      Female song narrators, from the late 60’s forward, rarely beg; there’s a confidence there (“I will always love you”; “I’m going to make you mine”; “You better be good to me, or I’ll kick you to the curb, scrub”). So when they do beg, it stands out, because it’s a POV that isn’t expressed in popular song all that often anymore.

      It’s the reason Concrete Blonde’s “Joey” is so striking – we don’t often hear a female telling a male, “Baby, I was wrong, please come home.”

      Or “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs – it’s emotionally-naked pleading (almost “groveling”), and weirdly, in American pop music, that’s usually reserved for males (even though IRL, it’s an equal-opportunity thing).Report

      • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Glyph

        That’s the thing though: even if this IS based upon truth, I struggle to believe it, not because I’d dare call Dolly a liar, but because her persona seems so much larger than the petty concern of losing a man. It might have been easier to believe if you’d experienced the song at the outset, but for me, there’s a disconnect between Dolly now and what the lyrics are saying.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Glyph

        the petty concern of losing a man

        Petty? Seriously? Has Sam never been deeply in love? 😉

        More seriously, being betrayed–in any way, including, but not limited to, love–is not generally considered a “petty” concern, but a pretty big deal. Ultimately, all we have with another person is trust, and when that is extended ony to be violated it is a serious emotional blow for most people.

        And I’d suggest we not mistake Parton’s public persona for the real, personal, Dolly Parton.Report

  2. Avatar Slugger

    To see all the facets of a jewel it has to be turned. A great song twisted a bit by a cover artist likewise reveals more beauty when it receives a fresh approach. I am thinking of Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” or Hendrix doing “All along the Watchtower”. I am sure you all have further examples.
    Maybe that is the nature and definition of a great song. Change tempo, change key; still sounds great.Report

  3. Avatar Chris

    Being from Tennessee, I am required to say that Dolly Parton is perfect.Report

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