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. Krogerfoot says:

    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

    • Glyph in reply to Krogerfoot says:

      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

      • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Glyph says:

        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

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Glyph says:

        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. Slugger says:

    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. Chris says:

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

    • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Chris says:

      It’s amazing that what we see and experience now is this larger than life person and personality, something so big that it seems to obscure the unfathomable talent.Report

      • Chris in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        I met her once, when she was signing copies of her biography at a bookstore in Nashville in ’94 (I think). I mean, she said hi to me, so I met her, right? It was one of three times I’ve been genuinely star struck, the other two being Willie Mays and Biz Markie. She is larger than life even sitting behind a table stacked with books with her photo on the cover.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        Biz Markie?

        I begin to understand why you chose to study psychology.Report

    • Chris in reply to Chris says:

      Also, in another thread yesterday I was saying that I tend to be attracted to women who are the opposite of me. I’m from a small Tennessee town, my girlfriend’s from Queens, I’m a country boy, she’s a city girl, I’m a geek, she’s a fashionista, I’m a neo-luddite, she buys every gadget as soon as it comes out, I like Neil Diamond, she doesn’t, but we both love Dolly Parton, not just her music but her everything. Dolly Parton is universal.Report