Dolly Parton’s Days Just Keep Getting Better
Dolly Parton knows a lot of people see her as a ray of sunshine, so she’s going to keep on shining no matter what storms are clouding up her world. The country music icon has taken it upon herself to bring a little joy in times of trouble, releasing what is arguably the happiest of all her 41 studio albums, ‘Better Day.’ With her Christian roots running deep throughout the project, the 65-year-old songbird sends messages of hope and love on this album that was greatly inspired by all the bad news she’s been reading in the papers and seeing on television lately, from the prediction this past May of the end of the world to floods and tornadoes that have devastated so many Southern and Midwestern towns.
The Boot was invited to Dolly’s Nashville offices to talk to the living legend about the new CD — her second for her own Dolly Records, following 2008′s ‘Backwoods Barbie.’ Dressed in a cropped white jacket with eyelet lace detail, skinny black pants and sky-high heels, the perfectly coiffed Dolly, looking lovely as ever, greets us bright and early just two days before her Better Day World Tour begins. She sits down in front of a rack displaying her tour wardrobe — a rainbow of custom-made, sequined dresses — to talk to us about several tracks on ‘Better Day,’ the “love fest” she experiences on tour and how the price of fame is just chump change.
Given the optimistic and spiritual themes that run through this CD, how would you say this project reflects where you are in life?
When I started thinking about putting this CD together, I thought, “What do I want to talk about?” I love to write sad songs, but people don’t want see me sad and people don’t want to be sad themselves. So I tried to write and find songs out of my catalog that were uplifting. I did a few songs that were from the Broadway musical, ‘9 to 5,’ that I was lucky enough to write. I picked those songs with that ray of hope and promise … With all the wars and storms, and all the doomsday sayers saying [the world is] going to end, I thought, “We don’t need all of that. Only God knows if that’s going to happen. Let’s do something to lift the human spirit.”
One song in particular, ‘In the Meantime,’ is about people who are worried about the end of the world. What was your reaction back in May when people were predicting the apocalypse?
All these doomsday sayers [are] telling you that the world is going to end today, tomorrow, next year or the 12th of May next year … because somebody’s calendar has run out or somebody has some proof somewhere. The song is about the fact that only God knows when the end is coming. That’s what the scripture says: not anyone else but God. People just run around so terrified about all the aliens and earthquakes and things going on that people actually forget to live in the moment. What about now? What about just thinking about life and living? We are so consumed with fear that the joy of living is lost. What are we going to do in the meantime? Think about loving one another. Think about making changes. Try to do a little better, try to make friends and try to be a little more forgiving. Just make the most of now because when and if it does come, you’ll be a little more prepared. You won’t have to make so many excuses to God.
You wrote all songs but one on ‘Better Day’ by yourself. What’s the advantage to writing solo?
I love to write, and I usually write by myself. If I’m going through things sad or happy, or if I see people I love going through things, I write for them, too. It’s great self-expression. Songwriting is my favorite thing I do. God has been kind to allow me that talent. I love to rhyme things, so life is a song to me whether it’s good, bad or indifferent … I still think of it with a melody. It meant a lot to me to get to do this particular CD, to give people a little more insight to how I feel. People always seem to get some sort of a lift from me … They always say, “You always look so happy.” I say, “Well, that’s the Botox!” [laughs]
The CD’s first single, ‘Together You and I,’ is a song you originally sang with Porter Wagoner back in 1974. To me, it’s a unique love song in that it’s about having confidence in love — a rare thing for women. What was the inspiration behind it?
When I wrote it, I thought that it covered a lot of territory. It could be the relationship between two people, it could be a relationship between you and God, it can be partners in business … Same way with ‘I Will Always Love You’ — when I wrote that, I was shocked at how many ways people took that. People played that song at funerals and graduations and at weddings … We all want to believe there is such thing as true love and that true love can last forever. Love, of course, is a universal thing. It doesn’t have to be limited to that, but that little song is just about “love that lasts forever … we’ll always be together, you and I.”
‘The Sacrifice’ is a very autobiographical tune. What has Dolly Parton, the little girl from East Tennessee, had to sacrifice to become Dolly Parton, the worldwide celebrity?
Whatever your dreams are, whether you want to be a doctor or a manager or whatever you want to do, you’ve got to know that in order to get to where you want to go, you’ve gotta keep the momentum going. You can’t just work at it a day or two, you’ve gotta be steady with it and you have to make sacrifices. Certainly early on in my career, I wanted to have things, I wanted to travel and I wanted to be loved. I wanted to be on stage, and I wanted to have money … coming from someone who knew what it was like to be without it. I just thought, “If I am gonna get to where I really want to go, I’m going to have to be willing to make any sacrifice it takes.” I certainly paid my dues … I seem like a happy person, and I am. I have a happy heart. But I’ve been through heartache, I’ve known my sorrows. I paid my major prices for my career, but I wouldn’t trade it for nothing. Yes, it’s been worth the sacrifice.
What about the sacrifice of anonymity? Does your fame ever overwhelm you?
I always try to balance whether fame has been worth it or not, but I haven’t missed out on anything, because I do as I please. People say, “Oh, you can’t even go to a restaurant.” I say, “I most certainly can!” I know the time of day I can go when it won’t be as crowded. Still, I always know there are going to be a certain amount of people who will come up and say hello or will want an autograph or bring their kid by the table. I’m not one of those artists where they just go into a panic about that. I would probably feel worse if nobody recognized me or paid me any attention, since everything I’ve done is for attention! Of course, I can’t go into a Walmart in the middle of the day. I’m lucky that I have people who will go out and shop for me, but if I want to go to the grocery store — which I do love to cook — I’ll go at midnight or in the wee hours. When I have special company or I’m wanting to do something special, I’ll go find my own groceries because there are certain things I like that I don’t trust other people to find. You make a way. You make your sacrifice.
How are you changing things up on tour this year?
I’ve added a lot of the songs from the ‘Better Day’ CD. To open, we do a piece of ‘Shine Like the Sun’ mixed with ‘Walking on Sunshine’ to get it off with a good sparkling at the beginning. The whole show, I purposely tried to do it more uplifting. We also added songs from ‘A Joyful Noise,’ the movie I have coming out on January 12 with Queen Latifah. We added some bluegrass stuff that the fans haven’t seen before. We actually do a little more choreography … I do a little bit of dancing, which I’ve never done before. We just tried to make it all happy with the exception of those few tender songs like ‘Coat of Many Colors’ and songs like that we must do because people love those songs.
You do sing ‘Coat of Many Colors’ and other classics like ‘Jolene’ and ‘I Will Always Love You’ in every show and have been doing so for years, never leaving the stage without performing those beloved songs we all know by heart. That being said, does touring ever get monotonous?
People ask if I get tired of singing the same songs every night. You really don’t think of it like that, because when you look and see the people there, you didn’t sing it to them last night. You’re singing to them tonight, so it’s new to them. They want you to sing it to them. That brings on a newness to you as a singer. You don’t sing it the same way every night; you perform it to that face or from that feeling you get from a fan. I never get tired of it … I love getting out on stage. I stand backstage waiting to go on, and I get a little nervous and get butterflies and get pacing in my skull kinda like a race horse, but once the light hits, there’s nothing else I can do but get out there and do my best. The fans have always been very accepting of me, and I love them for it.
Tell us the feeling of hearing the audience sing your lyrics back to you, word for word.
I love to perform. I love the people. I look out in the audience, and I see friends, family and faces that I know. I know they paid good money to see me, so I know they want to be there. I know it’s my place to make sure they got their money’s worth. There is kind of a love fest between an artist and the audience. If they are true fans and you are the right kind of artist, you appreciate them because they are the ones that pay your bills. I am a gypsy, too, so I love doing the one-nighters. I love traveling around seeing the different crowd every night.
Do you have any pre-show rituals? And how long does it take you to get ready?
As far as the actual getting ready, I can be ready in an hour! But usually, I spend all afternoon on my tour bus, because I live on my tour bus, which I love. My friend Judy and I … I say, “I’m gonna try on some different clothes. I don’t know what mood I’m in today.” I judge what I wear by the mood I’m in or the feeling I get from the day. Even if I plan to wear something else, I prepare three outfits, maybe even four, the day before, because when it gets closer to show time, I may want to change colors. I may want to be yellow, or I may want to be blue. I may want to wear white and black or just white. I spend all afternoon thinking about the show. I do a little voice warm-up and get my smile going. I smile a lot to get my energy going. I have a process that I’ve been doing for so long. It’s a routine that I love and when it comes show time, I’m ready and I go backstage and say my little prayer and ask God to lead me and let me shine and let me be a joy to people … and let me enjoy it myself.
You’ve written more songs than there are stars in the sky. Have you ever forgotten a lyric in concert?
Well, you can’t write and sing as many songs as I have throughout the years and not forget what you’re doing … even though you sing them over and over. It is a funny thing about an artist: you think of things as you’re performing. I think ahead, because I’m so familiar with the songs, but by doing that, every once in awhile, I will forget. I have a teleprompter usually, even though these are songs I’ve sung 100 times. Even if I do miss, my fans are very forgiving. Sometimes I just stop the show and say, “Well, I screwed that part up pretty good. Let’s start again!” Or I’ll just change it into something else. I don’t worry about it. I’m professional, but not a perfectionist. Not everything has to be perfect. What is perfect, anyway? A fan might have thought it was perfect that I was having so much fun messing up!
You could play the Staples Center and Madison Square Garden and call it a day. But instead, you’re hitting a lot of smaller towns in both the U.S. and Australia. Is it important to you to keep visiting the smaller places?
I like to be out there where my true fans are. It’s great playing the big auditoriums, whether it’s Madison Square Garden or wherever, but I love to do the smaller towns like Albuquerque or Valdosta, Ga., because that’s where my early fans were and a lot of them are still there. I’m a rural person, myself … I grew up knowing what it’s like to give anything if I could have gone to see some spectacular show with someone I liked. It’s important to play to all your crowds. You never should get so big that you think you’re too good for that. Once you get there, you’ll be out.
Finish this sentence: “To me, retirement is ___.”
Retirement is for the birds, not for me!