"She is not doing interviews for this tour," Dolly Parton's publicist tells me with an air of, oh, distinct condescension when I call to schedule a standard, brief phone interview with the country music icon.
Why would she waste time talking to journalists when she's already conquered every patch of earth and every industry? Unlike Everclear, whose publicist a short time ago pleaded for my phone time, Parton has made her mark. Fans have had almost four decades to familiarize themselves with her distinct wig-wearing ways.
"But how can I find out about her reaction to Don Imus' 'hang 'em up' comment following the recent American Music Awards?" I asked. Click. Like she cares about one man's mouth offs. No Parton for me, and that was that.
"Hello, I'm Dolly" is her new tour. Is the Little Sparrow reinventing herself? Starting Over Again? Is she reminding America that she's still struttin' around in her Coat of Many Colors? Or has she just got the Tennessee Homesick Blues? Hard to say when she's already cornered country, pop and bluegrass music markets, television and film, even theme parks. But what we do know--just the facts--is that Parton is one of the world's sharpest songwriters and one of the savviest marketing geniuses. She's also an iconoclastic, ironic and earnest representation of this country and the American dream. What other female country artist could successfully cover Merle Haggard, Collective Soul and Led Zepplin? Next up is a cover of "Slim Shady."
The fourth of 12 children raised on a run-down farm in Locust Ridge, Tennessee, her fiddling and songwriting grandpappy gave her a guitar at age 7. Her career began at 12 when she appeared on Knoxville TV's The Cas Walker Farm and Home Hour. A year later she was recording and appearing at the Grand Ole Opry and still playing the snare drum in the high school marching band.
In 1967, Parton's voice, writing skills and image manipulation converged to give way to the hit "Dumb Blonde," but it was just an act--an act polished enough to attract TV's Porter Wagoner, who then slapped her on his show and recorded duets with the mamorific diva.
The duo's first single, "The Last Thing on My Mind," reached the country's Top Ten and commenced a six-year streak of Top Ten singles.
On her own and in sequins in 1970, Parton's fame was solid and her tune "Joshua" reached number one. With Parton's help, the new decade put an end to an American, female-country-singer lull and gave way to Parton's superstardom.
Her signature song "Coat of Many Colors," an exposing tale of her youth, was number four in 1971 and opened the door for a slew of number one hits in the following years: "Jolene" (1974), "I Will Always Love You" (1974), "The Bargain Store" (1975) and the huge pop crossover hit "Here You Come Again" (1977).
In the 80s, her already humongous hair got bigger. She actually used it as a boat to cross the river Mainstream. A more refined Parton poured herself a cup of ambition and started singing pop. Then came the cinematic masterpiece 9 to 5, which spawned her greatest pop success song by the same name. What a way to make a living.
Other artists tried their hands with the Parton touch, recording songs Parton penned and covering songs she already worked out. Rose Maddox, Kitty Wells, Olivia Newton-John, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt--with whom she collaborated in the rootsy Trio, covered her songs.
There are two sides to Dolly--the supremely skilled songstress and the campy, crazy woman. There are the sequins, the pink eyeshadow and her singular figure--for which she's as famous as her celestial voice. In 1985, Parton took on her biggest adventure with the Krusty the Clown-esque, Smoky Mountain, family adventure theme park Dollywood. For years northerners weren't sure if it was real or just a zany southern myth like the Yeti or the Loch Ness monster. But real it is.
The theme park, the movies, the pop music ... after a while, the old country fan base started to shrink. Parton's own fan club dissolved and in the 90s, country music as a genre started sounding a little more contemporary. Veteran artists were no longer on the charts, but Parton's symbolic status persevered and out came The Grass is Blue, the old-style bluegrass album that brought her back in the limelight.
"Hello, I'm Dolly" is nothing new for Parton. She's never really been gone, and after all these years of miles and trials, she's not likely to hang anything up anytime soon--no matter what some jock in New York suggests.
Dolly Parton, Thursday, December 16, doors at 6:30 p.m. and show at 7:30 p.m., $39.50-$49.50, Idaho Center, 16200 Can-Ada Road, Nampa. Tickets at 442-3232 or www.ictickets.com.