Interview: Dolly Parton
What a grand feeling it is to be heading out of town in a fast, sky blue rent-a-Mustang with a cold six-pack on the floor, the June sun streaming down, the radio turned up loud and Dolly Parton sitting beside me. She’s singing along with Jimmy Clanton’s oldie “Just a Dream” and it occurs to me that a certain amount of fantasizing is impossible to avoid. Let’s see . . . we’ll find a nice little meadow beside a stream for our picnic and as the day gets hotter we’ll want to go for a cool dip in the clear, inviting waters and since neither of us brought a swimsuit. . . . A battered Chevy pulls up alongside and two pimply teenagers do triple takes at Dolly with her cascading blond wig and tight-fitting shirt. I don’t even have to lip-read to get the message: “Hey, what a great-looking chick! She’s so fine. Lookit the creep with her.”
And I realize I’m ten miles out of town and instead of clear streams, all I’m passing is liquor stores.
“Gee, Dolly, maybe I shoulda made reservations somewhere or somethin’, I dunno.”
“What about this graveyard?” she asks.
“Yeah, I love cemeteries, they’re so quiet. You know, people are dying to get into ’em. Really, I write in cemeteries a lot; nobody bothers you there.”.
I turn off into the Middlefield, Connecticut, cemetery and slowly cruise through. But the caretaker is slashing his way around the tombstones with a 100-decibel ride-a-mower. Clearly, this is not the spot for a quiet picnic.
I break into a slight sweat; adolescent memories. It is not at all cool to take the best-looking girl in school out for a summer picnic and then have to deposit her in a parking lot somewhere behind a Grand Union supermarket. Talk about a last date. Please, God, find me a patch of grass somewhere.
Finally, God leads me to a brook, a shade tree and a reasonable facsimile of a meadow. Dolly spreads a yellow blanket and we get down to serious business: the making of big, sloppy bologna and tomato sandwiches and the opening of wine.
Dolly stretches her arms out. “Oh, I just love it outdoors. You can just feel God all around you.”
You certainly can, I reply.
A loaf of Wonder Bread, a jug of Italian Swiss Colony and Dolly Parton beside me in the wilderness. Ah, that paradise should come so early in my young life.
“Ooh, you got cherries for dessert,” Dolly says. “Urn, good. I ain’t had a cherry in a long time.” She looks at me mischievously. “I don’t think I ever had a cherry. If I did, it got shoved so far back I was usin’ it for a tail-light!”
I must have looked shocked.
“I’m just kiddin’,” she winks as she throws a cherry seed at me.
I have heard singers called many things, from four-letter words to 27-letter words, but I have never heard one called a “purifier”. I always presumed that word applied only to such items as smog devices, our Lord Jesus Christ and Tareyton charcoal filter tips. But came one recent Friday morning when my own purifying sleep was disturbed by a phone call. I dispatched my helpmate to deal with it, but couldn’t help overhearing her end of the conversation, which was mostly astonished gasps.
“What was all that about?” I asked. It was, I was told, an editor of a certain women’s magazine and she was just calling to inform us that Dolly Parton had “purified” New York’s Bottom Line the night before.
“What’d she do, take an ax to the place?”
“No, her music purified the audience. She’s a purifier.”
Well, damn me. I have known Dolly Parton for some time and known her as someone who writes a hell of a good country song and sings with an achingly sweet soprano and looks like what heaven should be populated with. But I also know her as a good ol’ girl you can kid around with and not have to be too careful of what you do or say. Hardly someone, though, to get all mistyeyed or mystical over or go sobbing about in nightclubs. Further callers throughout the day, however, report similar quasi-religious experiences and cleansings of the soul. What is going on?
Butch Rutter has been purified. He gets backstage to see Dolly after her show at London’s Rainbow Theatre even before Chita Rivera because Butch is a . . . very special case. Thus far, he is the only known human being on this planet to have his entire back tattooed with a full-color depiction of a Dolly Parton album cover, topped with her autograph and an inscription of love across his shoulder blades. He shows up in full cowboy regalia, accompanied by fellow members of his Alamo Club, a London group of Dolly Parton lovers. They are carrying, besides an air of puppylike devotion, a lovingly crafted brass plaque of Dolly’s entire body in accurate profile. They have come in committee to formally ask Dolly to be official queen of the Alamo. Butch gets a regal kiss for that and then he drops his shirt to exhibit the Parton chef-d’oeuvre: a well-done copy of her Love Is like a Butterfly album cover. He had the tattoo started in 1976, and when Dolly played Wembley he got her autograph above the butterfly. He spent 12 hours under the needle. He did it because he loves her.
“You didn’t get infected from tattooin’ over my ink, did ya?” Dolly asks. “Hmm, that turned out real good, didn’t it”. She winks as he pulls up his shirt and makes to leave. “Well, at least you’re gonna have one woman with you forever.”
Butch laughs. “I’ve ‘ad a fallin’ out or two wi’ me wife over this.”
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