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Dolly Parton: A Natural Woman?

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Dolly Parton.  She’s been around forever.  In recent years, she’s become a hero to many people, but that wasn’t always the case.  I can remember when people made fun of her.  There’s some little silly thing we used to do in school with a calculator…some sort of math problem where the answer ended up reading “boobless” if you held the calculator upside down.  The questions had to do with Dolly Parton.

 

In recent years, however, she seems to have become more of a national treasure.  She has been recognized…and I personally appreciate her…for her literacy campaign.  Her theme park, Dollywood, is also very successful.

 

The thing that is really great about Dolly Parton though, is that she has always been true to herself.  She has stuck to what’s right for her, put up with a lot of insults, and kept on going.

So while “natural”may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Dolly Parton…and Parton is pretty unapologetic about

 

That’s why, when I ran across a review of Sarah Smarsh’s book, She Come By it Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Live Her Songs, I was inspired to read it, even though I have read and was disappointed by Smarsh’s last book, Heartland.

 

As I recall, the thing that put me off about Heartland is that it seemed to me that the women Smarsh writes about consistently made poor choices, especially having to do with men.

 

It is these same women that Smarsh links the work of Parton.  Somehow, I find what Smarsh is trying to say a big more palatable when connected to the work of Dolly Parton.  Maybe that’s what artists do…express what we can’t express ourselves.

 

What’s kind of amazing to me is Parton’s business acumen…while she wasn’t being taken seriously by almost anyone, it seems to me…she was forming her own companies and creating her own brand…one that she owns and controls.

 

What disappointed me about this book is that it so short…Kindle clocks it in as to be read in less than three hours.  I was really expecting more of an in-depth study of Parton’s work, and the “women who lived her songs.”  This book was written from a series of articles, and it shows. 

 

On the other hand, if a 500 page in-depth semi scholarly study of Parton is too much for you, this book might be just right.  And where is does shine in Smarsh’s analysis of artifacts from Parton’s early career, especially analysis of her old television appearances with Porter Wagoner in the early seventies.  You know, back in the days when television programs were local and what was really happening made it onto the screen.

 

She also takes on the dichotomy of Dollywood and what was formerly known as the Dixie Stampede…which now, thank goodness, is just the Stampede and SEEMS to have done away with the Civil War/Dixie motif.  How could one of her entertainment venues, Dollywood, been ahead of its time, and “Dixie Stampede” be so embarrassingly backward?

 

More by Sarah Smarsh

Many of the same women feature in Heartland as in She Come by It Natural

And if you want even more Dolly:

Let Dolly Parton speak for herself.

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