DOLLY PARTON is as American as apple pie, and her country songs seem to have spread to a new wave of millennials — check out the Jennifer Aniston-starring Dumplin’ on Netflix for a feel-good film set to the ultimate Parton playlist. The streaming channel has also just launched a drama series based around Dolly’s songs.
Dolly Parton’s America is a nine-part podcast series from Radiolab creator Jad Abumrad that looks at the Dolly myth and her ‘sad-ass songs’, and examines just why they have clicked with multiple generations and myriad audiences.
Abumrad’s father is friends with Parton, so that provided his way in. At the heart of the podcast — and when it’s at its best — is when Parton herself is telling her well-trodden stories. Her laugh is still girlish and infectious as she nears her 74th birthday. They explain her early days and her relationship with Porter Wagoner, which grew toxic and culminated with her singing ‘I Will Always Love You’ to his face, announcing she wanted to end their relationship.
Years later, on hearing Wagoner had fallen on hard times, Parton purchased his publishing company and then just gave it back to him. “That was one of my gifts for thanking him too. ‘Cause see, I never knew, how do you ever know how to thank somebody or what you owe somebody?” Parton philosophises.
The podcast is at its worst in that it’s like a thesis repeatedly making its point: ‘In this intensely divided moment, one of the few things everyone still seems to agree on is Dolly Parton but why?’
In the episode ‘Dollitics’ it compares her seemingly apolitical stance with her wide breadth of political songs, like ‘9-5’. Abumrad and producer Shima Oliaee are amazed that Parton doesn’t want to lash out at Trump. They’re frustrating hosts who constantly interrupt her story.
With experts positing lesbian subplots to ‘Jolene’, and trips to Dollywood prompting personal reflections by the hosts, Dolly Parton’s America is a ragtag mix but one that will warm cold hearts. Three more episodes are to be released weekly from next Tuesday.
YOU’VE GOT TO HEAR THIS: Tom Hanks’ latest film, A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood (released here in January), sees him playing children’s entertainer Fred Rogers, who’s as beloved in America as Parton. In podcast series Finding Fred, author Carvell Wallace looks at Mister Rogers.