Obscurity Knocks

Earnest, empathetic, industrious, unpretentious, gay Virgo in Milwaukee with a great life, amazing friends, and a wonderful family.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Backwoods Barbie

Ruben, Mark, my parents, and I went to see Dolly Parton at the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee last night. She's touring in support of her new album, "Backwoods Barbie." This was my second time seeing Dolly, and this concert was even better than the last time I saw her in 2005. There is no question that Dolly is one of America's finest songwriters, singers, and musicians. She may have had lots of plastic surgery, but her talent is real and authentic. In the pantheon of American songwriters, Dolly has secured a place right at the top. Her ability to craft songs that are both autobiographical and relevant to others is unparalleled. She is also a fine musician, effortlessly playing guitar, banjo, dulcimer, fiddle, and other instruments. And let's not forget that this woman can really sing.

One of the many things that I love about Dolly is that she gives the audience what it wants. She isn't one of these artists who discards the songs that made her famous in favor of performing only new songs. She performed all of her major hits, including "Two Doors Down," "Jolene," "Coat of Many Colors," "Islands in the Stream," "Here You Come Again," "9 to 5," and "I Will Always Love You."

Dolly also knows how to work a crowd. As she commented last night, "It costs a lot of money to look this cheap." She also explained how her look was inspired by a prostitute in Knoxville, Tennessee that she saw as a child. Growing up poor, Dolly was infatuated with this woman's painted fingernails, red lipstick, high heels, and low-cut dress. An intelligent businesswoman, Dolly parlayed her "dumb blond" image into career success. Anyone who thinks that Dolly is dumb doesn't know anything about her; she's quite intelligent.

Ruben was particularly glad that she performed "Why'd You Come In Here Lookin' Like That" from 1989's "White Limozeen" album. She also did an excellent cover of the Fine Young Cannibals song from the late 80s, "She Drives Me Crazy." I was also glad to hear Dolly perform "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind," not just because it's great song; it's something that I wonder about my two ex-es: do I ever cross their minds? The version last night was done a cappella with the guys in her band singing background vocals.

I also enjoyed the song "Backwoods Barbie" that will be featured in the new "9 to 5" Broadway musical and "Shattered Image," where Dolly played the dulcimer.

The highlight of the evening for me was "Coat of Many Colors." Dolly has such a natural stage presence, and she set up the song beautifully by talking about her childhood in rural Tennessee with her 11 brothers and sisters. While some may dismiss the song as sugary sentimentality, I think it's one of the true highlights in all of American songwriting. The song is a tender remembrance of a childhood where love was far more important than material possessions. Like Dolly, I unabashedly believe that love is the most important thing. It's clear that Dolly was raised correctly and that she is a genuinely good person. I think that I also love "Coat of Many Colors" because it reminds me of my maternal grandparents. My mom is one of seven children who grew up in the northeast corner of South Dakota. Like Dolly, my mom's family didn't have much money, but they always had a roof over their heads, food on the table, a commitment to doing well in school, and presents at Christmas. It's difficult to explain because it's so personal, but I think that my mom has a better understanding of that song than most people because she grew up poor yet with lots of love.

As Ruben and I like to say, "She's not just a singer, she's a storyteller." To which Ruben has now added, "She's not just a storyteller, she's a philosopher of the American condition."

Dolly Parton is a living legend, and I was glad to be in her presence last night. Thank you, Dolly!


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