Dolly Parton Reflects: “Before Gaga I Was Ga-udy”

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I’ve never considered myself a star. Other people call me a star, an icon, or a legend. I just say I’m an eyesore. I like to think of myself as a working girl. Every day I wake up thinking, I’ve got a job to do.

I’ve had to overcome a lot in this business. In the early days, people always used to tell me that I’d be taken more seriously as a songwriter and singer if I didn’t look so gaudy and outrageous. I’ve become known for the tits, the hair, the big mouth, and it all became part of who I am. Sometimes people can’t see past that stuff—they don’t really know how serious I am about my writing and my songs. But I’m happier when I look the way I look because I’m no radiant natural beauty. I found a way to make myself be comfortable with me, and it works.

If somebody said I could only do one thing for the rest of my life, I would write songs. I love thinking that there will be something in the world tomorrow that wasn’t here today, and that I put it there. Not all of my songs are great, but I know there’s a seed of something good in every song I write. It’s almost like having a baby. I never had children, but I always said my songs are my children; some of them are prettier than others, some of them do better than others, but they’re still your children, and you love the ugly ones the same as you do the pretty ones.

I’ve always been, at least somewhere inside me, the country girl who wants to be pretty. I make jokes about myself before other people can make them about me, and I think that must stem from some sort of insecurity. It’s like that song [“Backwoods Barbie”] on my last album: “I’m just a backwoods Barbie, too much makeup, too much hair. But don’t be fooled by thinking that the goods are not all there.” In the mornings, even when I’m not going anywhere, I get up and put on my makeup and my high heels—if only because I can’t reach my cabinets without them. People always ask me, “Do you think you’ll ever tone down your look?” And I say, Well, hell no! Why should I? I was gaudy when gaudy wasn’t cool. Before Gaga I was Ga-udy. I was being outrageous even before Madonna. Eventually people realize that there’s a brain under this hair, and a heart under these boobs, but I also like being a character that they can enjoy. It makes it kind of fun when I do get out on stage and tell my real story, and they get to see the real me. I’m a very artificial-looking person, but I’m a very real person.

Parton will debut Better Day, her fourth release on Dolly Records, this summer. She’ll tour the world in support of the album beginning June 17 in Knoxville, Tennessee.