I long ago gave up radio in favor of podcasts. The most interesting and enjoyable one I've heard this year is embedded above.
Radiolab creator and host Jad Abumrad spent the last two years following around music legend Dolly Parton, and we're here to say you should tune in! In this episode of Radiolab, we showcase the first of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this intensely divided moment, one of the few things everyone still seems to agree on is Dolly Parton—but why? That simple question leads to a deeply personal, historical, and musical rethinking of one of America’s great icons.It's probably fair to say that "nobody doesn't like Dolly Parton."
We begin with a simple question: How did the queen of the boob joke become a feminist icon? Helen Morales, author of “Pilgrimage to Dollywood,” gave us a stern directive – look at the lyrics! So we dive into Dolly’s discography, starting with the early period of what Dolly calls “sad ass songs” to find remarkably prescient words of female pain, slut-shaming, domestic violence, and women being locked away in asylums by cheating husbands. We explore how Dolly took the centuries-old tradition of the Appalachian “murder ballad”—an oral tradition of men singing songs about brutally killing women—and flipped the script, singing from the woman’s point of view. And as her career progresses, the songs expand beyond the pain to tell tales of leaving abuse behind.
JAD: Like, she tore right through all of that noise. Through the general election and beyond. And I kept bumping into people who would describe the experience of being at a Dolly show as, like, standing in an alternate vision of America than what was unfolding on the TV.The embed above is from a Radiolab presentation. The series is available here.
JESSIE WILKERSON: I remember just standing out in the lobby and just people watching, because it was the most diverse place I’ve ever been. I was seeing a multi-racial audience. People wearing cowboy hats and boots. I was seeing people in drag. Church ladies. Lesbians holding hands. Little girls who were there with their families.
WAYNE BLEDSOE: You had a whole audience of people who absolutely their philosophies were in opposition to each other co-mingling, and everybody is polite to each other.
JAD: So that was one thing that caught my attention. That in this very divided moment, Dolly seems to maybe be a kind of unifier. And after doing a little poking around, the data does kind of bear this out. If you look at her global Q Score, this is a measure of how well people think about your brand, globally. What they do is they assemble a very diverse sample of people, they ask them a bunch of questions, and out of all of these different brands that are out there, all these different performers, she is in the top 10 globally in terms of everybody's favorites. But she's almost number one when it comes to lack of negatives, if that makes any sense.