Sunday, August 07, 2022

"Laziness is nothing more than the habit of resting before you get tired".

For scholars​ of heartbreak and trepidation, the Dolly Parton songbook is a core text. No other singer would say ‘please’ when begging Jolene not to take her man. In Country Music, Ken Burns’s recent documentary series, Parton insists a great song is like an heirloom or a keepsake, essentially a piece of storytelling. A well-written song can dramatise a wonderful character or bring back a singular voice, and in these senses, among others, the siren of East Tennessee is better than most poets. There’s a giggle and a teardrop in her voice, an unmistakeable set of attitudes about life, and I was looking forward to her novel the way lovers of chocolate might look forward to Easter. It was going to be Eudora Welty, Tom Wolfe, Reese Witherspoon and Tammy Faye Bakker in a wild Southern barn dance. It was going to be a roof-raising, hello God hoedown, a complete riot of personal faith, the sentences glinting with rhinestones and Southern Gothic, all of it secured by a narrative raised on sweet tea and Moon Pie. On her own, Dolly can do no wrong, but like many country heroines she sometimes gets into bad company.

Once upon a time I had plenty of admiration for Thérésa. It seemed as if, in that huge voice with its low-pitched notes, there vibrated the soul of the people. She stirred me and made me shiver; more than once she brought tears to my eyes. In the last two years I have gone to her comeback performances as if to visit an old friend, searching for that impression of the past which she cannot reawaken. Her fine diction, so strong and clear, is spoilt now by pretentiousness, pomp, and solemnity. No doubt she imagines she is now a social force, and that each word she drops will have repercussions in the world. She adopts without discernment songs which are inept, and tries to colour their empty words with a redundant sentimentality and a false picturesqueness. Instead of the brutal and sincere art which used to delight me, the singer displays a procedure which has grown uniform and a search for violent effects. 

 There's a lot there, but I'm not going to do your work for you.

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