Recently I discovered that Dolly Parton was planning to release a self-help book entitled ‘Dream More: Celebrate The Dreamer In You’. It has not (as far as I know) been actually advertised as a self-help book, but all the signs are there. The description on Amazon states that “Expanding on the hugely popular graduation speech that Dolly Parton gave at the University of Tennessee, Dream More explores the personal philosophy this much-loved artist has forged over the course of her astonishing career as a singer, songwriter, performer and philanthropist.” Sounds fair, Dolly has often written inspiring songs and the last chapter of her 1994 autobiography (‘My Life And Unfinished Business’) is essentially that of a self-help book, and although I don’t like books like that it is a good read and there are some real truths in there. I have my qualms about an entire book of it but that’s nothing compared to the alarm bells that went off in my head when I read the following sentence of the Amazon product description: “In this thought-provoking book, Dolly Parton draws on her childhood experiences growing up in the hills of eastern Tennessee and her life as the iconic performer she is today, as she encourages us all to.”
My heart sank. I have been a huge fan of Dolly for nearly six years and it didn’t take me long being a fan to be able to recite her ‘life story’ (I suspect some may well be an exaggeration but that’s an argument for another day) backwards. She tells a good portion of it in every live show she does. She tells a succinct version in every interview she does. She writes extensively about it in her autobiography (which is a good read by the way and I would highly recommend it, especially since she wrote it without a ghost writer) and it carries the bulk of biographies of her. I have heard it so many times that sometimes I feel like I’ve lived it myself! I’m nowhere near the most dedicated fan, however, and I’m sure there are thousands of fans who have heard it even more than I have and are starting to get a little sick of hearing it in detail. It makes me sad to say this but it feels like an excuse to write her autobiography again, but just be a little more reflective and analytical about things, and try and say some inspiring helpful things. Don’t get me wrong, I would love an updated autobiography from Dolly of the last eighteen years since her original one was published, I bet there’s a lot to say about those years. But this just seems to be an excuse to say the same old things again, and if I wanted that I’d just reread what she wrote in 1994.
Honestly it seems like a money-making exercise to me. There’s no real reason for her to release this book, and perhaps her last album, ‘Better Day’ (2011) didn’t do too well (I haven’t looked at the sales figures but promotion-wise it seemed to die out) and she’s looking for other things to invest in. It was recently announced that she would be producing some special Dolly video slot machines in Las Vegas, and earlier this year she had her own part in big screen documentary ‘Hollywood to Dollywood’. That’s not to mention the Nashville water park scheme that she was a part of up until September when she left the project. So she keeps herself busy, that’s fair enough, and I love the fact that she hasn’t simply stuck to doing music during her life but has done movies, musicals (9 To 5 finally comes to the UK in January!) and all sorts of other things. The list is endless, and I’m proud of the success she seems to be able to have with every kind of project. However, perhaps there is a limit.
The reason we’re interested in her and what she does is because she’s famous for being a country singer and songwriter, the other things are there to add to her as a brand, they’re not her main career. Despite the fact I think this book is a money-making exercise, I know she has MORE than enough money, and that’s with the huge amount of philanthropy she does with the Imagination Library and the Dollywood Foundation, and having a great deal of her very large family on the payroll. She can still afford a very rich lifestyle, AND have some left over. By 2007, Whitney’s version of ‘I Will Always Love You’ alone had netted Dolly over $6 million. That’s not to mention how much she’s got from the world-famous cover since then, particularly with Whitney’s death. And then there’s every other stream of income she receives. I hardly think she has a money issue, and I know she doesn’t like to get bored, but she’s had a very successful career of writing and singing country songs, now wouldn’t you think that’d be a more obvious choice to take up her time?
Apart from the early 80s when she went through depression, weight gain and weight loss, Dolly has never drifted from producing music this much and I’m worried she’s lost sight of who she is and why she started in this business. When she released her last album, the sound deliberately had a commercial edge that I’m sure was there to try and get her back into the popular country market again, but at the same time she was also caught up in 9 To 5 The Musical and various other projects including a movie with Queen Latifah (‘Joyful Noise’), that frankly considering the amount of time and effort an album cycle should take, were distracting her immensely. I think this contributed to it not making as much of a mark and thus she’s put music to one side in my opinion.
I think all these other projects cheapen her music. I think they’re all too much and too distracting for fans and consumers. I know Dolly’s image was always about ‘tacky glam’ and ‘cheap’ but this is getting to be ridiculous. So here’s my plea to Dolly: please, forget all the other stuff, record an album of bluegrass/non-commercial/acoustic/Nashville Sound tracks, let the beautiful music make its mark, go back to intimate shows and do loads of them, make it about the music again. I know she’s always been commercial and I don’t mind that but there’s a true, serious, authentic, fantastic artist in there somewhere and I miss her.