Friday, August 19, 2005

Hello Dolly

Not quite Dixie Chicks sez Salon.com's Rebecca Traister on Dolly Parton's Vintage tour, but an excellent addition to the choir.
By comparison with last fall, the show was practically Spartan: no costume changes, no medleys, not so many spotlight pyrotechnics. Parton sang full, gorgeous renditions of songs like "Smoky Mountain Memories" and "Coat of Many Colors," as well as the poppier "9 to 5" and "Here You Come Again." Sure, she was clad in a dress of many rhinestones, and there were the requisite boob jokes. But there were also the reminiscences about her good friend Jane Fonda. And her well-worn memories of a poor upbringing in Tennessee, how her "mama always had one [baby] on her and one in her," were accompanied on Thursday by an unfamiliar nostalgia for "the old hippie days" of the 1960s.

About an hour into the show, Parton picked up a guitar that looked like it had lost a fierce battle with a Bedazzler and began to talk in earnest about that old-time activism. "I didn't necessarily agree with all the politics of that time," she said, "but I think a lot of the things they were talking about -- like peace and freedom -- are about as American as apple pie." She then performed the Byrds' "Turn, Turn, Turn."

And she wasn't done. Barely pausing for breath, she moved to Dylan, talking about how important it was that he had sung songs that had mattered to the country. She'd recently been listening to his antiwar classic "Blowin' in the Wind," she said, and had thought, "Well this song is about what's going on right now! I've got to record this."

Parton's live cover of "Blowin' in the Wind" should probably have been cringe-inducing, but it wasn't. Stripped down to Parton's powerful pipes and a guitar, it worked. And she definitely enunciated particular verses, especially the questions "How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry? And how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?" Parton, who had perfect silence for the first half of the song, finished it to a massive standing ovation from the New York crowd. And however unlikely the messenger, it was almost impossible to imagine the lyrics being about anything other than a direct message to George W. Bush.

Nice.

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