Dolly Parton
Paper Magazine
July 1997
DISCO DOLLY
Dolly Parton Re-Mixes It Up With Junior Vasquez
By Sophie de Rakoff

      Once upon a time in London in the late 70's, there was a little girl who stole 2 pounds 99 out of her mother's purse to take a bus into town to buy Dolly Parton's Greatest Hits from the Woolworth's on Streatham High Street.  Having been promised the album for Christmas by her uncle and receiving instead a pink nylon book bag, there was nothing to be done but to resort to petty thievery.  Twenty years later, I would still do anything for Dolly.
      Readers beware:  This is not a me-free interview; it would be fraudulent for me to write this without trying to explain my lifelong infatuation with the queen of country.  She is my one childhood idol who I adore now as much as ever.  As a girl, I thought Dolly was the most beautiful, glamorous creature I had ever seen.  She sparkled and shined and told jokes and sang in a way I'd never heard before.  Dolly was a rare bird in Putney, England.  As her hair grew bigger, my ardor grew stronger.  And although I never actually "did" Dolly in the fashion sense, every rhinestone I ever pined for was an homage to her fabulousness, and every pair of white cowboy boots I secretly coveted had her name all over them.
      When Dolly finally crossed the ocean to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in the early 80's, I watched the show from my front-row cushion, parked two inches form the family TV while Fleur Melville, the school slut, bully and general menace, had real front-row seats because her mother was a publicist.  I cried intermittently for days, and it took me years to recover from the betrayal — the day that I first truly understood that life just isn't fair.  But I never held it against Dolly; it wasn't her fault.  As the decade drew to a close, Dolly's popularity in my home country waned and I seemed to stand alone on my island of adulation.  It was only when, upon moving to the Americas, that I once again found the nourishment I needed to sustain my obsession and fellow addicts with whom to indulge it.
      Now it's 1997, and I have the autobiographies, the dolls, the makeup line, the wig catalog, the soundtracks, the out-of-print books and magazines and the records, the most recent being Treasures (Rising Tide/MCA), and two remixes by New York's own dance-music maestro, Junior Vasquez.  Like her husband of 30 years, Carl Dean, I've been there with Dolly through all of her fashion incarnations, the weight changes, the plastic surgery, the 18-month depression and the innuendos and tabloid rumors alternating between nymphomania and lesbianism.  And like Carl, I chose to ignore them all.  I've seen all the movies — Nine to Five, Straight Talk, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and Steel Magnolias being my personal favorites.  Obsession is a wonderful, fulfilling thing, so fuck you, Fleur: I got to have a date with Dolly at the Pierre Hotel.

Sophie de Rakoff:  Hey Dolly, do you remember me?  I was the dork who chased you outside of indochine in L.A. back in January and had to say hello to you.
Dolly Parton:  Oh God, I don't remember.  Was I nice to you?
SdR:  [Crushed.]  Yeah, you were really sweet.  You shook my hand and asked me my name.  What's good on the menu here?
DP:  Oh, I eat things you probably wouldn't touch, like the goose liver.  I just love these cheese toast things, though.  I have 'em send a basket up to my room just so's I can crunch on 'em.
SdR:  So you're a disco diva now.
DP:  That's what they say.  Apparently "Peace Train" is doing real well in the dance clubs.
SdR:  What does Cat Stevens make of your dance cover of his song?
DP:  We tracked him down to England to interview him for the CBS special I did last year for my album Treasures, which was when I originally recorded "Peace Train."
SdR:  [Showing off.]  Cat Stevens went to school with my dad when they were kids.  My grandpa says he would come around the house and play guitar in the kitchen and inhale salami sandwiches.
DP:  [Beside herself.]  Oh my God, that's amazing!  He's such an incredible songwriter.  I just love his music, and that's why I recorded the song.  He's got a long, gray beard now that he's all religious, and he only agreed to do the interview as long as I didn't show too much of my body.  I was pretty tasteful.  I did show a little bit, but it was just the usual Dolly.  I think he'll like it.  We used a gospel choir.  It's beautiful.
SdR:  You talk about yourself a lot in the third person.  Is there a separation between you and your image?
DP:  I always kid about "The Dolly," like she's my own creation, but really I created myself years ago and I physically re-create myself everyday.  But that's about it.
SdR:  I bet you see lot of Dollys on Halloween.
DP:  It's the one time I can get out and not be recognized.  I like to hang out the window and have people yell up at me, "You make a good Dolly!"  I've always joked and kidded, saying if I hadn't been a woman I'd have been a drag queen, gaudy as I like to be!
SdR:  I heard there's a Dollywood Boulevard and a Frederick's of Dollywood in your theme park.
DP:  I just love to play around with all that stuff.  People keep calling it "Dolly World" or "Dolly Land," but it couldn't be anything else.  It's Dollywood!
SdR:  I'm sorry, this is a really crass question, but is it true you're worth $100 million?
DP:  I'm more apt to count my blessings than my money.  With all my companies and all the businesses, I'm not quite sure how much I'm worth, but all told I guess it's quite a bit.  But I still wake up feeling like I'm hungry and I gotta go to work everyday.  I still want to be creative and productive — that's what brought me out of the Smoky Mountains to where I am today — and I will never give that up and rest on my laurels or my heinie.  What about you?  What's your full dream?
SdR:  [Horribly embarrassed.]  Writing movies, I guess.
DP:  [Excited.]  Well, write one for me!  I need a hit movie!
SdR:  I loved Straight Talk, even if nobody else did.
DP:  It's hard to find a movie for me 'cause I'm pretty picky and I'm not that much in demand right now.  Scripts come in all the time, but I don't get passionate about them.
SdR:  Did you get burned by the failure of your variety show in the late 80's?
DP:  It'll drive you crazy if you let it, but you've got to move on.  You just can't imagine how so many so-called intelligent people can screw up so often and so fast.  But it hasn't soured me on doing TV.  I know that if I hit on something I want to do, it could be on the air for years, so I'm being careful.  But in the meantime, if you come up with a brilliant idea...
SdR:  I'll call Sandy Gallin?
DP:  Exactly.
SdR:  [Pulling something out of a bag.]  Look what I've got, Dolly, the '78 Playboy interview you did.
DP:  [Peeing with delight.]  Oh my God, where did you get that?  Look how fat my arms are!  We've come a long way, baby!  I said a lot in that interview.  That was the first time I really opened up to the press.
SdR:  There's some pretty interesting sex stuff in there.  How strict was your family?
DP:  Well, they were pretty strict, but somehow I never applied it to myself.  Things have changed a lot since I got out in the world.  When a woman in the part of the country I was from drank a beer, she was a whore.
SdR:  But you were always attracted to the trash, right?
DP:  What they considered trash in our hometown, I considered beautiful.  When I saw the town tramp when I was a child, I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.  She had this gorgeous blonde hair and lipstick and nail polish and a tight skirt with little heels.  Everybody else was country and wore country clothes and smelled of sweat.  I would stare at her and pull on mama and go, "She's so purdy."  And mama would say, "Don't mind her, she's just trash."  I had no idea what she meant, but I decided right then and there that that's what I wanted to be, 'cause it meant I would look like her.  Then I would see her talking to guys and think, "Gosh, she's so friendly...."
SdR:  Would you ever leave the house without being made up?
DP:  I would only set foot on the street without all this junk if my husband was dying of a heart attack.  He'd have to be really sick.
SdR:  Does it make you laugh that people still marvel at your boobs?
DP:  I've always said I don't know if I'm supporting them or they're supporting me, but they've served me well.  I love being girlie and I love my boobs.
SdR:  Tell me about your friendship with your manager, Sandy Gallin.  Your names are as synonymously linked as Elvis and the Colonel.
DP:  He's my dear, dear friend.  We talk everyday on the phone and we have wonderful times together.  If we're at dinner and he's at one end of the table and I'm at the other, we can have more of a communication from a distance than some people can right next to each other.  We only have to roll our eyes and the other one'll know what we're saying.
SdR:  What kind of places did you two hang out in back in the day?
DP:  Well, I've never been much of a bar-hopper, but I've walked through some pretty bizarre places with Sandy.  He was real big in Studio 54, and I loved it, too — all the dancing and the energy.  I just loved Steve Rubell.  I was crazy about him and he was crazy about me.  If I had a new record out or had done something, he would throw me parties.  One time he brought in all these farm animals and there were bales of hay all over the place and country food.  There were some funny things at Studio 54.  I didn't partake of it much, but I saw it all and was fascinated.
SdR:  Did anything ever freak you out?
DP:  Nothing ever freaked me out.  I was always fascinated.  My eyes would get wide and I'd go, "Oh my God!" like I was on an adventure ride.  The more bizarre people are, the more I'm drawn to them.  There's a great personality that runs in my family on both sides that gives us a good sense of humor and a good heart.  I've always been curious and nosy and wanted to know more.
SdR:  Did your life change at 50?
DP:  I think my life actually changed at 40.  That's when you realize you can't ride the fence anymore.  You either have to get on one side or the other.  I think some of my best years were between 40 and 50:  I got my priorities straight and life is good to me now.  It's only other people who say, "God, she's 50 years old!" as if I'm over the hill.  I feel like I just started.  Even today I laughed at myself with the clothes I was wearing and this dance mix.  Oh my God, I've been around so long I've met myself coming back!