Saturday, May 3, 2008
to thine self be true
- May First 2008 - Radio City Music Hall - Dolly Parton -
I was not prepared for what a moving experience I was to have seeing this Country Music and American Pop icon. I don't know what I was expecting, perhaps some glitz, some old show biz tricks and an aging voice in that tiny cartoon body that we all know, but what I was present for was something quite different indeed.
Of course there were the spangles and the rhinestones, lots of them. Certainly there was the cartoon body and those famous boobies. Yes, there was the expected cheering and adoration of a musical personality who's been present with us through the many changes of our lives. But what I wasn't prepared for was the authenticity, the vulnerability, the honesty, the gratitude and the humble right sizing of a woman born into the most modest of circumstances who has somehow managed to rise above the stereotypes of what she could have been and created for herself a distinct and respected role in the world. It's easy to be blinded by all the sparkle and gloss and forget that this woman has received A Living Legend Medal from the U.S. Library of Congress and a National Medal of the Arts.
Pattering on about her poor rural beginnings she talked about her "Daddy" who couldn't read or write but worked hard to support his twelve children. How he was the inspiration for the launching of her Imagination Library, a non-profit foundation that fosters the love of reading in pre-school children by providing a book a month to every child regardless of their family's income. Dolly's Imagination Library started by providing books to children of lower income families in Eastern Tennessee and is now available in forty three states, Canada and has just started in The United Kingdom. This, Dolly said, made her "Daddy" more proud than any superstar status she's achieved.
What most surprised and moved me was the voice. At sixty two you'd expect some of that high, sweet, innocent tone to falter. You might at least expect some of the familiar songs of her early career to be taken down a bit. But Dolly sat down, picked at a dulcimer and sang "Coat of Many Colors" and the tone rang high, pure and free without affectation or apology. And the nostalgic sweetness of a little girl proudly dressed in rags soared as pretty as when it first hit the airwaves thirty seven years ago.
The personal lesson I gleaned from this experience is that I shouldn't think that I know the limits of what anybody has to offer. Whatever their category of style, form or content, if someone is true to themselves and authentic in what they do then there is worth in it. Like Dolly sang herself in her new song "Backwoods Barbie" :
"I've always been misunderstood because of how I look.
Don't judge me by my cover 'cause I'm a real good book".
Point taken Dolly.