I went to see Dolly Parton live in concert last night, and it was something of a childhood dream come true.
You see, there's something about Dolly that just captured the imagination of a small country-town gay boy in 1980s Australia. It was her studied glamour, her excessive cheeriness and her readily apparent strength and ambition that did it, I think. Here was someone who came from similar circumstances as me, and who had managed to turn herself into such an incredible vision of everything that my life wasn't.
That's not to belittle, of course, her immense and undeniable talent. She is an accomplished singer and musician, a deceptively clever actress, and, as I learned last night, the consummate showgirl. I am not being heyperbolic when I say that Dolly Parton is a genius.
In small-town Queensland in the 80s Dolly was A-List celebrity. Most people had something of a taste for American country music, and Dolly had a special appeal. You could relate to her as brazen fashionista (she claimed last night that she modelled her look on the town tramp, and she has also voiced her admiration for the fashion experimentation of Lady Gaga), or even as sex symbol. That massive bust was an almost archetypal symbol of sex, and Dolly Parton imitations were par for the course, requiring simply a blonde wig, some smeared lipstick and a couple of bunched-up T-shirts stufffed down your shirt - voila! Drag queen Monique Kelly toured regional Australia with Les Girls, doing a brilliant impersonation of Dolly in a cleverly manufactured costume which turned those mammoth breasts into prehensile arms, capturing and suffocating the giggling men in the audience.
Dolly is clever, and the character she plays in her concerts is exactly the right mix of things guranteed to woo the hearts of her working class audience. She is incredibly glamorous and at the same time exceedingly humble and self-deprecating. She makes fun of herself, of the plastic surgery, the outfits, the peculiar body shape. She calls herself the Princess of white trash.
And Dolly delivers a faultless performance. The stage act is never for a moment boring, and it is frequently uplifting and inspiring, by design. Dolly is, after all, a religious woman, and frequently the concert took on the atmostphere of a Southern revival.
Throughout the concert Dolly kept up a patter of corny jokes, self-lampooning and sunny positivism and self-help. If you came into the show a cynic, you would definitely have left a reformed and sunny character. Her latest album Better Day is a testament to her particular brand of positive self-help.
She also mentioned her new film, Joyful Noise, with Queen Latifah, about a high school gospel choir. Now that is one movie I am going to have to see.
I came away from my evening with Dolly utterly inspired, excited about my life, and inpressed by the energy and talent of this simply extraordinary woman.
Viva La Dolly - may you live forever!
1 hour ago