Hello Dolly

Yesterday at noon while driving to Mountain View to have lunch with a friend, I caught Dolly Parton on the radio. She was in conversation with Neal Conan, the host of Talk of the Nation on NPR (National Public Radio.) TotN is usually a delight to listen to but yesterday’s bit with Dolly was special. One gets the warm and fuzzies just listening to her talk. There’s something heartwarmingly genuine about her.

Neal began by mentioning Dolly’s commencement address that she gave to the graduating class of 2009 at the University of Tennessee’s College of Arts and Sciences. He said:

Like most everything she’s tried in her long career, she nailed it. That speech forms the basis of a new book about the principles behind her enormous success in music, in television, in movies and as a theme park entrepreneur. The first of them became the title: “Dream More.”

In part, it’s the story of the dreamer who told her high school graduating class that she planned to go to Nashville to be a star, how to visualize success and adjust your goals along the way.

She’s not just a pretty face, of course. She has lived life and learned a lot. Here she is making a distinction between dreams and wishes.

CONAN: One of the important distinctions you make is the distinction between dreams and wishes.

PARTON: Well, that’s true, because a lot of people don’t know the difference. I don’t know if I can exactly define the difference. It’s just that, to me, to dream something, actually, you really know that’s something that you can have, and then you set about having to work it. You have to, as I’ve often said, you’ve got to put arms and legs and wings and feet and hands on dreams. You’ve got to get it out and make it come true.

But when you’re just wishing something would happen, it’s just kind of empty. It’s just empty thoughts and dream there, or fantasize. And if you don’t really get out and put some sweat into it and, really, some muscle power, it’s not likely to happen. So you don’t want to just wish your life away. You want to dream it and get out and do it.

She dreamed big. She declared at her own high school graduation — in 1964 — that she would go to Nashville and be a star. Here’s how she recounted that experience during the 2009 commencement speech:

Now when I was a kid I use to put a tin can on a broom handle. I use stick it down in the crack out on the porch of our old cabin. And of course in my mind’s eye I was standing on a stage. With my guitar. Singing my heart out in this microphone. And those were not chickens out there in the yard. It was my audience. And that was no ragged dress that I was wearing. It was a dress all a glitter with rhinestones. And it was made of the finest silk in my mind.

So you have to stay true to your heart. And to your dreams.

Now the night I graduated from Sevier County High School, back in 1964, we were all asked to stand up and talk about what we were going to do with the rest of our lives. And everybody had a different story. And when it came my time I stood right up there. I said I’m going to Nashville and I’m going to be a star. Well the whole place laughed out loud. And I was so embarrassed, cause I thought how odd. Why is everybody laughing, cause that is what I’m going to do.

But as bad as I felt at that moment and as embarrassed as I was, it did not shake me from my dreams.

So I guess I showed them, huh?

And you can do the same.

Of course you have to be careful. Do not confuse dreams with wishes. There is a difference. Dreams are where you visualize yourself being successful at what’s important to you to accomplish. Now dreams build convictions. Because you work hard to pay the price to make sure that they come true. Wishes are hoping good things will happen to you. But there is no fire in your gut to put everything forth to over come all the obstacles.

So you have to dream more. And never ever ever blame somebody else if it doesn’t happen. That is in your department.

There you have a genuine country singer talking about her dreams and how she made them come true. What I found the most striking about her is her down to earth simplicity and honesty. She was born poor (one of 12 children; her father was a sharecropper; lived in a single-room cabin in the mountains of Tennessee) and she talks about it with humor and grace. Here’s what she told Neal yesterday on TotN:

CONAN: We played that clip of tape of you talking about the – your own graduation from high school and how people responded when you said you were going to go to Nashville and be a star. But the dream is one thing. Then you hit the reality of Music City.

PARTON: Yeah, I did. But, you know, anywhere you go, people say, well, ain’t you afraid you’ll starve to death? Ain’t you afraid you’ll go hungry? I said, well I couldn’t be any poorer than we’ve been here. And I’m not a bad-looking girl. I’m sure I can find a boyfriend to take me to some drive-in restaurant to get the cheeseburger and then probably talk him into getting me one to go.

I figured I wasn’t going to go hungry even if I just had to – will date for food, you know, that kind of thing.


PARTON: And I used to walk through the halls of, like, the Holiday Inn and a few little hotels around there, and I’d get the food, you know, that people had set outside their doors, you know, because there’s a lot of good food that people throw out. You know, there’s nothing wrong with picking up a french fry. Even if it’s a little cold and soggy, they ain’t touched that.

But you do what you got to do. So I made do. I’d take a bottle of ketchup, make it last forever, make tomato soup and water, or mustard soup and water. So I went the whole bit with all that in the early days, but I wouldn’t take nothing for it. I wouldn’t change it.

She would pick up food that people left outside their hotel room doors? Talk about humble beginnings! And she talks about it so matter-of-factly. She must have a heart at least as big as her breasts.

While listening to Dolly Parton, I was mentally comparing her to the politicians we normally hear about and hear from. They are so pathetic and fake. Bereft of any wisdom or insight, their speeches are aimed at misleading people. I cannot think of one line that the most consummate politician — the appointed prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh — ever said that reveals that he even has a brain, leave alone a heart.

Dolly Parton of course is not a politician and does not have to lie. Take this line of her’s from the commencement address:

I learned to love reading when I was just a tiny little thing. I read everything I can get my hands on. Because, It is my belief that if you can read, even if you don’t get a chance to get an education, you can learn about everything.

I have stressed that point because it is something that not a single politician in India understands that point. You don’t need made-in-China tablets or reservations based on caste or any of the dozens of stupid schemes named after the Nehru-Gandhi family members to make Indians become educated. All you need is to give people a little help become literate.

Anyhow I should stop before I get carried away and go off on a rant. You’re better served listening to Dolly Parton.


* NPR Talk of the Nation Nov 27 transcript of Neal Conan with Dolly Parton. Download the mp3 (right-click and “save link as”.)

* Dolly Parton’s UT Knoxville Sring 2009 commencement speech video and transcript.

Author: Atanu Dey


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