Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Dolly Parton sings superfan Stephen Colbert to a good old cleansing cry

Stephen Colbert, Dolly Parton
Stephen Colbert, Dolly Parton
Screenshot: The Late Show

Can we all just agree on one damned thing in this godforsaken year of 2020? Yes, we all hate everyone and everything and our democracy is crumbling, and the world is burning, and people are getting sick, and it’s all their fault—but not Dolly Parton’s. Let us just have Dolly is the idea, something Late Show host and Dolly superfan Stephen Colbert greedily hoarded in the 73-year-old country music legend, actress, and entrepreneur’s Tuesday appearance. Sure, he let us watch too, but did we get personally serenaded to tears by Dolly’s version of the old standard her momma used to sing her? We all just need a little Dolly these days, man.

Colbert, who memorably once duetted with Dolly on her song “Love Is Like A Butterfly” back when he was “Stephen Colbert,” feigned offense that it’s rival late-night host Jimmy Fallon and not him who gets to sing with Dolly on her new Christmas album. (And, no, there’s no clip of the Colbert/Dolly duet because lawyers are the anti-Dolly.) In recompense, Dolly made Colbert tear up by singing an a cappella version of the “plum pitiful” “Bury Me Beneath The Willow,” a traditional weeper about a young woman so bereft at being left that she kills herself so that her wandering, no-’count man will have to come and cry at her grave for the rest of his philandering life. “Are you cryin’?,” Parton asked with obvious delight midway through, with Colbert finally admitting, “Like a lot of Americans, I’m under a lot of stress right now.”


Speaking of the state of thew world, Parton, while studiously guarding her lucrative fanbase of southern conservatives, has always been forthright about her intolerance for intolerance. Sure, she deflected from her 9 To 5 costars’ more overt condemnation of Donald Trump (with a boob joke) when she, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin presented at the 2017 Emmys, but her recent scoffing at the idea that “only our little white asses matter” when asked about BLM is the sort of impolitic decency that’s seen at least one—if one may appropriate—“triggered” TV actor lose his job for flying into an ill-advised, sexist, racist, anti-Dolly rant. Don’t come for the queen, son.

When asked about her three favorites of her own songs, Parton was unhesitating in picking her signature “Coat Of Many Colors,” the typically heart-tugging autobiographical tale of childhood bullying that, said Parton, is being held up in her native Tennessee’s schools to promote “tolerance” and “understanding.” She also picked out her killer “Down From Dover,” which once was banned from radio play for its empathetic depiction of a pregnant unwed mother, and a certain song made more famous by someone else. (You can probably guess.) Sharing with Colbert the lyrics to her pandemic anthem (also about kindness and being a better human being), “When Life Is Good Again,” Parton explained that her songwriting process is her “personal time with God,” and that it’s always been what’s kept her sane through her thoroughly eventful life. Calling her songwriting (some 3,000 published songs and counting), her way of expressing herself in ways “I don’t need a doctor for,” Parton at least left Colbert with the gift of a nice, cleansing cry.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.

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