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Dolly or Bust

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Dolly in concert.  

Those ideas will be put to use. In all, she wrote about 40 songs for the new musical, of which only sixteen remain. It broke her heart to lose the good ones—but she may sing some as bonus tracks on the cast album; others will go into the archive for recycling. And there are always more. When asked at the work session to provide some new lyrics, she tosses off a few immediately and then, taking notes on a legal pad silently provided by Judy, promises to come back the next day with a bunch of “ors.” One time she said, “I’m gonna go pee and then I’ll have it,” and she did.

Dolly doesn’t mope. No one involved with 9 to 5 has seen her “play the Dolly card” or get angry. She doesn’t fret about the show’s run. (“It’s either going to be successful or it ain’t,” she says, and anyway she’s got an autobiographical Broadway musical in the works.) Likewise, if she’s tired (as she says), it doesn’t show. At the Marquis Theatre one morning earlier this month, after busing in from Nashville the day before, she looks perfectly turned out and game for anything. “I’m an energy vampire,” she says. “I just suck off everybody’s energy, but I give it back.” She almost dares me to ask her something tawdry: “What else ya got?” But like the fan in the hilarious documentary For the Love of Dolly who finds Judy’s car in a mall parking lot and can think of nothing better to do once inside than lick the seat belt on the passenger side, I find myself deranged by her openness. The oddest thing I can think to ask is whether, with new deals in merchandising, real estate, touring, and recording all in development, she’ll ever say it’s enough.

“Never!” she answers. “I want to be like one of those little fainting goats that get scared and then just fall over. I want to go and go and then drop dead in the middle of something I’m loving to do. And if that doesn’t happen, if I wind up sitting in a wheelchair, at least I’ll have my high heels on.

“It’s not like this is a job that I hope I do good at. It’s a joy, and it’s just my nature. And I’ve made it into something I can make money doing. And thank God for that. Because nobody can ever make enough money for as many poor relatives as I’ve got. Somebody’s got a sick kid, or somebody needs an operation, somebody ain’t got this, somebody ain’t got that. Or to give the kids all a car when they graduate. Let them shine, let them do what they want to. And not just family—it’s for a lot of other people to have their dreams, too. Going into a new business, you make a certain amount of money, build your name, build your brand, and it’s prestigious, but it gives other people opportunities, too, even if it’s not something I particularly want to do myself. I’m creating jobs”—her various enterprises already employ more than 3,000 people. “I’m like Obama!” she crows. “O-Dolly and Obama!”

The president doesn’t wear much lamé, but the comparison is otherwise striking. Both have succeeded by carefully sculpting—not disowning—their outsider identities. Literally, for Dolly: Though she is frightened of plastic surgery, her desire, she says, is greater than her fear. If something needs tightening again, she’ll do it. “I’m a proud person. I’m not vain. I look at it like it is. If you’ve got the money and you’re going to be out there, you owe it to people not to look like a dog if you can help it.”

Remaining a pinup deep into old age would be an untenable contradiction for most women; even that Barbarella turned workout queen Jane Fonda let go of such ambitions eventually. But for Dolly it’s no contradiction, because the Backwoods Barbie image was always an essential part of her, even before she had the means to express it. “It was never a marketing tool,” she insists. “People say that, but I dress this way for the same reasons I did when I first started doing it. It still comes from a serious place inside of me. I get up in the morning, and I think I just look better a certain way I do my makeup. I want to shine, I want to glitter. I’m not getting up thinking, ‘Oh, this’ll get ’em.’ And I’m not doing it to make a statement. I’m just doing it to look like Dolly—the Dolly that I know and the Dolly that you know.”


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