Listener supported WNYC Studios. Hi, this is Jim O'Leary, the producer of Dolly Parton's America The Room I was fluke. Before we start, one question. Do you remember the first time you left home? I remember one of the Dolly songs that you heard Nelson Mandela play. I'd love to ask you about Porter Wagner.
Now, that's when I needed a whip in this series. Whereas Dolly, a lot of question.
Here's a question for you. How much does Dolly Parton's America worth to you? This series was listener supported, it took Jad and I two years to make it involved, dozens of plane rides, hotel rooms, we commissioned original music. We had tape singers, other reporters across the world.
In short, it was a really expensive series to make paid for by you.
Thank you. When things are listener supported, they just they're just different. We can chase leads in a different way. We are not beholden to advertisers. The only people we are beholden to is you. But there is a problem, unfortunately, of the millions and millions of people who downloaded these episodes, who listen to enjoy left to heard the story, heard the Joline story, only a tiny, tiny handful have stepped forward and made a financial contribution.
We would like to make more of this kind of thing, but in order for us to do that, we need to hear from a whole lot more of you.
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Actually, we need to hear from you and thanks. Glory to his. I'm Jad Abumrad. This is Dolly Parton's America final episode. He's alive. No, she's alive. I want to close the series with my favorite Dolly story, Hands Down. It's a story of the moment the dolly became Dolly. It happened in a church. Now, I'm not someone who is ever really gone to church. My family came from a place torn apart by religion.
We avoided churches. And, you know, over the past two years of interviewing Dolly, I was hesitant to sort of get into her faith because I just kind of figured it would be something I wouldn't really be able to understand because, you know, religion like politics, it's just one of these things that divides us. Right. But then she told. Me, the story. About this thing that happened to her in a church. And it's just kind of.
Spooked me a little bit.
I know, I know, I have to admit, I'm one of the reasons we ended up talking about it was because of that UIT class, the Dollis America class.
We'll never know who Dolly Parton is and who Dolly is, but who Dolly Parton is probably never at the end of that interview as humanly I and I and the students were all sitting around.
We kind of got onto a thing I would love to like, sit down and ask her questions. OK, let's let me follow that inspiration. So what's the question? What questions would you want? What question would you want to ask her? Oh, man, I feel like there's this hidden side of her, and I just, like, hope that she's doing well. I hope she's OK. I think I put myself in her shoes. I imagine her life to be exhausting.
And now I would ask her, this is Laney, by the way, Laney Goodwill. I think I would ask her if she has any regrets about, like, the way that it all played out. Do you have any regrets about the way it all played out? No, well, I guess it's almost like everything I've ever done, good or bad, seemed to be the thing to do at the time and to change one thing could change the whole thing.
So I don't think you can live your life like that to regret.
I'm not I mean, I regret it if I've hurt anybody else, you know, on my journey, I regret maybe getting caught. Time to start things I'm not should have been doing, but I'm not saying I wouldn't do it again. But anyway, so to be honest, I guess the real answer to that is no.
What what did you get?
You're not going to tell me what did you get caught at that you were getting caught at?
You can't know everything. All right. Fair enough. Fair enough. One of the other questions that came up to true about the tattoos that her body is like covered in tattoos, I know, to be fair, she was the one who threw that one out.
Is it true about the tattoos? I have a few tattoos on my body. They are not they are not meant to be tattoos for the sake of tattoos. I'm very fair skinned.
And when I have any kind of surgery or any kind of scarring, well, it turns out, you know, it's kind of discolored and I can't get the color. So I when I first started getting a few little things done, I had a few little tattoos to cover up, some scarring.
But I'm not tattooed all over like a black woman or anything. But I do have a few.
But they're very delicate. I don't have the dark ones. They're all pastels.
Can I ask what of what or is that too personal?
Well, I have two butterflies like a butterfly. I have some lace and some involves a whole lot of bows, a couple things like that.
OK, all that was really just prelude. The question that drove us to the story I mentioned came from a student named Wil Oaks.
And this isn't really much is a question. I just want to have a discussion with her. Like what is the theology of Dolly Parton behind closed doors? Like, what exactly is are you like the church ladies, as we've been talking about? Is that you? Is there something deeper there? I just want to get to the to the core of her belief system, not in the way of, again, judging.
I just want to know, like, honest to goodness, what is the theology of Dolly Parton behind closed doors?
Well, now I am not. I'm a very spiritual person. I do not believe I don't like talking politics and I don't like talking religion. And I certainly don't like trying to cram my religion down anybody's throat because I'm not that religious, but I am very spiritual.
How do you practice your faith? I don't practice it. I live it. I think people try too hard. I talk to God like he is my best friend. I just go around talking to him sometimes.
I think if somebody saw me in my house, I think I was an absolute lunatic. I just talked to God and sometimes if something great has happened, I just kind of raise my hand, give God, have five or a thumbs up. You know, it's like I just I don't feel like I have to go to church to do it. I think churches in our hearts is wonderful for those that want to go to church. That's a wonderful thing.
But I don't think I have to. And it's like I, I go when I want to or when he can or special occasions.
But I live my faith. You know, if you try to shove that down people's throats. Are you come on, goody goody. Then I'm going to work. You live by example. You teach by example. You learn by example, don't you think?
And even the old cynics to say, oh, you know, there's no such thing as God.
I said, well, that's your that's your problem. I know they're it for me. And that's what works for me.
I would it would scare me to death to think that there was nothing bigger and better than me, that there wasn't something out there that we could depend on.
Of course, you look at. Wow. Well, if there is a God, why would he let this happen to that happen? Well, he's not letting things things happen. He gave us free will. We the ones screw up all the time. We started talking about this, and initially I thought that was sort of addressing that big question that people have about God and a belief in God, like how can you believe in God? How can God exist?
And so many bad things happen in the world. How would he allow that to happen? And initially, I thought she was nodding at that idea, that sort of deist idea that God created the world, but then voluntarily gave up some control to us mere mortals.
And so when bad things happen, it's not necessarily his plan. It's sort of his permissive will, as it's sometimes called.
I don't know, like I don't even try to analyze it to that degree. I just I just accept it from me.
But as we kept talking, it became clear her faith is way more particular and idiosyncratic than I would have ever expected.
The Bible says let every man seek out his own salvation, and that means to save himself whatever it takes to save you. And if you can get to that place and find your own peace, then you can do good for other people if you're at peace within yourself.
Did you because I know you grew up in a in a very devout family who went to church all the time. Did you? This is a moment when you stopped going and it became more internal for you, was that.
Yeah, well, we grew up in a fanatical church, Pentecostal holy roller, but I still love it. In fact, I write I'm fiction. I'm doing a show. I just sold a show called Sister Shine for Lifetime, where I'm playing a female evangelist, always wanting to do it. And it's about a woman that kind of gets tore down because of the religion. But I just always, you know, that hellfire damnation that we went through just to scare me to death.
And I was too scared to, you know, not to, you know, but I never I never did, you know, I didn't want to go up. And, you know, I just was scared of all that. And I used to pray, you know, I just would pray for God to show himself to me or to let me see what that was about, because I would say I would talk to him even then. I would say it just scared me to death, you know, in the church.
It scares me.
I don't you know, it's like I don't want to be afraid of God because then they say we're supposed to fear them and then they say he's our father and we're supposed to.
And I was confused with all that.
And she says when she saw people go up and get saved and speak in tongues and do the whole thing. She would always feel like, why is that not happening for me? What am I doing wrong? I never, never felt like I was saved. I never felt like I was safe, that I was getting what they were soon be getting are supposed to be getting, you know, because I just didn't ever feel like I had reached that place.
But then there was this old abandoned church down the hill that was described to this day that is that stands out in my mind, just like it happened.
There was this whole church at the foot of the hill where we were living, and it just had an open in it. All the windows were all busted. Peepers go down there, drink, make out. They were done. Picture painted on the walls.
She was 12 years old, she would wander into that abandoned church and as she writes in her autobiography, she would fixate on those pictures.
I spent a lot of time looking at them, studying the way the sexual organs had been drawn and at times trying to add to the.
You would doodle on the on the drawings? Yeah, I just I love that old church, and every time I go down there, there was just a piece in church. To. You know, I just feel the the echo and the vagueness and I loved singing.
I just got here, Mamasan, good in there, but I would take that old Bienen banging around, there was a few Oki's left on it. I took a string and rigged it up on a board, you know, where it was kind of like Salix or Middle Eastern sound, it was just an old drone, you sound. Now would say. Well, let's try. By Sweida, Syria. So she says there was this one particular day she was in the church first staring at the dirty pictures, then singing for a couple of hours, and after that, I just was praying and praying and bringing the Lord is my shepherd.
I shall not what? He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.
Yeah. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me. I just was brilliant because I that I need to know they comfort me. I just need, I need a feeling I don't have my enemies. I need a safety I don't have.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And I just remember being in that church and I felt somethin.
I remember it just came to me, I didn't hear it like a voice, it came to me as a feeling that was as strong as a voice, though, and I felt like I found God that that day. And I felt like I knew who I was that day. She writes, In this place of confusing images, I found real truth here in one place I found God, music and sex. My fascination was complete. I sang with a strengthened conviction that only God could have understood the joy of the truth I found there is with me to this day, I found God, I had found Dolly Parton.
And I love them both.
It's kind of perfect in a way that you found that with dirty pictures on the wall and a and a busted up piano with a string, it's somehow feels like all the dollies, the sexuality, the spirituality, the sensuality and the music.
All that is me.
And I remember when I left that old church, I was still walking around the road back up to our house, and Virginia was one of my old uncles that owned a sawmill up the road. And he came down and I just jumped and I was just fine, you know, just jumping up, down, off, skipping around.
And he said, what are you going on this fine day? And I said, I'm on the road to paradise, walk along the Golden Street.
And so I remember just saying that she says her uncle was a little confused.
But I still like if your mama talks in tongues and your mama lays hands on people and you love your mama and your aunts and your uncles and your grandpa, that's real to them as what I have is real to me.
I think part of what I love about the story, a lot of things, it kind of captures Dolly Parton for me, how she can be all of these things at once. She's able to pull in all of these disparate things from the borderlands and somehow hold them all together to where they don't feel contradictory. There's something welcoming about this kind of faith, it's so singular and permeable, and that's for Dolly, she says she can will herself back to that abandoned church anytime she wants.
It's like a little invisible wall. I can just kind of go through there and be in my God place and I can stay there till I'm restored are healed in my spirit.
If something's really troublesome and nobody can go there with me, I can't take nobody with me.
How do you go there? Do you what do you do to get there? I just walk right through it sometimes. She says if things have been really intense, she will fast for three or four days. No food, just water as a way to get back to that place. I know when it's time.
I just know if I don't have if I can't deal with it anymore and I just am worrying too much fret and too much. And I'm not even if I pray and I'm not, I just think I have to stop this now. I just have to go to my my own little space. Dolly Parton's America will continue in a moment. Those in a very spiritual person, as you know, not religious, but I'm very I connect to that and that's where I get my energy and that's where I get my creativity.
That's where I get my strength. That's where I get my stamina to to go on. When things are hard. I just kind of draw from that stuff out there that I feel is there for all of us. It's just that I connected to it earlier and I just use it.
This is the only person in America. I'm Jad Abumrad. My final interview with Dolly, we met at a small house that she owns in Nashville, not too far from where I grew up, actually.
Honestly, I thought, oh, my God, I've passed by this house a million times on the way to school. I had no idea. We sat on a blue couch. She was dressed in all white. And I asked her some more questions about her faith and also about the future.
So many people we spoke with refer to as Saint Dolly. But it does make me wonder, like, what do you think happens when you're not here? And it's just it's just Saint Dolly and it's no longer Dolly. Dolly?
Well, first of all, I'm no saint. Trust me, I'm no saint. But for me, as far as what I hope my music will be left behind, I hope that it will always live. I think all that love and stuff may fall away. But I would like to think that I've left some good, good pieces of music. And I think as long as timeless people will be doing music all kinds of different ways.
As we were talking, it became clear that that this question that I had thrown out what happens next is something that her and her team are thinking about on all levels. She hinted, without really elaborating that they are thinking about business deals regarding her publishing catalog. They're already going into the vaults.
I am a lucky person because I've got hundreds, hundreds, even thousands of songs, and a big part of them have never even been recorded. There's enough stuff to to go on forever with my music, to do compilation albums, to do actually new and original stuff. And I am purposely trying to put songs down for that very purpose, to have a click track and my vocals to where any, any arrangement can be done, really.
So I think ahead, will we be hearing Dolly albums of new material for 50 years from now on?
We're so concerned it could be that we'll hear your vocals over someone else's music.
Yeah, but it could produce that anyone, any producer anywhere in the world, a hot producer. When I'm gone, they could take my songs, just the click track of my vocal and build a complete arrangement around that. Any style, any anything that would do. Because as you know, if you got a good click track to where you've and a vocal, anything can be done with that. Yeah. So that will go on forever. I mean, I'm one of those people that believe in being prepared.
I don't want to ever leave my stuff in the same shape like Prince or Aretha or anybody that don't plan ahead. You know, with that.
And as far as what happens after, you know, we go on, like I say, I'm no saint. So I'm hoping just as a Christian faith person, you know, that we go on to a greater thing, that we I believe that we're all part of that great divine plan.
And I'm hoping to get on up there and do some more writing and singing and play with those, go to carps and read some more songs that have my own mission and make them go straight to glory and keep doing it forever and ever and ever. So I'm going to get in the Angel Band for sure. I'm going to play the Angel Band and I want to play the harp up there. I don't know if you like one. I really don't know where we go.
I don't know if we you know, if there's such a thing as reincarnation, I kind of believe all that kind of stuff. I'm just open to things. And when I was working with Shirley MacLaine, who had that book out about reincarnation, and somebody said, oh, how'd you like showing the plane? Get along and we get along fine. I said, I don't know that I believe in reincarnation. And I didn't believe in it when I lived before.
So it's a joke. Oh, yeah.
Yeah, it took me a second. Sorry I didn't answer. But anyway, so I'm just saying, you don't really know. You just hope and you have faith. That's what faith is. But I believe that it's going to be better. I don't I think it is not the end of me. I don't think it's the end of any of us. I think we're recycled. And if nothing else, we just go back into that great flow of divine energy and hopefully we can spread our selves around and other wonderful ways.
That's what I hope.
Yorkeys. Again, I just really want to thank you. That's my let me just say, though, that I feel honored and hopefully you treat us with respect. I was happy to spend the time because once I got into it, when I saw that you really were sincere about it and you really wanted to know my true feelings and maybe something we've done might inspire people to do a little better. I hope so.
I hope so. So Dolly Parton's America was produced, written and edited by me and the incredible, amazing, invaluable Chemaly I brought to you by awesome audio, Osam Audio and WNYC Studios. We had help from Harry Fortuño throughout the series.
Huge thanks to him. Thank you to the folks at Sony Music, HarperCollins, thanks to St. Augustine Church, Jonathan Fenelon and Vanessa Penya there. And thanks to Nora Brown for singing for us in that church. Thank you to Lynne Sacco of the Dolly Parton's America class at the University of Tennessee. To all of her students who spent so much time with us, to David Dotson of the Dollywood Foundation, Danny Lizelle, Sam Haskell, Teresa Hughes, thank you to the editorial Brain Trust of Susie Lichtenberg, Lulu Miller, Pat Walters, Sean Wheeler and Sam Sheehy.
A very special thanks to all of the people in our Tiger team. Theodora Kazulin, Rachel Lieberman, John Passmore, Maya pithiness to harbor Baalu, Kim Dorcy, Millie Kristi Devoe, Liz Webber, Dan Pichette and Ashley Love. Thank you to Christine de Carvalho for the beautiful series Art that you can see it, Dolly Parton's America Dawg, where you can also find a playlist of music from the series.
Thank you to Apple Music for partnering with us on that. And I want to thank my dad and, of course, Dolly. If you like the series and this is the first time you've ever heard anything I have been involved in. Definitely go to radio lapdog and check out that show, 17 years of content waiting for you also to keep tabs on myself. Cima All the new projects that we will be developing go to awesome audio dotcom at Osam. Audio Dotcom.
And that is a wrap. I'm Jad Abumrad signing off. Thanks for listening.