These days, it seems the world is beset with a series of intractable problems, each more hopeless than the one before. Between the lingering economic malaise, looming environmental catastrophe and endless bickering over what to do, the situation is dire and getting more so.
But fear not, for humanity has a secret weapon: Dolly Parton is here to inject a little sunshine into your gloomy day. Her new album, the optimistically titled "Better Day" (Dolly Records), sets decidedly humanistic love-one-another sentiments to twangy back-country arrangements, and it will perk you right up.
We were granted a brief phone audience with the unsinkable Ms. Parton to talk about "Better Day" in advance of her sold-out Tuesday night show in Durham.
Q: You could pass for an environmentalist on the opening song, "In the Meantime." What's up with that?
I wrote that song years ago and it's always burned in me because I wrote it from a place of thinking we need to try harder. We do need to take better care of the world and each other because if we don't, it's going to be the end - not of time, but of us! People are so scared to death of all these doomsday predictors who say the world is ending, and it will one of these days. But that's for God to decide, not some crazy person. And like the song says, people get so caught up in the fear of dying that the joy of living is lost. So we need to do better. Which we won't, unfortunately. But maybe one or two will. It's hard times, no doubt, and people need a little uplifting.
Q: Do people try to get you into politics?
Oh yeah, but they don't do too good at that. I don't talk about politics, I just joke about it. People have told me I should run for president and I say we've had enough boobs in the White House, which I think is true. But I don't talk politics because it will offend half the audience. Some people are always gonna be Republicans and some people are always gonna be Democrats. Talk about one or the other and you'll (anger) a lot of fans. I'm a performer, an entertainer, and it's not my place to be in politics. I have my own thoughts and ideas, of course, but those aren't good to voice. It can be dangerous, too. Look what happened to the Dixie Chicks. I like my job. I don't want to lose it.
Q: The title track is especially optimistic. How do you manage that?
That's one of the album's newer songs and it's the blues - I never get the chance to sing that. So it's a positive message, talking about how the blues don't come to stay, they move away. But people are down, all this talk about the world ending when the Mayan calendar runs out. I think they just got tired of counting. And even if the end is coming, what can we do about it? If the world was ending tomorrow, I'd just keep writing my songs. So are we supposed to wait and see if the world blows up or aliens come? Take care of business, do something meaningful. That way if the world does end, at least you'll have something to say to God. "Lord, I did try." Or, "Whoops, sorry I screwed up so bad with that free will you gave me."
Q: "Country Is As Country Does" almost sounds like you've got something to prove, but does anybody really question your country bona fides?
Nah, but that song is so me. I wrote that with Mac Davis, and it was so much fun. I told him, "You've gotta help me write a song about me." And he said, "I think I can hep ya on that one." We fight over who wrote one line, "If you don't like it you can kiss my ham." I told Mac, "I know you're gonna tell your friends you wrote that one, because I'm definitely telling mine that I did." I don't even remember who wrote what, but it was a kick.