Jolene

Jolene is a 1973 country song by Dolly Parton. Without being overblown about it, Jolene is one of those songs that has its own wikipedia page. In a Rolling Stone list of the top 500 songs of all time, it sits in the top half, at 217, and while that entire idea of a list is silly, it shouldn’t escape notice that at least one person with a lot of free time was able to remember it when they tried to compile a list of 500 anythings. That’s too many things.

This song is one of those rare classic soncs that I actually like, but it isn’t exactly one I sing along to or even listen to very often. It’s very mournful and soulful and, as performed originally, it’s a song that’s as much about how much e m o t i o n you can club your audience with. It’s great.

A few years ago, a version of it ‘went viral’ inasmuch as they can, where someone took the original record and played it on a record player at 33 rpm – basically, slowing the whole track down.

This changes the way it sounds, of course. It stays soulful and sad, but now there’s an additional dimension to it. And this did create the feeling of a totally different person with a different sound of voice looking at the song. Sometimes it’s seen as sounding creepy and sometimes it’s seen as scary and sometimes it’s seen as haunting.

And that was a pretty cool find and resulted in a sort of resurgence of the song in my space around me. Suddenly, a bunch of people who weren’t born in the first half of the last century were pointing out that hey, Jolene rules.

And then…

Look it’s not a long reach to listen to Jolene and notice that the protagonist seems to be very impressed with how pretty Jolene is. We have no idea about the dude. Apparently, he’s worth fighting Jolene for, but… we don’t know what he’s like.

But we know Jolene is pretty.

Anyway, so that’s neat!

Thing is, there’s also this other take on Jolene that was first brought to my attention by Andi McClure of Mermaid Heavy Industries. She pointed out that there was a reading of the text where ‘Jolene’ was the man in question; that is, that Jolene is the feminine identity of the ‘man’ the singer perceives as ‘hers.’ Watching her partner struggle with her identity, she sees it as someone ‘taking’ him away from her.

Anyway, it’s wild because despite the fact this song doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, thanks to years of reiteration and attention, and being recontextualised through modern lenses, it’s kinda neat how the song’s become… pretty queer.

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