I'm Running Out Of Love /
HELL HATH NO FURY WEEK
In all the hoopla over the tragic death of Whitney Houston last weekend, I must've heard "I Will Always Love You" twenty-five times. Whitney's version was stellar, but I prefer Dolly Parton's version -- after all, she wrote it. That fact seems to surprise a lot of people, judging from internet chatter over the past couple of days. Why should they be surprised? Everybody knows Dolly for her pneumatic hourglass figure, overdone blonde hair, and sugary little-girl twang, but behind that Barbie doll facade is a serious songwriter and a force to be reckoned with. I'm sorry to hear that her recent movie with Queen Latifah, Joyful Noise, was supposedly dreadful -- those are two women I'd really love to hang out with.
So here's Dolly in prime Hell Hath No Fury mode...
It's an early track, from Dolly's second album, released in 1968; still working to establish herself as more than just Porter Waggoner's "girl singer," she sticks to a tried-and-true Nashville sound, with nimble guitar picking, tick-tock percussion, and hoedown fiddle. Like many of her early songs, she wrote it with her uncle, Bill Owens, who was her earliest mentor, teaching her to play the guitar and taking her to Nashville when she was still a teenager. (Uncle Bill is still a Dollywood regular.)
That subject matter is classic country too -- I'll guess that at least fifty percent of all country songs in this era dealt with infidelity. Growing up in the Midwest, I was convinced that all country music fans were wife-swapping cheaters and whorers. But perky, sassy Dolly didn't come across as a victim -- if her man was going to cheat on her, he'd be sorry.
A barely veiled threat runs through this song. "Better learn to resist temptation / Or someday you'll wake up and I'll be far away." "I ain't gonna let you take my heart and break it." "How long did you think I'd stay quiet and take it?" "Someday you'll pay for the wild seeds you're sowing." She's not moaning, she's not feeling sorry for herself -- she's got her fists planted firmly on those curvy hips and her big blue eyes are shooting sparks of fire. I love the confident swings of her voice on those upward climbing phrases, how she curls her twang around certain words with just a hint of spite. She's got a vibrato, but it's quivering with rage, not with sorrow. (Listen to the menacing shiver on "running out of patience.") This isn't a woman who'll take anything lying down.
Okay, so he seems to "get worse every day" and keeps on "doing me wrong" -- is he really cheating on her? The most we know is in verse three: "You come and go just any time you want to / And you never bother to tell me where you're going." That's enough to plant suspicion in her mind -- "I wonder if there's anything you don't do" -- but actual proof is almost irrelevant. He's not there for her, he's not being honest with her, he's not really sharing their life together. And Dolly's put her finger right on a big truth: How careless behavior can eat away at love, until there's none left. Men, take note.
The fictional world of country music may be full of unfaithful wives and husbands, but that runs hand-in-hand with a sense that marriage is sacred. Dolly's character in this song isn't getting back at him by fooling around herself (though there's plenty of "revenge cheating" in other country songs -- listen to Loretta Lynn's "The Shoe Is On the Other Foot Tonight" or Dolly's own "I Wish I Felt This Way At Home"). She believes in marriage, which makes his straying all the worse. Dolly herself has been married for over 40 years to the same man, who almost never appears in public with her and has absolutely no celebrity profile of his own. Maybe she knows something about how marriage is supposed to work -- something that the rest of us could learn from.