American singer-songwriter, author, actor and philanthropist Dolly Parton has been in the news recently. She donated USD one million for research into COVID-19 vaccines and recently celebrated her vaccination. But true to her style, Parton deferred her own jab until others received it.
During her rise to popularity in the 1970s, I remember it was more Parton’s appearance and country charm that she first became known for. But over the years, she has earned a reputation for her depth of personality and as a kind, gracious and generous soul, in addition to being a brilliant and talented artist.
This morning, I stumbled upon an early recording of hers and as my sweety came downstairs while it played she murmured softly, “Mmmm, love Dolly Parton.” (The same reaction I witnessed some time back when posting a piece about Parton, along with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris covering Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush.”)
In “Coat of Many Colors,” Parton writes of her mother making a fall coat for her as a young girl, though the mother made it from many scraps of different-coloured cloth as the family lived in poverty. Parton sings with pride about her coat of many colours, which she loved and needed for cold weather. However, the other side of the narrative is how her peers cruelly shamed and ridiculed her for wearing it.
For me, that’s symbolic of a lot of what’s happening in the world nowadays. In a time when many traditionally marginalized or ostracized groups are rightly demanding freedom, fairness and inclusion in society, those in dark corners of the Internet see the rising up and celebration of such people as threats. These “keyboard warriors” propagate toxic untruths or make memes to poke fun. And don’t get me wrong… not all memes are bad. Some can be self-deprecating and clever, but others, crude and cruel, deliberately shaming and ridiculing those who take courageous stands against being mistreated for sexual and gender identities, racial, faith, socioeconomic and many other backgrounds and attributes, and labelling such people as “snowflakes” for calling out oppression.
Taken another way, a coat of many colours might symbolize one who professes to be fair and kind while at the same time fuelling hate and division by sharing and promoting ignorant and hurtful discourse in the world.
Could Parton have intended for the listener to draw a similar parallel in meanings? I’m not sure, but I am more inclined to believe her true intent was to illustrate a purer message: how the most precious gifts can be from castoffs — kind of like people.
We all belong, in the coat of many colours that is this world.
Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.
“Coat of Many Colors” appears on the record of the same name, which Parton wrote and recorded fifty years ago. Here’s the audio from Dolly Parton’s official YouTube channel where the entire album Coat of Many Colors appears as a playlist:
Full, unofficial lyrics are available courtesy of AZLyrics.com.