Dolly Parton does it all in only two hundred and two words. Eighty-four fewer than the Gettysburg Address; one hundred and thirty-six more than the Lord’s Prayer. Two hundred and two words, one of which is repeated thirty-one times: Jolene. Parton wails her name like a banshee.
Five times Jolene; once Jolene, Jolene; six times Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene.
Parton says the name Jolene thirty-one times in less than three minutes. It’s a story song, and the story is as familiar as they come. Where there was happiness, now there is heartache.
A woman loves a man, but that man loves Jolene; the woman confronts Jolene and pleads with her not to take the man. That is all. I don’t know when I first heard the song.
It used to creep onto country stations like kudzu and that is all we listened to when we listened to the radio.
I doubt I knew what adultery was when I first heard it. I certainly couldn’t imagine what it would be like to hear the name of another from the sleeping lips of the one you love.
But that didn’t stop me from howling all those long syllables. “I have to have this talk with you,” Jo-leeeeeeeene. “I’m begging of you, please don’t take my man,” Jo-leeeeeeeene. “Please don’t take him just because you can,” Joe-leeeeeeeene. “I cannot compete with you,” Jo-leeeeeeeene. “My happiness depends on you,” Jo-leeeeeeeene.
Some women, I suppose, identify with Jolene. Those whose “beauty is beyond compare” might easily imagine themselves into the role of a temptress, but mine is not, so even before I had a lover to lose, I found myself comfortably in the role of the desperately discarded, the frantically forlorn. It is hard to believe that Dolly Parton’s husband never strayed with the flirty red-haired bank teller who inspired the song, since the lyrics capture so perfectly what it is like to lose the one you love, even while that one is still sleeping in your bed.
The Infinite Lives of ‘Jolene’ - The Awl