The Story of The Real Inspiration Of “Jolene” By Dolly Parton
via BBC / Youtube
Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” stands as one of the most heart-wrenching songs in popular music history. With raw honesty and a haunting melody, Parton weaves a tragic narrative of vulnerability and insecurity as she pleads with the titular figure not to take her man. The song’s emotional resonance and relatability have made it timeless classic, captivating audiences worldwide.
“The reason I think the song ‘Jolene’ has resonated with so many people for so long is because most of us have actually had a Jolene or a Joe in our lives at one time or another,” Parton shared in the 2019 Netflix anthology series Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings. “But more importantly, we’ve all felt insecure about something. We’ve all felt like we might lose someone we love to someone else because we’re not good enough, and that’s what this song’s really about.”
The Tale of a Red-Headed Bank Teller: A Personal Experience
Dolly Parton’s candidness about the origins of “Jolene” shed light on a real-life event that served as a catalyst for the song. During her appearance at the 2014 Glastonbury Festival, Parton confessed to the crowd that the main inspiration behind “Jolene” was a red-headed bank teller who flirted with her husband, Carl Dean. Reflecting on this experience, Parton stated:
“Now, some of you may or may not know that that song was loosely based on a little bit of truth,” Parton told the crowd. “I wrote that years ago when my husband was spending a little more time with Jolene than I thought he should be.”
Determined to protect her marriage, Parton promptly put an end to the flirtation. Interestingly, she found a silver lining in this challenging situation, acknowledging that “something good can come from anything.” The song “Jolene” became a turning point in her career, ultimately proving to be a lucrative success.
“I put a stop to that. I got rid of that redhead woman in a hurry,” Parton confirmed. “I want you folks to know, though, that something good can come from anything. Had it not been for that woman I would never have written ‘Jolene’ and I wouldn’t have made all that money, so thank you, Jolene.”
A Young Fan’s Striking Presence: Influence Beyond Intentions
Beyond the real-life encounter with the flirtatious bank teller, another serendipitous event played a role in shaping “Jolene.” In the early 1970s, Parton was greeted backstage by a young fan with striking features – beautiful red hair, captivating green eyes, and an unforgettable name, Jolene. The encounter left a lasting impression on Parton, sparking her imagination. She recalled the moment, saying:
“I said, ‘Jolene. Jolene. Jolene. Jolene. That is pretty. That sounds like a song. I’m going to write a song about that.'”
It was this meeting with the young Jolene that solidified the name and persona of the song’s protagonist, adding depth and dimension to the lyrics that resonated with audiences worldwide.
The Universal Struggles of Insecurity: The Heart of “Jolene”
More than just being inspired by specific events and individuals, Parton believes that “Jolene” has endured for decades because it touches on universal emotions. In the 2019 Netflix anthology series Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings, she explained:
“Most of us have actually had a Jolene or a Joe in our lives at one time or another.”
The song’s essence lies in the universal feelings of insecurity and the fear of losing someone we love to another. By addressing these relatable emotions, “Jolene” transcends its personal origins and becomes a timeless anthem that continues to move listeners worldwide.