Friday, December 11, 2020

Parton's Poetic Process . . .

In "Working Girl," Emily Lordi's piece on Parton in the NYT's Style Magazine, (December 5, 2020), we learn the details of the country singer's working process:

Take, for instance, the faded, stained draft of her theme song for the film "9 to 5." In Parton's recorded version of the song, a propulsive Top 40 hit backed by an R and B horn chart, she sings these opening lines:

Tumble out of bed and I stumble to the kitchen,
Pour myself a cup of ambition,
And yawn and stretch and try to come to life.
Jump in the shower and the blood starts pumpin',
Out on the streets the traffic starts jumpin',
With folks like me on the job from 9 to 5.

The song hails the possibility of breaking an exploitative cycle, of making tomorrow's 9 to 5 different from today's — and Parton's lyrics themselves push beyond routine and toward escape: She enlivens the daily grind with the buoyant words "tumble" and "stumble"; surprises us with the winning phrase "cup of ambition"; and brings the solitary worker into alliance with the collective at the level of rhyme, where "pumping" blood meets "jumping" traffic. Parton's draft reveals that she initially cast the third line as, "And wonder if I might be rich in another life." The final version shifts that internal stretch of longing into the "yawn and stretch" of the woman's body and, ideologically, resists the nod to individual wealth in a song ostensibly geared toward its redistribution. But Parton's edit also improves on the line's musicality, making it a series of monosyllables that matches both the final phrase — "folks like me on the job from 9 to 5" — and the clickety-clack of the accompaniment. Parton famously devised and played the song’s rhythm by brushing her long acrylic nails together; and that sound, which evokes both a washboard and a typewriter, reminds us that music, like beauty and housekeeping, is work.

And it's good work, too. I mean a good work of poetic art.


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