In a lockdown that seems endless, a winter that was dragging and a blanket of grey sameness everywhere it was hard to look on the bright side. I had a bad case of the can’t-be-bothereds as my whole world felt way too small and I’d lost my mojo. I rejected all my Netflix lists, I ignored Facebook and Instagram posts of happy travelling people in the northern hemisphere. I was in a massive sulk. The pandemic does that to you. I came upon Alec Baldwin’s podcast, Here’s the Thing and chose an interview with Barry Gibb, the only surviving Bee Gee.
Listening to them talk, I was taken back to my teenage years when there was no FM radio and music came out of a tiny transistor clasped to my ear. Saturday Night Fever had just been released and the Bee Gees thundered back into the collective consciousness. They weren’t cool but they could write tunes and those gorgeous harmonies lifted our spirits. Not that I told anyone I liked them as I didn’t want to lose what little credibility I had.
I realised just how many songs the Bee Gees had written for other people and their collaborations and this led me to an album Barry recently did with country and western singers, Greenfields. One of these people was Dolly Parton.
Dolly had never figured very largely in my life. I liked her, enjoyed her music and she seemed like a nice person. But country music wasn’t really my style and I never bought any of her albums. Yet the songs would come on my newly acquired FM radio and I would hum along. Dolly made me happy, optimistic and better about things. She was like the Good Witch of the North who could sing. Dolly wrote the anthem 9 to 5 which my girlfriends and I would sing walking down the street, shoes in hand after a drunken night out. We felt strong. Likewise, we shrieked the high notes on Jolene thinking of all the women who had stolen our (imaginary men) Dolly was something to all of us even if we pretended she wasn’t. Dolly mattered from a musical and a philanthropic perspective. Especially in recent times, where she donated a million dollars to development of the Moderna vaccine.
I listened to Barry talk about Dolly. I listened to the duet then I fell down a delightful Barry and Dolly rabbit hole where I listened to their hits, their lesser known albums and the songs they’d written for others. Maybe it was an age thing – I’m supposed to like easy listening on the wrong side of 50. But whatever the reason, it’s gave me joy in a dark time.
My other Dolly is not quite as iconic though I think she deserves to be. British columnist and writer, Dolly Alderton’s book, The Things I Know About Love popped onto my library app and I had shrugged. Just another bit of frothy chick lit to pass the time. I should have known better; never ever dismiss someone called Dolly—you do so at your peril. Her book is funny and sad and raw. It’s a slice of life, of Tinder dates gone wrong, friendships gone awry and crying in the middle of the road when you’ve lost your shoes. It’s a tribute to youth and growing older and all the wonderful and terrible things in between. I’m writing all this and I haven’t finished the damn book. I want to read everything she’s ever written, so I’m ordering my own copies of both her books. and my new mission is to listen to all the episodes of The High Low, her podcast with Pandora Sykes.
So all this gives me hope, there are still wonderful discoveries to be made even if you can’t stray too far from home. New music, new books, new crushes on writers. I recommend everyone does this. It may not be the Bee Gees or either of my two Dollies but you’ll find your own. Fall down that a rabbit hole- you’ll be glad that you did.
Note: Written for Maureen who asked me to write her a story to cheer her up after having to isolate.