Dolly Parton Finds Creativity in Graveyards
Dolly Parton has often found inspiration in unexpected places: graveyards. Whether she's pulling lyrics directly from their residents or simply enjoying the peace and quiet they afford her, the country icon says cemeteries are some of her favorite spots to visit.
"In fact, my niece and I had a picnic in a graveyard three days ago," Paron shared during a phone call in mid-September. "I just love walking through them and looking at [the headstones]. I just love to imagine what people's lives were like. They're so well kept, and they're peaceful."
In true Dolly Parton fashion, she adds with a laugh, "It's not the dead I'm afraid of — it's the living!"
In her book Songteller: My Life in Lyrics, released in late 2020, Parton shares multiple instances of finding the spark for a song in a cemetery. For example, "Jeannie's Afraid of the Dark," a collaboration with Porter Wagoner that Parton wrote, was inspired by a child's grave that included an eternal flame ("But on Jeannie's grave, we placed an eternal flame / That glows and never loses its spark").
"I thought that was amazing," Parton recalls of discovering that exact setup in a graveyard.
A 1971 Wagoner cut, "Out of the Silence (Came a Song)," came to Parton when she was "sitting up on Graveyard Hill," a cemetery near her East Tennessee home. "I was thinking about all those people in their graves, wondering about their lives, of all the things that might have happened to them," she writes.
"I’d create lives for all of those people in the graveyard, just invent stories in my head for them," Parton adds in her book. "A creative mind just likes to do that, I guess."
Beyond such direct inspiration, Parton finds cemeteries to be perfect places to let that creative mind of hers wander.
"Even if I wasn't writing about the people in the graveyard, I've written many songs just being in that peaceful environment," she notes, "and read many a book."
See Dolly Parton Through the Years: