April 16, 2009

Special Report: Is Dolly Parton Anti-Gravity?

We need an emergency band meeting to discuss the lyrics to the Dolly Parton single Jesus and Gravity. It seems to be a new song from a year ago, (wikipedia says she performed it on American Idol in April 2008) and it is released on her last album, Backwoods Barbie, her 42nd studio album. The song, Jesus & Gravity, by songwriting legend Craig Wiseman & Betsy Ulmer, is an uplifting spiritual, about the forces giving her wings & holding her down. Here's the video:

I was disturbed by the ambiguity Ms Parton showed toward gravity. The great majority of the lyrics in the song are about Jesus lifting her up. Of gravity, she says very little, juxtaposing it with Jesus in the chorus:

Something lifting me up,
Something holding me down,
Something to give me wings,
And keep my feet on the ground,
I've got all I need: Jesus and Gravity.
"Holding me down" has a negative tone, but we assume it is useful to keep people from bumping their heads on the ceiling. It is tyrannical oppression. "Keep my feet on the ground", tho, implies sound reasoning & keeping it real. So is gravity a heavy but necessary evil preparing the singer for spiritual ascension?

But wait! Since when has gravity been the baddie in gospel songs? The devil, as a metaphysical force compelling one towards immoral behavior, is a stock villian. There are the forces of nature, sexual desire, deadly sins, and other natural impulses tying mortals to the cycles of Mother Earth, these are often treated with resentment from the sacred songwriter & grumpy poets like T.S. Eliot. But Gravity?

"I've got all I need," sings Dolly. Other lyricists might beg to differ, that gravity is superfluous when she has Jesus. So what is her definition of gravity? Creationists could remind us that, like Darwin's suspect Theory of Evolution, Isaac Newton's ideas are mere theories and unproven. Perhaps Kansan school boards have their sights too narrow, and we should have notices in text books casting doubt on the Laws of Motion. The standard theory, after all, would make certain biblical miracles unlikely, not to mention rising from the dead.

Before I take this too far, I'll conclude that Dolly Parton's gravity is a synecdoche for many natural forces - which both tie us to this earth & help us walk thru life. In my final college thesis on the Gospel of John (in which Jesus offers himself as a better way to satisfy many different hungers), I wrote "Desire and hunger, with their upper reflection of love, are the metaphysical laws of gravity and attraction." I was thinking in neoplatonic terms, that there are indeed hierarchies within these attractions, and that earthly love is a fallen version of heavenly love. They are related, a sort of greyscale between them. Therefore, natural gravity (which is the attraction of bodies) can be seen as a version of spiritual gravity. On this corrupt earth, it may seem that one force is holding you down & another lifting you up, but when things have been
righted, all bodies will be pulled towards the Godhead. Dolly Parton is experiencing strong pulls in both directions, which may be why she appears so skinny these days. And besides her huge faith, in other ways, other parts of her have always defied gravity.


pele said...

I was waiting for roll-call. Anyway, Present! So, what you're saying is that her hairdo isn't getting taller and fluffier, but actually maybe her head is getting stretched along with the rest of her sinful dross, like someone getting sucked through a black hole? Is that why she needs gravity? To keep her from floating off like George MacDonald's Light Princess. Did you read this in her cards?

ß. Andrigon said...

Right, exactly. Pele - present. James - present. I wish I had Dolly's cards. And I believe physicists call it "spaghettification", elongating into a black hole.

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