Dolly Parton Just Did the ‘Most Punk Rock Thing You Could Imagine’

But Ms. Parton has been eligible for the honor since 1992, and her nomination this year may have more to do with the fact that the Hall of Fame is often criticized for tapping so few female members — “In 2019, a look at the organization’s 888 inductees up to then found that just 7.7 percent were women,” wrote Joe Coscarelli for The Times — and less with the fact that Ms. Parton does a mean cover of “Stairway to Heaven.”

Not that any of this matters to fans. “Really, shouldn’t Dolly be inducted into any Hall of Fame that would have her?” asked Billboard. To which I say, damn straight she should. And win every other prize in the whole world, too.

Ms. Parton has turned down prestigious honors before. Last year she asked the Tennessee General Assembly to table a bill that called for a statue of her to be placed on the grounds of the State Capitol. She has twice declined the Presidential Medal of Freedom. With the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nomination, she said she doesn’t feel she’s earned the right to be there.

But this time she’s also doing something very different: She’s trying to clear the way for artists who have earned the right.

That principle is what lay behind the uproar from writers when Bob Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. I side with anybody who recognizes Mr. Dylan as a literary genius, but I also understand this point: As a musician and a songwriter, he deserves to be celebrated, and to be celebrated extravagantly. It’s less clear that he deserves a prize traditionally reserved for poets, fiction writers and playwrights. There are so many ways to celebrate people like Bob Dylan. Shouldn’t the Nobel be reserved for other kinds of writers?

This isn’t an argument for artistic specialization; if Mr. Dylan wants to write a novel, he should totally write a novel. It’s also not an argument for stepping out of the arena, once you’ve won a trophy room full of prizes, to make room for others. By all means, accept every award you’ve earned. But when you haven’t earned it, own it and get to work earning it, as Ms. Parton plans to do. The nomination has inspired her “to put out a hopefully great rock ’n’ roll album at some point in the future,” she said in her statement.

It’s a winner-take-all market for artists of every kind. A lot of books get published, but only a handful get the kind of publicity push that can mean the difference between the midlist and the best-seller list. A lot of records get made, but if a record company doesn’t put its muscle behind promotion, you’ll likely never hear it.


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