I started a new job today. I’m working from home. It’s exciting. It’s full of newness. And it’s also my first experience in a virtual office environment, where there are other people working from home “with” you (as opposed to what I’m used to, which is being a self-employed, solo at-home worker).
Here in the virtual office, there are widgets for tracking hours, different digital interfaces and management systems, and clients where the word “client” means a computer program through which you use other computer programs. Applications. Deliverables. Some of these words are not new. You can see them on Mad Men and on my resume. And some of these vocabularies change with decades, as our technologies do.
What hasn’t changed is that women make less money than men, for the same work, with the same work experience, and often with more education.
Dolly knew this. The tedium described in “9 to 5″ is just as real now for many women as it was when she sang it 30 years ago. It goes for a lot of men, too, but women still face amazing amounts of discrimination in the workforce, from consistently lower wages to the way “they just use your mind and they never give you credit” to always being seen as overbearing in negotiations where a guy would be perceived as “strong.”
[Lady Sovereign, the British short white girl rapper, has another take on the "9 to 5" concept in which she falls asleep on the way to work and dreams she's forced to change her image by her record company, posing in scantily clad situations next to expensive cars. If I wasn't tired of computing from a first full day at a new job, I might compare the two.... but that's another post....]
Here in the virtual office, I’m also free to listen to music, not on headphones, which makes work about 10,000 times better right off the bat. I listen, and think about lying on the floor of my mom’s living room and listening to Dolly Parton when I was a kid, not really understanding the impact of her lyrics, many of which so beautifully focus on inequality of all types (poverty, relationships, etc). To listen now, the songs feel smaller. They seem quieter, the dated aspects of their production more prominent. But one thing remains loud and clear: this woman can write a song. “Jolene,” “Coat of Many Colors”… every “hit” on this greatest hits comp deserves to be there.
Take “I will always love you.” We know it because Whitney Houston made it a mega-hit in 1992, almost 20 years after Parton first recorded it. After I wrote about Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger and mentioned he had penned another hit that he didn’t record, Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” a friend of mine asked me if I thought the mark of a good song was chart-topping success, and I don’t… but I do think sometimes the mark of a chart-topping successful song is good writing.
Dolly wrote this as a country song, a quiet and wispy melodic statement of love that when she sings it comes across as sad, a mournful reflection complete with a plaintive “I love you” spoken during the instrumental interlude. Whitney made the song bigger — more dramatic, with big quiets and louds and the accent on “I” and “you”, not “love.” No matter what you think of Houston in general and this song (one of the most overplayed and best selling in recent cultural history), you gotta admit– the bones of the song are good. They’re as good as whatever is underneath the bizarre Barbie exterior of this tiny, powerful musician who started out wearing rags to school in the backwoods of Tennessee and became a pop culture icon, an Academy Award-nominated actress, a theme park topic (who by being so employed of her entire, struggling community), and a good ole time to listen to forever after.
Yes, she is bizarre and tacky at times. Yes, I don’t really understand all the plastic surgery, particularly mixed with the feisty feminist leanings. And yes, there are bloated instrumentations at times. But that’s Dolly. She can still make you cry with a frail run of her trembling-yet-steady voice, a simple plea from a rejected lover, or her sheer fucking can-do spirit.
So sing it, working girl. It’s time for happy hour.