P – is for Dory Previn

Tuesday 30th August

“I have flown to star-stained heights on bent and battered wings, in search of mythical kings. Sure that everything of worth was in the sky and not the earth, but I never made my way, down down down where the iguanas play”

My favourite line from Dory Previn, and when you read lyrics like that you know you are in the prescence of a very unusual songwriter.  She came to fame (of a very limited nature) in the early seventies with a series of intimate and honest and quite wonderful albums.  But she was already quite old by this time, in her late forties.  She has been married to Andre Previn, and they had both been involved in the Hollywood scene, he writing screen music and she lyrics to songs in films.  He went on to become a famous conductor, but it was Dory who had the most prescient talent.  Now, what you must understand is that Dory had problems, she had a very controlling and possibly abusive father; she wrote a side-long piece on her third album called “Taps, Tremors and Timesteps (one last dance for my father)”.  She had a nervous breakdown when her husband left her for the much younger and stunningly beautiful Mia Farrow, and she wrote about this in a song “Lemon Haired Ladies” where she tells us to beware of young girls who come to the door, wistful and pale, twenty and four, delivering daisies with delicate hands.  And she had electro-shock treatment in a mental hospital and recreated the nightmare on an incredible song “Mr. Whisper” about hearing voices, where the stereo splits and different Dory’s speak words from poems and sing snatches of songs at the same time; very scary and incredibly real.

She released four brilliant records on United Artists and then two poorer ones on Warners, and then she stopped.  Maybe she had nothing else to say, or perhaps thought she might have said enough already.  At least we still have the records, and one great live double album too.  Dory herself died in 2012, an old lady of 87.  I still get a prickly feeling whenever I play one of her songs, full of neuroses and fears and hope for a better future.  In laying out her own troubled life she was very brave.  Oh, and many years later Mia Farrow did apologise for stealing her husband.

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