Sad to hear that Oscar-nominated singer/songwriter Dory Previn has died. I’ve actually been listening to her music in the car lately.
Previn’s lyrics brought a different, more wizened, mature sensibility to the confessional folk rock songwriting ethos of the 70s. Her concerns were those of a middle-aged woman who had seen it all. Previn braved a difficult abusive childhood, mental illness, divorce and betrayal in her life, and it was all grist for the mill of her uniquely feminine, yet soul-baring, muse.
In one of the more famous episodes from her life, after a spell of hospitalization for psychological difficulties, Dory’s husband, composer and orchestra conductor Andre Previn, left her for 24-year-old actress Mia Farrow, who the singer considered a close friend. She wrote about the situation on her 1970 album On My Way to Where which was described by one critic as “Freud with music.” From The Guardian:
In its most famous track, “Beware of Young Girls,” which Farrow at first thought tasteless but later appreciated, Dory wrote of a visitor who came bearing daisies: “She was my friend/ I thought her motives were sincere… / Ah but this lass / It came to pass / Had / A dark and different plan / She admired / My own sweet man.” She noted that this visitor “admired my unmade bed”, and even predicted that, having made off with the sweet man, “she will leave him one thoughtless day”. The album’s let-it-all-hang-out, confessional quality is encapsulated in Twenty-Mile Zone, about being detained by a policeman who accused her of “doing it alone / You were doing it alone / You were screaming in your car / In a twenty-mile zone”.
More LPs swiftly followed: Mythical Kings and Iguanas, Reflections in a Mud Puddle (both 1971) and Mary C Brown and the Hollywood Sign (1972), originally an unproduced stage-show. There were also shy stage appearances – she knew that her talent lay more in the words than the music – one of which was captured as Live at Carnegie Hall (1973). A new label brought Dory Previn (1974) and We’re Children of Coincidence and Harpo Marx (1976).
Before her solo career, Previn co-wrote the Oscar-nominated score for the film Valley of the Dolls with then husband Andre. Dory Previn penned two autobiographies, Midnight Baby, 1976 and Bog-trotter: An Autobiography with Lyrics in 1980. She has been cited as an influence by Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker and he has long been a champion of her work. Dory Previn was 86
“Beware of Young Girls”:
Below, Dory Previn appears on the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1974: