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Remembering Dory Previn

February 19, 2012

The hoopla surrounding the death of Whitney Houston — of whom I was not much of a fan, although she could sing — has completely overshadowed the passing away of a very different kind of songstress, Dory Previn. In my own small way, I want to redress the balance slightly, particularly for those of you who are probably saying “Who?”.

Dory died on February 14, aged 86. Her surname is familiar because she was once married to the celebrated pianist and conductor Andre Previn. But I feel guilty saying this because if there was one message that Dory aimed to get across in her songs it was that women get a raw deal and are too often either victims of or in the shadow of the men around them.

In her early days, the two Previns collaborated on a number of songs recorded by the likes of Judy Garland, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra and Pat Boone. It is her post-divorce solo work of the 1970s that I want to focus on, however.

She produced six albums in the 1970s, which had varying success and were mainly bought by a cult of followers who were inspired by her feminism and angst-ridden lyrics. How much of this was prompted by her breakdown and electroconvulsive therapy following her husband’s running off with actress Mia Farrow is anybody’s guess.

One of her better-known songs — and the title of one of her albums — is “Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign“. It was a barely veiled attack on the celebrity culture that has become even more rife in the 40-odd years since she wrote it. Mary Cecilia Brown takes a bus up to the Hollywood sign and jumps off the letter H because she failed to become famous:

when mary cecilia jumped 
she finally made the grade 
her name was in the obituary column 
of both the daily trades 

My favourite song, however, encapsulates Dory’s feminism. It would be nice to think that “Did Jesus Have a Baby Sister”  has become dated — but it hasn’t really, has it?

did jesus have a baby sister? 
was she bitter? 
was she sweet? 
did she wind up in a convent? 
did she end up on the street? 
on the run? 
on the stage? 
did she dance? 
did he have a sister? 
a little baby sister? 
did jesus have a sister? 
did they give her a chance? 
Then a bit later:
did she long to be the saviour
saving everyone
she met?
and in private to her mirror
did she whisper
save your breath!
did he have a sister?
a little baby sister?
did jesus have a sister?
was she there at his death?
R.I.P Dory Veronica Langan

From → Music

  1. Stewie permalink

    A remarkably creative person who didn’t just survive adversity, but also kicked its ass. I like “Did Jesus Have a Baby Sister”, but the recording sounds ‘less’ mastered than the rest of the album, especially when comparing it to “Cold Water Canyon” – weird. “Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign” is also an early 70’s album by Dory which expanded on the song.

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