I got an A for that essay, because I think literature teachers secretly hate boring books by depressed women as much as their students do.
Anyway. I wasn’t sure what to write or, more importantly, who to write about. I’ve read fiction by exactly two Australian women I’d pay to read again: Thea Astley (who’s about as consistent as Stephen King) and Patty Jansen (who is great but writes in all the genres I hate).
Then there’s the handful of non-Australian women I admit I do like and am inspired by. Unfortunately the list paints an unflattering picture of me and my interests:
• Carol Topolski – child murder
• Arundhati Roy – twincest
• Rose Tremain – Renaissance wank
• Daphne du Maurier – ex wives are bitches
• Agatha Christie – Okay, she’s an exception to the rule, but if I had to write about her it’d just be OH MY GOD I LOVE MISS MARPLE OH MY GOD OH MY GOD SQUEEEE!!!1!
So I was a bit stuck until Valentine’s Day, when Dory Previn died at the age of 86. And suddenly I had someone to write about! (Yeah, one of my childhood idols died, but there’s always a silver lining, hey?)
Dory Previn is an Academy Award winning* song writer and poet. Not an Australian, but oh well. Previn sings folk music and used to be married to Andre Previn until Mia Farrow totally stole him from her. Her songs are about stuff like feminism, abuse, depression, people dying and how much of a total bitch Mia Farrow is.
My mum got me into Dory Previn. Not on purpose, I just happened to be rooting through her music collection for some Soft Cell and found a mix tape with “Did Jesus Have a Baby Sister?” written on it.
Did he indeed? I wondered, in the style of Dan Brown, and put on the tape.
Did Jesus Have a Baby Sister is about what would happen to Jesus’s baby sister (if she’d ever existed). It’s not a feminist anthem but it probably should be. There aren’t words to explain how epically legendary the lyrics are, and I suggest you go google them up right now. My favourite lines have to be:
“Did she long to be the savior, saving everyone she met?
And in private, to her mirror, did she whisper:
Saviorette! Savior woman! Saviour person! Save your breath!”
Obviously I had to hear more of this hilarious woman. So I kept listening to the tape. Unfortunately Previn’s backlist is less about witty takedowns of early AD religious life and more about horrible things happening to people who don’t deserve it. I wound up crying at a lot of them which is weird because I’m not a big crier. (The big list of movies I’ve cried in: The Green Mile, Cool Runnings, CJ7, the end. The big list of songs I’ve ever cried while listening to: Stuff by Dory Previn, the end.)
One weepy-song is Her Mother’s Daughter and oh-my-stars it is gut wrenching. It talks about the life of an old woman who lives a lonely life—“she spends her hours sitting while she waits for advertisements in the mail”. When young she was a beauty who dreamed of princes, but her mother (passive aggressive, needy) dissuaded her from marrying.
“Oh mother may I marry now?”
“No, I need you, stay. I beg you darling daughter, I cannot be alone.
If you love me… you will stay.”
So. She grows to hate her mother… but she stays. And now, in her old age, she has nothing, no family, no love, just resentment and her pathetic existence—she “listens in on other people’s joys.” It’s so unbelievably sad it makes you want to throw yourself off a bridge. I’m getting depressed now just writing about it. Google that one up too, or better yet, listen to it on Youtube. It blows my mind how fucking incredibly she conveys this woman’s feelings—the explosive knot of hate and despair inside the placid, fragile exterior. I mean, how the fuck do you do that? Like, how do you do that and get it so right? So simply and so right?
WHY SO AMAZING DORY PREVIN LIKE SERIOUSLY.
The last song of hers I’d like to draw your attention to is Doppelganger. This one creeps me right out—it literally gives me goosebumps when I listen to it.
“I seem to see this stranger, almost everywhere. I do not wish to frighten you but you should know he’s there.
So that if you’re threatened, or evil’s ever done, you’ll know it’s him who did it, you’ll know that he’s the one…”
Not to get all cliché but this one gets right under your skin. Trust me. I’ve sat bolt upright in the middle of the night, clutching my blankets, to find this song playing in my head. It’s the same kind of visceral reaction you get when you watch that bit in The Ring when Sadako starts coming out of the television and you’re all like SWEET MOTHER OF GOD NO.
You’ll know that he’s the one.
I shudder when I hear that line. Every time. Every fucking time.
So. Yes. This Women’s History Month let’s celebrate the life of Dory Previn, the most legendary songwriter ever. If you listen to her music and aren’t moved by it, well, what can I say? You must be a robot. A robot WITHOUT A HEART.
Man, now I’m going to spend this whole weekend just listening to her music.
*Well, nominated. But winning sounds better.
RJ Astruc writes AWESOME STORIES that win NO AWARDS EVER but SCREW EVERYONE, SERIOUSLY, IT’S NOT LIKE I WANTED ONE ANYWAY. Her latest novel is Harmonica + Gig, an Australian cyberpunk novel that’s basically a big excuse to rant about how much multiculturalism sucks and how much she hates Apple products. Her short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Abyss & Apex, ASIM, Aurealis, Years Best Australian Fantasy & Horror and like a bajillion other places. She received Australian citizenship in 1998 and uses it to live and work in New Zealand.