She was the stubby Irish kid from the wrong side of what might as well have been the moon, for all that Rahway N.J., had to do with Los Angeles; she was Andre Previn's wife, and the crazy lady they had to lock up, and she was and is Dory Previn, a songwriter with a diamond-like touch with a lyric.
"Broken brains are no different than broken legs," she says with a smile that is its own signature on the peace treaty she's made with herself. "At least I think so. They heal after awhile and then you exercise them to keep them strong."
She is 54 now, though the years don't show in the cloud of brown hair that surrounds her strong, honest face, nor do the ravages of the schizophrenia, the psychotic episodes, and the other tricks the demons played on her for most of her life. "I'm taking it moment by moment," says Previn. She's talking about the tour for her third book, "Bog-Trotter, an Autobiography With Lyrics." But just as she does in her songs, she's talking about a great deal more.
" . . . oh dad/you did me in that day/ with the turn/or your terrible/eye/andi cannot fly/and i will not fly/and i'm afraid to fly/ever since/" "the air crash in new jersey" (c) 1971 Mediaris Music Inc/Bouquet Music All rights administered by United States Artists Music Co.
She flew for the first time in 18 years, this year, after years of being unable to travel. "I felt like Rip Van Winkle," she says. "I was scared and nervous, but I was scared and nervous naturally, not like I used to be." Not like she was 10 years ago when she tried to board a plane to London to salvage her marriage to Previn and ended up in a sanitarium instead.
Previn went on to marry Mia Farrow and his ex-wife continued through the dark night that didn't find its dawn until 1977. Now, she says, the demons are no longer locked up, "they're right in the room with me. I cease to be haunted now. I feel loved and protected from within."
And despite the horrow crowding her head, or perhaps because of it, she continued to write her intensely personal songs, charting the channels of the river that runs between illusion and reality. "Maybe I was writing letters to my angels," she says smiling. "Creativity is eruptive, it's a blade of grass pushing through concrete. And we poured the concrete."
"mister whisper's/here again/mister whisper's/here again/i think/i can control him/but instead/mister whisper takes my soul/the minute that/he steps/ inside my head." mister whisper" (c) 1970 Mediarts Music Inc. Bouquet Music All rights administered by United Artists Music Co.
Yes, she says, it's possible that she could fall back into the black hole it took so long to climb out of, "but it doesn't concern me. For so long I heard voices, and everyone told me I didn't and so I felt threatened by them. But I think we've negotiated a compromise now. The main difficulty is that in the 20th century, we do hear voices -- from the radio, from the television, it shouldn't surprise us that we hear them in our heads as well."
She talks easily about the craziness of her days, and of course, there is something fascinating about those who live on the edge -- about those who manage the high-wire walk and those who take the fall. Previn's metaphor for it all is the city in which she lives, Los Angeles.
"Everything there happens in biblical proportions," she says. "It doesn't shower, it rains for 40 days and 40 nights. We don't have fires, we have conflagrations that destroy forests.There's all of nature's great grandeur -- we're sitting on a crack in the earth, we're not even connected to the rest of the country. That's living on the edge in more ways then one. Don't think that doesn't keep you on your toes."
It is hard, though, living in the 24-carat goldfish bowl of the town that not only witnessed her success writing songs for movies like "Last Tango in Paris," "The Sterile Cuckoo" and "Valley of the Dolls," but also the vivid ways in which she cracked and splintered and reconstructed herself?
"Most of the people I knew then I don't know now," she says. "And I'm a different person now. People react to the luggage you're burdened with, what you carry into the room with you. And I've learned to travel light."
She talks about women artists, about Sylvis Plath, Virginia Woolf, Sappho, Janis Joplin, Bessie Smith, and the thread of self-destruction that choked so many of them. "I thought of the one's who didn't survive, and of the ones who did, like the Brontes and Emily Dickinson, and it seemed like they brought on themselves off, entombling themselves. And that's what I did. I liked to be locked in."
Even now, she says, "I live very quietly, very privately," although there is a worry that that will change. The man she lives with, artist-actor Joby Baker, will soon be making his appearance in millions of American living rooms in a new television series called "Six O'Clock Follies," Her eyes darken briefly with concern for the changes that might means in their life and their relationship.
She herself is off to Dublin soon, where the Abbey Theater players plan to do a television show based on her work and to stage six concerts featuring her songs. While there she might look for if the winds from Hollywood threaten a storm of pulicity too intense for her taste.
She is writing a novel now, one that she describes only as "the world's longest lyric," and she is happy in her tricky combination of tough fragility. Dory Previn has gone the distance and she knows one thing and that is that "you might as well go on." Smiling, she rises to do just that.