top of page


The Holy Man on the Malibu Bus #3

Julia Greenberg

It was the summer of 2005. My husband and my beloved friends, David Driver, and Jason Tougaw were driving around the beach towns of Rhode Island, listening to the horror of Hurricane Katrina unfolding on the radio. Dave slid a CD into the player—a mix made by his musical partner Gretchen Phillips. We were half paying attention to a folk-rock number, when we fell silent to tune into the lyrics:

When I was two years old in my mother’s arms

On the Malibu Bus Number 3

A holy man put his hand on my head

And said I see, I see, I see

What on earth? We looked at each other with some bemusement, and then we listened on.

This dear child she’s got two different eyes

One is dark and one is light

One looks out at the morning

One looks in at the night

Some see smiles some see tears

Some see sun some sees rain

But the child who sees both at once is the child

Who is destined for pain…

An aspiring singer-songwriter, I immediately thought to myself, okay, well, I’m done. This must be one of those younger anti-folk types, maybe Regina Spektor, whose music I suspected I would fall deeply in love with, if I ever got over my jealousy and actually listened to it. It has everything I crave in a song, a beautiful, clean folk-rock production (later I would realize it was a Nik Venet production backed by the Wrecking Crew), and mysterious, intelligent, and hilarious, sardonic lyrics.

I was just two at the time

But I remember him well

When I am lost and lonely

I look for him in religious books

To find his face again

To find his face again

Perhaps I will sometime

He was hungry and asked for a quarter

He was so hungry he asked for a quarter

My mother gave him a dime

Suddenly our phones were out, and it would be the first of many times I was able to easily Google a Dory Previn song by punching in the lyrics—there are none like them. The result: a song by Dory Previn, from the album, Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign, released in 1972. Previn? Like Andre Previn? His sister, perhaps? Wasn’t he married to Mia Farrow and many other people, we asked one another? And what’s the Soon Yi connection? How does this all fit together? Another search revealed that this same person wrote the lyrics to our favorite Theme from Valley of the Dolls, and songs for Tony Bennett and Doris Day. That might explain why the song veered from the slick 70s rock mid-tempo feel on the verses into a distinctly tin pan alley vibe on the bridge.

And that’s when I felt it. That nervous anticipation that I have only experienced a few times on the precipice of a life-changing creative impulse. If you want to know more about that feeling, no one has ever described it better than Nadezhda Mandelstam in her essay Mozart and Salieri (yeah, I just said that).

I ride the malibu bus almost every day

But no one’s seen or heard of him

No one’s seen or heard of him

My mother died last May

He had the nicest smile

Just like a silver star

It lit up malibu bus number three

But I don’t have two different eyes

As far as I can see

‘The right one looks with the body

The left one sees with the soul’

That was the very last thing I heard him say

Before he took his transfer, and was on his way

He crossed the road to number four

But number four, didn’t run anymore

Nineteen years ago, that car traveling the beach roads of Rhode Island morphed into the Malibu Bus, and I’ve been riding it ever since through the shadow lands and bright beauty of the music and mind of Dory Previn. The latest stop was at SXSW Film & TV Festival, where my documentary, Dory Previn: On My Way to Where, had its world premiere. Who knows where she’ll take me next? Stay tuned to this blog from the documentary team to find out!

By the way, I eventually did listen to Regina Spektor. It took me a decade or so, but I did fall in love, and consider her to be one of the many spiritual heirs to Dory. More on that in our future posts.

Asset 9.png
bottom of page