This may seem self indulgent, and it is but to me Karen touched me the same way others were by Princess Diana or John Lennon or whomever, so I would like really like to pause to remember her. I don't expect anyone else to care or read (except my Carpenters cronies), let alone understand. I'm also not particularly good at being profound, especially after reading a few other articles recently which left me with the feeling of, damn wish I could have written that. But, I'll give it a go.
Why Karen, you ask? There are many singers before Karen and since who can belt rings around her and pile on the vocal acrobatics, certainly. But, I ask you, can they play the drums?
Or rock a pair of Raggedy Ann flares like this?
I don't think so.
Anyway, it all began at age 11. My parents bought a cassette called The Very Best Of The Carpenters and played it a lot in our newish sigma station wagon. I was immediately taken with Karen Carpenter's voice, some of the songs were hauntingly beautiful and melodic and had things like oboes meandering around at a time when most pop music was mainly a synthesiser and a drum machine. Of course I was destined to be extremely popular in high school among all the Duran Duran devotees. I didn't really get into them at the time. Naturally I hear them now and like it. I prefer to wait until an artist is 30 years behind the times or conveniently dead before I admire them. Always handy I think.
Somehow, when it came to the Carpenters I was able to see past the cheese factor and hear that sadness underneath the saccharine that is often mentioned. Many of the songs were introspective and echoed the way I was feeling at the time, which is possibly why they resonated so much with me. I was only a few months into a love affair with the duo, my old ABBA albums now forgotten,(I have clearly always been cutting edge in my taste in music) when the startling news came that Karen Carpenter had passed away from a heart attack at only age 32 caused by some bizarre affliction called anorexia nervosa. I had no idea what that meant.
Now, this is not a post about anorexia, an extremely complex subject which I am in no way whatsoever qualified to talk about. I do know this. It is a mental illness. A very serious mental illness, not just a silly diet gone wrong. That's about all I'll say on that subject. And that if you were going to present me with the old nugget about how if Mama Cass gave her the sandwich, they'd both be alive today, don't bother. I've already heard it approximately 987 millionty billionty times.
I continued my quest to collect every album, starting with Voice Of The Heart, pictured, right. Eventually I joined the official fan club after sending an embarrassing, gushing letter pouring out my heart and soul in telling how wonderful I thought both Karen and Richard were and how the sun shone out of their arses. In return I received the standard 'thankyou for your enquiry' type letter typed by the fan club secretary. I still have it somewhere. As well as my most cherished possession: my Carpenters key ring. However I have lost serious fan cred in the online community for actually using it as they are supposed to be framed and coveted from afar apparently. One day I was mugged when someone shoved me from behind and grabbed my purse. I was mortified. It had my Carpenters fan club membership card signed by Harold Carpenter (their father) in it! And a glossy wallet photo!! I was devastated. I'm sure the mugger was rather impressed when he found those, together with the measly ten dollars, if that, I had in there. The joke was on him.
My worship continued unabated, as I blasted cassettes of their music, night and day, in my bedroom, pausing only to replace them with Barbra Streisand ones.Yes, I have exquisite taste. Shut up.
Proving I was capable of sometimes being a typical 1980's teenager, however, I did also go Madonna crazy for a while, wearing crucafix earrings while listening, transfixed, to my Like A Virgin album. Incidentally it turns out that the Material Girl is, in fact, a Karen Carpenter fan herself, having been quoted as saying: "Karen Carpenter had the clearest, purest voice I'm the completely influenced by her harmonic sensibility."
Plus she totally stole the whole cone bra thing from Karen, who perfected it decades earlier doing a Grease spoof on stage, a few years before her good friend Olivia Newton John starred in the film.
|Cone Bra Karen|
Over the years countless other singers have also come out of the closet to admit their admiration, including Gwen Stefani, kd lang and Shania Twain, the latter even saying Karen was her biggest influence. (Weirdly, most Shania songs annoy me, but I'll take whatever praise of Karen I can find.) Meanwhile, kd lang describes Karen as having "a voice like chocolate, thick and rich and flawless" Ah. That explains a lot. Two of my favourite things in the world are Karen Carpenter's voice and chocolate.
After years of feeling like a freak for my affection, along came the internet and with it the realisation that there are millions of people out there, like me. Some are, disturbingly, EVEN MORE obsessive. Yes, it is possible. After years of hearing and loving 'the voice' I finally had glimpses of what she was really like as a person, through hearing and seeing vintage footage on Youtube. I had the impression she was a sweet, genuine person, with a very cute sense of humour. In contrast with many celebrities she wasn't diva like at all, she really seemed like the type of person who could be your sister, daughter or best friend. In fact she kind of was my best friend in high school (in a way). Obviously nobody else is going to be when you're a loud, proud Carpenters fan. Ahem. Listening to her music gave me a lot of comfort at time when I was very lonely.
Another thing I really have to say is I will never understand how or why somebody like Karen, who was for the most part, a total sweetheart, should have this horrible mental illness for 7 or 8 years and be gone, while complete wankers like Charlie Sheen or Ozzy Osbourne for example, trash themselves and are still alive. Not that I wish anybody dead, but seriously, that has to be more good luck than good management, right?
Although I'd read an authorised biography published in the early 90's called The Carpenters: The Untold Story, (a few thousand times, but who's counting) a biography just about Karen herself hadn't been written. This changed in 2010 with Randy Schmidt's Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter. As a People magazine review noted: Schmidt succeeds in bringing a gifted, troubled musician to vivid life. I devoured the book (of course) and fell in love with Karen even more and cried at the end, even though, of course, I knew what was going to happen. I wish Karen's story had a different ending. But it didn't. She is gone, but her legacy isn't and I will always remember her today and always.
And for those of you who still don't get it and never will, here's what Karen and I say:
Linking with Kirsty from My Home Truths for I Must Confess.