Monday, 4 February 2013

30 Years: A Fan Remembers

I have never kept my love of the Carpenters a secret. Never been a closet fan. Everyone who knows me will know of my frankly rather disturbing obsession. And they won't get it. So this post isn't for you. Instead of banging on about bogans I am attempting to quietly honour Karen, today, the 30th anniversary of her passing.

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.

Reactions:

60 comments:

  1. Absolutely lovely tribute. I'm so glad to have found another person who loves and respects Karen as much as I do. Thank you for writing this - It made me laugh and cry all at the same time.

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    1. Thanks so much Music Addict, it's been great getting to know you online too, and finding another Karen kindred spirit. x

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  2. very entertaining

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  3. loved this. She was such an amazing talent. Thanks for stopping by the other day I actually had meant to schedule the nkotb post for the following week!!
    ps the mamma cass sandwich joke cracks me up i am so immature!!

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    1. Thanks Ann!No prob. Yes, she was amazing. Ah the old Mama Cass joke..I wish I had dollar for everytime I've heard it, I certainly wouldn't be living in Boganville lol

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  4. I am not anywhere near the fan you are, but I did love Karen Carpenter's work. I didn't really discover The Carpenters until I was in my 20's however, and I could hear that sadness in her voice oh too well. I am often oblivious to most aspects of popular culture, it has been a feature of my life and I have never heard of Mama Cass or the sandwich, sorry!

    I used to sing her "Close to you" to my son when he was a baby and I remember watching one of those made for TV movies about the story of The Carpenters and just being broken hearted for her.

    Beautifully written :) xo

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    1. Mama Cass is Cass Elliot, one of the Mamas and The Papas (you may have heard of the song California Dreaming?),anyway she died in the 70's, rumoured to have choked on a sandwich (a myth actually, I believe she really had a heart attack)so that led to the joke...funny, I guess, but at the same time they were both talented ladies, so I'd rather focus on that.

      Close To You is such a sweet song, it is like a lullaby.

      Thanks for reading and the kind words.x

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    2. Yes, what a beautiful song (California Dreaming). Total bullshit though, when I lived there I just wanted to be back in Scotland it was too frickin hot :D

      What a sick joke. But then most are sick and I usually laugh at sick, but taken in this context it just seems sad :( Thanks for the explanation, sweets. xo

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    3. LOL never been to California myself, would love to go and pay my respects to Karen. Maybe oneday.

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  5. She had an amazing voice and her passing was so sad. I remember it was the first time I had heard about Anorexia as well. That last photo is a classic. A lovely tribute Ness!

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    1. Thanks Kirsty! I love that photo too lol

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  6. A very nice and honest tribute, well done!

    Also good to know that some fans actually use the items they collect rather than just store them away. Shame the keyring etc got stolen though :(

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    1. Thankyou!

      I still have my key ring acually, my fan club membership card and wallet photo were stolen. Yeah, I kind of like using it. Thanks for reading.

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  7. I enjoyed reading your tribute. I only very recently became interested in Karen. I had always liked Carpenters music and enjoyed Karen's voice and Richard's arrangements but only knew the singles (from hearing them so much on the radio over the years) and none of the album cuts. Then sometime around the beginning of this past November I came upon a Carpenters video that popped up while I was searching for something else. I decided to click on it and in the second or two it was loading I remember thinking to myself, "I wonder what Karen looks like?" I had really only ever seen her perform in the very earliest days when she drummed and sang on the Ed Sullivan and other variety shows. And, I wondered, "what kind of performer is she? Is she shy? Boring? Sickly-looking?" I truly had no idea.

    Well, within 30 seconds of the video starting up I was absolutely entranced by Karen's performance. By the time the song was over I was under her spell. Karen connected with me in a much, much more powerful way than any other performer I had ever seen.

    I did know a fair amount about Karen and Richard. I had read Coleman's 1994 bio sometime in the 90's, not because I was a Carpenters fan but because I was puzzled by Karen's downfall and wanted some insight into the 'why' of it. But that was really the last time I seriously thought about them until ckicking onto that video. So it was Karen's performing skill that drew me in. I can't claim to have recognized the sublime qualities in her voice, although as I said, I always liked her singing, and I do appreciate it more and more now every day. By the way, I don't remember which video it was that absolutely blew me away that first day, but it doesn't much matter. Whichever video I would have clicked on would have had the same effect, since perfection was always the norm for her in her performances.

    Like you, I read Schmidt's and Coleman's books over and over. And I thought it was interesting what you said about something we often take for granted, the fact that we have access to so many resources through Youtube that only a few short years ago did not exist or were not readily accessible. Having that access is the only reason I have been able to enjoy Karen Carpenter. And also like you, I am an appreciator of Richard as well.

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    1. Yes thank goodness for Youtube. I love seeing all things Karen. Thanks for reading.

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  8. in the past year have become awed by karen carpenter's voice and vocal range(3-3 1/2 octaves)? songs like silent night and solitaire just floor me.just an amazing singer. but still a closet admirer:)

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    1. Solitaire is one of her best performances. I love it. I hope you 'come out' one day. It's no so painful lol.

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  9. Execellent tribute Ness!

    At age 65, I too have been sucked into the whirlpool of infatuation towards the Karen Carpenter craze. I don't know why I hold her life and music so endearing, but I find myself playing Carpenters songs almost every day now. In 1970 I heard Close to you on the radio for the first time and bought the album that day. I loved the unique layered sound and the perfection of delivery. However, decades have passed and in 1983 I was sad to hear the news of Karen's passing but it didn't affect me as much as it does lately.

    I get sad and smile when I hear Karen’s voice on many great albums. Maybe it's because I am retired and have lot of time now to reflect on the past. And, as previously mentioned, Randy's "Little Girl Blue" book have rekindled the memory of the 70s for me and many others when Karen was on top of the world.

    This may sound corny, but the You Tube videos of Karen really make me cry just like the lyrics convey in Only Yesterday. My only regret is that when I had the opportunity to go to one of the many KC concerts in the 70s I didn't go. Nevertheless, Karen lives in my heart then, now and forever.

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    1. She will definitely always live on in our hearts, now and forever. Thanks for reading.

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  10. Not too long ago I heard the Carpenters' studio version of "Merry Christmas Darling" on the radio. I'm an audiophile and love all kinds of music. Karen's singing on that song made me stand up and really take notice.

    My hearing focused right on the lush arrangement and that extraordinarily delicious voice. After many years of knowing and recognizing the Carpenters songs, but never owning their music, I'm now seeking all of it in the best possible recordings.

    I'm a new, big Carpenters fan. I have no shame about it. I proclaim it to everyone I know. In a world that can often be ugly, I have no shame in embracing incredible beauty.

    Thank you for your story and your heart felt writing. You embrace the beauty too. Though I know it may seem sad to not have her with us, let us continue to wish Karen well in her life beyond ours. Heaven must be an even lovelier place with Karen in it.

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    1. Thankyou for reading and the kind words. It's lovely to know there are so many like minded people out there who love Karen and are keeping her legacy alive.

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    2. Since I was interested in where Boganville is, I read your intro. It is well written and quite humorous.

      Tell your hubby, who likes AC/DC, that you heard from a guy in California who really loves the Carpenters, and he also digs Pink Floyd, The Doors, and Metallica too. I even like opera.

      My wife is some times puzzled by this variety of my interest in music. Great music is where you find it, and it would be a serious mistake to dismiss The Carpenters. Real men like the Carpenters :-).

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    3. Thanks for reading and glad you liked the intro.

      I love people having diverse and eclectic taste in music. That's awesome. I will, indeed, mention it to my husband.

      'Real men like the Carpenters'. Love it.

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    4. "Real Men Like The Carpenters", my wife says it would be great on a T-Shirt.

      My name is Ben by the way, not so Anonymous really. I live about 80 miles east of San Francisco.

      Nice talking to you Ness; it's always nice talking to our friends "down under".

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    5. Hi Ben, *waves*

      It really would be great on a T-shirt. Come and pop over to karencarpenter.com and check out the forums there, if you haven't already. There is nice little community of fans. Been a bit quiet lately and could use some newbies.

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    6. Hi back Ness,

      I've been to the karencarpenter.com site. It's what led me here. I'll have to check it out some more. I'm into a lot of things, so I might not be a regular, but you never know.

      I'm just curious. Are Australians as a whole big fans of the Carepenters? I noticed the lady who started the website is Australian too or is that you too?

      Wonder if Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe are big fans of the Carpenters too :-).

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    7. Ha ha, I could just picture Rusty sitting back with a beer while listening to the Close To You album lol (not really) it might help him with his anger management though so could be a good option for him.

      I'd say generally, no, Australians are not big Carpenters fans, though there could be more 'closet' fans than I'd thought. ABBA have a huge following here, though, both in the 70's and now.

      Oh, I'm glad you found me through KCF. No, it's not me who started it though the lady who runs it has become a good online friend of mine. Hopefully I'll see you around there or here. :)

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    8. Hi again Ness,

      I tried registering at the KCF as you suggested. My screen name is Audiophile Guy. It seemed like a fun idea. I'm having problems with it. I can't see the forum topics when I'm signed in. I didn't receive the e-mail with additional instructions after I registered. I tried a buch of things, but without success. Anyway, it's a weird thing. I sent e-mail to them for assistance, but haven't heard back. Maybe I'll get this working some day, so I can talk to other nice Carpenters fans like you.

      Ben

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    9. Hello Ben,

      KCF is only a one person operation, so they may not have seen your email/request as yet. If it's still not working in a few days let me know and I can contact the admin person.

      It will be great to have you on board!

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    10. Ok, I understand. Hopefully it'll be working soon. As you can tell, I'm pretty conversational when I get going.

      You might find this interesting. I discovered a C's song that I had never heard before on their Horizon album. It's called "I Can Dream Can't I". When I listened to it on my turn table, it floored me. I never cease to be amazed at the quality of Karen's voice.

      I also found a nice montage of Carpenters images and the song at YouTube. Here's the link if you'd like to see it:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFIlJC45qVs

      It's very much worth the view if you haven't seen it already. Karen could have recorded an album of standards and it would have won a Grammy without any doubt.

      Ben

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    11. Thanks for the link, Ben. Yes, absolutely love I Can Dream, Can't I? Agree, an album of standards by Karen would have been heaven.

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    12. Don't know if you've seen this one, Ness. I stumbled upon it last night on YouTube. It's a concert film that the Carpenters did in Australia during 1972.

      My ten year old son and I sat in front of the computer and watched and enjoyed it together. Richard makes some interesting comments about how they get their live sound. There's some humor. Best of all, there are some stellar performances by Karen. She says some sweet things about the Australian fans; it'll make you proud to be Australian. It runs about 47 minutes, so you may want to get comfortable.

      It must have been a real treat to see this show live. I believe the show was in Sydney. This would be a nice show to have on DVD, if it's available.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6oc2TtmZXA

      Ben

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    13. Hello Ness,

      I didn't have any luck registering at KCF. My first attempt disappeared. I tried again and it said everything was ok, and I'd receive the e-mail with more instructions.

      The e-mail never arrived. I checked to see if my e-mail address is right, and it is. Nobody responded to my direct e-mail.

      If others are experiencing the same problem, then I can see why the KCF is quiet. There's nobody new like me to get things going. Anyway, I'm AudiophileGuy, and if you can help get this registration process fixed, I'm sure a lot of fans would appreciate it.

      Thanks,

      Ben

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    14. Hi Ben,

      Sorry you're having trouble registering. I've contacted the admin person who says they haven't received any requests at all. After checking thoroughly there is no account sign ups for that name. You can try emailing to:

      karen-carpenter@hotmail.com in case the admin one isn't working. I hope that works.

      Also thanks for the link to the Australia concert. It's one of my favs. You have no idea how upset I am that I was only one year old then lol

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    15. Hi Ness,

      Tried registering for yet a third time as AudiophileGuy. If you look in the members list, you'll see me as "validating". I'm not getting any e-mail. My e-mail address receives e-mail from other folks.

      Tried sending my "sob story" to the karen-carpenter@hotmail.com address, but I haven't heard anything yet. I'm not receiving delivery failure messages. Anyway, hope it starts working soon.

      It was nice to hear in the Australia concert that Karen felt so loved during that show and visit.

      Ben

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  11. gotta admit the more of the carpenters stuff i listen to on the internet the more i respect their musicianship and of course karen's vocals.and not sure why they sometimes get disrespected..the 1970's had a lot of soft rock groups- (seals and crofts, bread,england dan and john ford coley)and wonder if those musicians got the same disrespect. and imo the carpenters tunes were better than the above mentioned groups.don't understand the whole dispect thing the carpenters received

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    1. Though Karen & Richard had their personal problems, they weren't really into the counter-culture scene. They were rooted in jazz and started out as a jazz trio. All good things come from jazz and the blues.

      People viewed the Carpenters as square and more establishment, so they got criticized for it. Their music was and is as clean as they were. It's great stuff, particularly Karen. She was wonderful and a true professional. She gave the best she had to give and we love her and remember her for it. Ness' tribute on the subject is lovely.

      Who even remembers these critics, and they don't even come close to producing Karen & Richard's extraordinary music. I doubt if these critics could even play the kazoo, so what do they know.

      Ben

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    2. Hi Ness,

      Just wanted to thank you for your help with KCF. They got me set-up. I will do an intro soon. They said that they haven't received any other complaints on registration, but they didn't even see my e-mail through the normal channels. Some people may just be giving up; I hope that's not the case. Anyway, I'll see you at the KCF Website.

      :-)
      Ben

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    3. Sorry it took so long, Ben, but glad you're all set now. Not sure what the problem was, but the main thing is it's sorted now. See you around the forums.:)

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    4. I'm already there. I just posted my intro in the New Member section. It's called "I've Only Just Begun". Clever, huh :-)?

      Ben

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  12. Hi Ness,

    I just tried logging on KCF. I got a message that said the account is suspended. Are you getting the same message when you log on there? I've sent an e-mail to find out what the problem is with the log on. Was enjoying KCF, so I'm wondering what happened and would like to get back to it. I'm starting to wonder if my ISP is somehow blocking or interfering with the site. I'll see what their response is.

    Ben

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    1. Back at you again Ness,

      Just heard from KCF that they have a big problem with their website. They told me that it looks like it got hacked. They're checking it out now. Hopefully, it'll be working again soon.

      Ben

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    2. Hi Ben,

      Yes, I've heard. I hope it will be fixed very soon, but as KCF is only a one person operation, I guess we'll just have to bear with it and be patient. In the meantime, I guess there are FB groups and Youtube videos to watch! :)

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    3. Hurray! KCF is back up. Don't really know why someone would want to hack the site. Hopefully everything is resolved. It seems to be working well now.

      Ben

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  13. Beautiful tribute.....
    I love the carpenters and have many of their "records" I am also a Madonna and shania fan :) I think we would get on famously and that my dear has me "On top of the world " lol

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  14. Hi Again Ness,

    What's the story with KCF? I've been locked out of it again. I've had all sorts of technical problems with the site and others at the site say they're experiencing the same problem.

    Are you able to access the site or is this just me? I've tried sending a few e-mail, but haven't heard anything.

    Maybe people are just giving up on the site. I'm getting close, but my interest in the Carpenters keeps me trying to get through.

    Anyway, hope all is well in Sydney.

    Ben :-)

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  17. That is a lovely tribute to Karen and I loved all your cross references (Durran Durran, Abba, etc!)

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    1. Yes, I'm so musically hip. NOT. Thanks for reading. xo

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  18. Nice tribute - I also like the idea of trying to explain why people are important, or important to us.

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    1. Yes, I felt the need to, even though I know some people still won't get it, that's okay. Thanks, Lydia. xo

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  19. A lovely tribute, I confess to only knowing a few of the Carpenters songs, but whenever I hear one I 'feel' it, if you know what I mean. Karens voice has such a pure quality I don't think I've heard anyone who can rival it. Such a sad loss.
    xx

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    1. Yes, I think she could sing the phone book and I'd still listen. Thanks, Lisa. xo

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  20. I love your love for Karen - it is such an integral part of you Ness!

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    1. Yep, I'm the great big tragic nerd! But I'm okay with that. xo

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  21. I am a massive music snob and I LOVE the Carpenters. I may or may not have done a little hop of excitement when I realised that they were the topic of this post. And I recognised the lyrics you quoted on one of the posts of yours I read recently... That song was stuck in my head all day.

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    1. I'm doing a that same hop of excitement when somebody else admits they love the Carpenters! I don't remember which song it was but I'm glad you enjoyed it. Others wouldn't be happy that I'd given them that ear worm! Thanks, dude. xo

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