What I Miss Series #1: Karen Carpenter

My Carpenter album collection is something I am not sure I’ll ever part with. Right now, it is at our cabin where we have a Crosby LP Album player, along with some other 1970’s pop music albums.  It’s not a collection that I’ve added to over the years, or even played each year over the last fifty years. It is just some cherished music from a young girl – a flower child who didn’t even know that’s who she was – kept for sentimental reasons.  The albums were most likely birthday gifts or Christmas presents. I probably saved some money to buy one or two of them when they were fresh releases.

Karen Carpenter is probably my most favorite singer of all time. I was extremely sad when she died – and, although I understood what she died from – the eating disorders of anorexia and bulimia, she was only 32 years old in 1983 when she passed away.  I do not think I was completely aware of the depth of her mental disease, now thought to be brought on by her mother who was cold, uncaring, and demanded perfection.  It seems that even dating and her marriage was thwarted by her mother’s need to control Karen’s life. As you are probably aware, Karen worked with her brother, Richard, who was the songwriter and musician in the family.  However, Karen was also very talented on drums. Their sound became easily recognizable and beloved by both those in the music industry and their fans. They had many hit singles, gold and platinum albums, and won Grammy awards prior to her death.  In anyone’s eyes, their music would be considered a success. But, as the years went on Karen became more and more unhealthy, even appearing gaunt and cachectic.  It is evident now that Karen fought for many years with anorexia and bulimia. I wish her story had a different ending, for it was evident then that something was very wrong.

Even after her untimely death, the family controlled the details of their life as much as possible, so as to protect and project the “right” wholesome image that they had cultivated at the direction of the family’s matriarch.

So, it was really not until recently, when I listened to some of the music I cherished in my youth that I forced myself to read more of the gruesome accounts of Karen Carpenter’s talented but tainted life. Not much was known about eating disorders in the late 70s and early 80s. And, certainly, she never received the treatment that might have been successful in resolving this horrible condition. Eating properly, at some point in the history of eating disorder disease, was thought to be the cure. However, what Karen craved most was not food but her mother’s love. It is clear that she never felt she received it and that is what led to the devasting loss of this talented singer. At least we can continue to enjoy her deep, lovely, pitch-perfect voice for the rest of time. Sir Paul McCartney was quoted to say that Karen “has the best female voice in the world, melodic, tuneful, and distinctive.”

If asked, I cannot pick a favorite Carpenter song. I love so many of them. “Close to You” is iconic. Then, there is “Ticket to Ride” that I must have played a thousand times when I had crush on a boy.  I’ve always liked “There’s a Kind of Hush”, “Please Mr. Postman,” and “Top of the World,” too. “We’ve Only Just Begun” was played at our wedding. For the most part, I love to sing along with these albums. My voice is low, like Carpenter’s, and I do think that is another reason I identified with her.  I also believe that listening to the duo’s music stimulated my own interest in music, particularly music with harmonies, and great instrumentals.  I also love that the words tell a story or a wish and one can understand the words as well as the subjects that are sung about. It was also kind of “cool” that their albums usually had an extra flap or two that made them kind of special (or, at least I thought so).

The albums (78 LPs) I own are the following and are original to their time (brand new when purchased  1969-1975).

Carpenters “Horizon” (1975)

Carpenters “A Song for You” (1972)

Carpenters “Ticket to Ride” (1969)

Carpenters “Now and Then” (1973)

IMG_9491

Carpenters “Carpenters” (1971)

 

I also own two Carpenters CDs that were purchased after Karen’s death. The Carpenters “Christmas Portrait” CD (1978 – LP release) is a favorite of mine. I have owned it for over twenty years and can listen to it over and over at holiday time. It is my favorite holiday album. My husband also bought me the Carpenters “Love Songs” CD (March 1998) a few years ago, as a Valentine’s Day present. It is a little melancholy for me as I now know more about her life. One thing I wish she knew is that she was and IS loved.

Karen Carpenter would have been 70 on March 2, 2020.  I miss her and her music.

 

 

Sources:

The Guardian, October 2010, by Randy Schmidt. Karen Carpenter’s Tragic Story.

The Real Reason Karen Carpenter was Driven to Anorexia.   Irish Independent 2010.

Why Karen Carpenter’s Death Still Haunts Us. Groovy History 2019.

Remembering Karen Carpenter, Thirty Years Later,  2/4/2013, NPR.

 

This post is part of a new series, “What I Miss” that will make a monthly appearance on my blog.

 

 

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