One of my joys in life is listening to “Oldies” on the radio – preferably the car radio. I’m a simple guy. Much to my delight, a new “Oldies” station showed up in Portland about a year ago, with an amazing playlist: songs that carry the banner of Oldies; songs that would be considered “B” sides; and songs that are clearly album cuts, many unfamiliar to my highly trained Oldie ears.
I say this as back story. The other day, late last week, the song “Goodbye to Love” by The Carpenters flowed out through my wife’s car speakers while driving home from Trader Joe’s. It got me thinking about The Carpenters, Karen and Richard, and the basket-full of hit, Top 40, mainstream, gushy, pop songs they gave radio and turntable listeners back in the late 60s and right through the late 70s, a few years before Karen’s death.
I never would have described myself as a Carpenter’s fan, back then, waaaay too straight. But, there was something about some of their songs, and Karen’s voice. Something special about her voice. And something, all along, about her as well. A yearning after something else. Maybe that’s not the best way to say it, but that’s the way it felt.
I wasn’t enough of a fan, even secretly, to follow them, so I did not learn about Karen’s eating disorder until after her death in 1983 — the year I got sober at age 34 — when she was just 32. Reports and subsequent features make clear that most people had never heard of anorexia at that time, which, it turns out is what caused her death, by heart failure. I learned about anorexia first hand in 1985, when I went to work at a residential treatment center in Watertown, Massachusetts, and was assigned as a counsel-ee a 13 year-old girl with a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa. I bought a book back then, still have it, titled “The Golden Cage”, a book considered one of the seminal studies on the subject. Anorexia is described in the book as “the relentless pursuit of excessive thinness.”
This isn’t a post about anorexia.You can Google it if you want to know more. It’s about the Carpenters and some of their songs, and Karen’s voice. I discovered a wonderful BBC documentary about The Carpenters on Youtube a while back. It’s a five-part series, with Dionne Warwick and Herb Alpert, Richard Carpenter, Petula Clark and Tony Peluso, many more. You can see it here, and it’s worth the investment of some 60 minutes: www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOCk-D2fOpg
And the songs. Hard to not include this one from 1970 : www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFx-5PGLgb4 Or this one from the same year: www.youtube.com/watch?v=__VQX2Xn7tI Or this one, released 1973: www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTaWayUE5XA Then there was this release from ’72, with a ripping, soaring fuzz guitar solo courtesy the aforementioned Tony Peluso: www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdG-ITxL8ok
Turns out The Carpenters sold more records than Elvis. Turns out The Carpenters had more consecutive number one hits than The Beatles. Who knew. Doesn’t make them better or as good as, it’s just interesting.
My favorite Christmas song has always been “Let There Be Peace On Earth and Let It Begin With Me”. This song, released in 1970, holds the number 2 spot. Always will: www.youtube.com/watch?v=YR1ujXx2p-I
In “Goodbye To Love”, the one up there above with the bitchin’ guitar, there’s a line, “All I know of love is how to live without it.” Here’s a Wikipedia blurb on the creation of the song. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goodbye_to_Love Even though Karen was not involved in the writing, words and music, the line fits. That yearning thing right there. For me, at least.
Last week my Blog Post discussed Patti Smith. Next week I’m thinking about a little ditty on the musical merits of Black Flag, The Butthole Surfers, The Dead Kennedys, and X. This week, hearing a song on the car radio, I felt like writing about The Carpenters, and Karen. Too sweet?