Thursday, 5 February 2009

Remembering Karen Carpenter - a voice of "chilling perfection" *

I'm sad to say I missed it - and perhaps you did too - the anniversary this week of the death of Karen Carpenter, who died on February 4 back in 1983

She was one half of the brother-and-sister pop duo The Carpenters, who had a string of hits in the 1970s from the remake of the Beatles' "Ticket to ride" through "Sing", "Jambalaya" "Please Mr Postman" and many, many more.

From the outset I'll own up - this is rather a personal post as it takes me back to my dim and distant youth. But what the heck. I'm not proud.

Carpenter was just 32 when she died. She had suffered for several years from anorexia and her death was from heart failure later attributed to complications she had suffered as a consequence of her illness.

Maybe Carpenter didn't have the impact of a Janis Joplin or the King in terms of name recognition and her place in the music's Hall of Fame, but she played a very special part in my teenage years.

"Guilty as charged" and not ashamed, I was a huge fan of the Carpenters in my youth.

Yes I've given away my age and admitted to what some out there might consider rather dubious musical tastes.

While the rest of the boys at my school were strumming their air guitars along to Pink Floyd, waving goodbye to Glam Rock or later pogoing as the decade welcomed Punk and the Sex Pistols, I bucked the trend and listened to what my mother would have called (and in fact did so at the time) "proper" singing.

A mellow voice and a diction that was pure pleasure to the ears. Karen's voice not mine I hasten to add.

And those ears were ones which it has to be said were jammed between the two speakers in the days when 45s were in fashion and C and D were simply two letters next to each other in the alphabet and tapes - cassettes that is - were only just making their mark.

What I was listening to as the turntable spun, might well have been dismissed as somewhat cheesy and certainly all-American apple pie stuff at the time (and probably even now) - but at the very least it was definitely something I could wrap my tonsils around as I caterwauled along in unison.

And that's exactly what I did as Karen launched into to "Close to you" accompanied by her brother Richard and then continued with "Goodbye to Love," "Only Yesterday" or "Yesterday Once More."

How sad and how telling perhaps that more than three decades later I can still remember all the lyrics (if not necessarily the melodies) as I hold forth with my party piece, much to the "delight" of friends and family.

Apart from the music - which I think I've probably waffled on about for long enough now - the most important thing about Karen's life, and in particular her death, was the awareness it brought to the problems of those suffering with eating disorders.

Her death focussed media attention on an illness that had received little exposure beforehand.

Anyway, I hunted around YouTube and came up with the accompanying video, which will allow those of you out there who are interested and up for a great voice to take a listen.

YouTube Video

Thanks for taking time out to read this post and allowing me the indulgence of writing it. And of course to Karen wherever you are, thanks for that voice.

Sorry for forgetting.

* "Hers is a voice of fascinating contrasts, combining youth with wisdom; chilling perfection with much warmth."
A quote attributed to Rolling Stone Magazine

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