This Is About a Karen

From, whatever the hell that is: “Karen is a pejorative slang term for an obnoxious, angry, entitled, and often racist middle-aged white woman who uses her privilege to get her way or police other people’s behaviors.  As featured in memes, Karen is generally stereotyped as having a blonde bob haircut, asking to speak to retail and restaurant managers to voice complaints or make demands, and being an anti-vaxx, Generation X soccer mom.  In 2020, Karen spread as a label used to call out white women who were captured in viral videos engaged in what are widely seen as racist rants.”

Such are the times we live in, that what was a popular girl’s name when I was growing up, a name of Danish origin derived from a Greek word meaning “pure,” has been transformed into a spit word by the media mindbenders.  Needless to say, this new race-baiting name game targets only Whites.  To my ear, the name Karen always had a nice ring, and while all of us have run into an insufferable White woman now and then, this fake “composite Karen” is just a wet dream of some politically correct scribbler.  Cute, too, how throws anti-vaxx into the mix.  If anything, a “Karen type” would be a pro-vaxx zealot.

It’s impossible for a sane man not to feel rage these days, not to fantasize about wiping so many evil people off the face of the earth.  But in this essay I’m going to chill out and dwell only on the beautiful, on the inspirational, tinged with a bit of nostalgia.  But first let me get this paragraph out of the way and explain what this is about.  One of the first readers of my book Will Vaccines Be the End of Us?, right after I self-published it in November 2021, was an independent trucker from upstate New York named Paul.  From the note he sent me, it was clear from the outset that Paul was outspoken, Jew-wise, and as down to earth as you’d expect, yet he also displayed a certain sensitivity — a man after my own heart.  Surprisingly, he never commented on my book, and we never corresponded on a personal level, but he did put me on his email list with about sixty others, and over the past two years has sent me hundreds of items.  Most are political, often punctuated with spicy language and Paul’s signature closing, “Death to the New World Odor,” but now and then I get something different from him.  A few months ago he sent me a video of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons recording their 1975 hit Who Loves You.  I enjoy watching these YouTube videos of musicians I knew from many years ago in the recording studio.  I’ve seen five or six, and I always assumed they were the real deal, films of the actual original recordings, but I recently learned that they’re lip-synched re-enactments, which doesn’t make them any less enjoyable.  The Four Seasons were highly popular in the sixties and seventies.  They weren’t really a favorite of mine, but I kind of liked them, and they did put out some good stuff now and then.

More recently Paul sent me a video of The Carpenters replicating their 1970 hit Close to You.  He added simply, “What a voice.”  The Carpenters were Karen, the lead singer, sometimes also on the drums, and Richard, her older brother and only sibling, who played keyboards and sang back-up.  They always recorded and performed with a small ensemble of instrumentalists and back-up vocalists.  The Carpenters made almost all their music in the 1970s and sold more than sixty million records.  If you were a boomer or older, you surely knew of them and were familiar with their music.  Some have categorized it as soft rock, but I think “easy listening” is a better term.  I never followed the Carpenters, never bought their albums, never knew much about them, but thinking back now, as I write this, whenever one of their songs played on the car radio it always put me in a good mood.  Other than that, only two memories stand out.  My cousin Angela chose We’ve Only Just Begun as the opening dance number at her wedding reception.  That must’ve been 1974, and I’m sure that song has been played at millions of wedding receptions since then.  And I recall feeling sad, in 1983, when I heard on the news that Karen Carpenter had died at the painfully young age of 32.  But every December I think of her again when I’m driving and the radio station plays nonstop Christmas songs.  One selection you’re guaranteed to hear is the Carpenters’ Home for the Holidays. Karen was an attractive woman, but it was her voice, so delicate and angelic, that made her exceptionally beautiful, and touched so many people, including rough guys like Paul.  What a voice indeed.

So when Paul sent me the studio taping of Close to You on February 4th, which happened to be the anniversary of Karen’s death, I watched it right away, and weirdo that I am in some ways, have clicked on it at least twenty times since, as well as other fine songs recorded by the Carpenters, some of which I remember clearly and others only dimly.  I also checked out some interviews Karen and Richard did in the 1970s and looked into their background a bit.  As I’ve written elsewhere, and as many would agree, Wikipedia is a convenient and reliable source for general information, but certainly not for controversial topics.  If there was one thing that the Carpenters were not, it was controversial.  Karen was never involved in any scandals; though from all appearances conservative in her values, she never wrapped herself in the flag or talked about her religious beliefs; and she never became a spokesman for any cause, though in private she did distance herself from feminism, confiding in friends that she longed for a happy marriage, children, and the traditional role of a housewife.  By all accounts, she was just a sweet, lovable person.  Karen was the girl next door — and come to think of it, I haven’t heard that pleasant expression in a very long time.  For a teenage boy, it used to mean a pretty and polite girl who lived nearby, the kind you’d want to ask out on a date and even dream about marrying some day.

Karen was born in Connecticut and spent her early childhood there, but grew up in Downey, a middle-class suburb of Los Angeles.  After she and Richard became wealthy, they could’ve moved to Beverly Hills or some other glitzy corner of California, but they never did.  Instead, the Carpenters bought their parents a nice ranch house in Downey which they sometimes called home themselves.  In the best sense of the word, both Karen and Richard were normal people in an industry that overflows with abnormality, and that was one thing that endeared them to their millions of fans.  But not to forget Karen’s voice.  The Wikipedia article tells us that John Lennon walked up to her in a Los Angeles restaurant and said, “I want to tell you, love, that you’ve got a fabulous voice.”  And Paul McCartney said that she had “the best female voice in the world: melodic, tuneful and distinctive.”  The best female voice in the world — that coming from Paul McCartney.  Wow.

There were other female vocalists of the 1970s whose songs I really like — most of them, anyway.  I’m thinking of Anne Murray, and also Olivia Newton-John, who was a close friend to Karen.  Yet I must say, as lovely as their voices were, to my ear they did not match the heavenly timbre of Karen’s.  Also, their lyrics were often serious or deeply passionate — not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course — whereas Karen’s were nearly always mellow and lilting, setting everyday joys and yearnings to music, though not in a cornball way like the singers who regularly performed on the Lawrence Welk show, widely viewed back then by mostly older Americans.  There was just something perfect about her.

Another reason for Karen’s appeal was that, aside from her extraordinary voice, she was only human and had the kind of personal problems that people everywhere could identify with.  As I learned from Wiki, she had a strained relationship with her mother who, God knows why, showered affection on Richard but was cold to her.  Much more disappointing, however, was that she never fulfilled her desire to be happily married and have children.  The man who became her husband had had a son by a previous marriage, and then a vasectomy, which he refused to reverse.  Furthermore, he apparently was a leech who tapped deeply into her wealth.  The marriage lasted only fourteen months and left her devastated, but worse, it exacerbated her one serious flaw, a flaw that proved fatal. 

Even though Karen Carpenter was of average weight for her height, she was obsessed with becoming thin, over the years consulting different doctors and going on a variety of diets, until it became a mental disorder.  The condition is called anorexia nervosa, and sadly she became its poster girl, the one who would end up bringing it into public discourse.  You wonder, or at least I do, how people can develop such an obsession, to the point of jeopardizing their health, their very lives, in the quest for a better body, even though they had a normal physique to begin with.  Anorexia is relatively rare, but every so often I see a woman walking around somewhere with legs like sticks and I can only feel sorry for her.  Anorexia compels women to eliminate food as quickly as possible through the heavy use of laxatives and emetics, which apparently was the case with Karen.  For years her ordeal was known only to those close to her, but as things got worse her fans became shocked by her skeletal appearance on stage, and there were times when she was too sick to perform.  I suppose the counterpart would be men who pump themselves full of steroids in order to develop huge muscles, though in recent years the dangers of this practice have become widely known. 

In the end, the ordinary circumstances of Karen’s death were something that her many admirers could also relate to, could connect with a tragic episode involving their own friends or family.  She suffered a fatal heart attack in the upstairs bedroom of her parents’ home in Downey, where she was living, on the very day that she was scheduled to finalize her divorce.  Anorexia starves the heart of vital nutrients, and there can be little doubt that that is what killed her.  

The music of Beethoven, Mozart, and the other great composers has lived on and will live on forever.  Now, with our advanced technology, that may well be true of many delightful popular songs which, in centuries past, left no trace — songs we don’t even know about.  What I do know for sure is that, as long as I’m alive and there’s an internet, whenever the spirit moves me, I’ll be clicking on a favorite old tune of mine, and that includes a Carpenters’ repertoire.  Have a listen if you will, to the clip that Paul sent meembedded below.  And especially for you younger readers, who missed out on what music used to be, here are some other really nice Carpenters’ songs you’re sure to enjoy: Top of the World, Yesterday Once More, Rainy Days and Mondays, We’ve Only Just Begun, Home for the Holidays, and Only Yesterday.

Thank you, Karen, for bringing such beauty into a world where, more than ever, beauty is hard to come by.  Rest in peace, angel.