Monday, August 26, 2013


              Like others among the dwindling portion of Americans who are offended by the offensive, I have long since learned to avoid watching much TV at all, let alone the abominable and redundant carnivals of vanity and vulgarity that are laughably portrayed as entertainment awards shows. 

                Merely refusing to watch these insufferable programs, however, does not shield one from exposure to news and publicity reporting their poisonous content, featured on nearly every variety of news outlet, including the websites which are my primary source of daily news.

                That was the case this Monday morning, when virtually every news source I visited included reports and pictures of what, for want of a better euphemism, can only be described as the obscene on-stage contortions of two of the most renowned female performers of the era:  the entity widely known as Lady Gaga (it is absurd to grant her the vaingloriously self-assumed honorific without a qualifier) and former adolescent TV star Miley Cyrus.  Their squalid escapades were the headline acts of the annual cultural atrocity known as the Video Music Awards, or VMA.

                Although I have abstained from viewing the widely available videos of these "performances," the reports describing them are quite sufficient to confirm that Ms. Cyrus in particular ventured across new frontiers of obscenity and offensiveness.  Not to be outdone by the outlandish Gaga's predictably pornographic shock-tactics, Cyrus descended to depths of explicit sexual depravity and exhibitionism that left even a few prominent media liberals (like MSNBC's Mika Brezinski) gasping in revulsion. 

                                    Karen Carpenter:  Antidote to the Vulgar VMA Culture

                But most mainstream outlets found it merely amusing, or even cute, that Cyrus had repeatedly engaged in a particularly lurid and explicit form of sexual simulation referred to as "twerking."  My deliberately limited experience of contemporary youth culture has spared me knowledge of exactly what that awkward and ugly term means, nor do I wish to know.  But one particularly feckless and smirking CNN TV commentator gleefully explained that this nasty maneuver was now all the rage with the younger generation; and then, with the utter illogic and incoherence that is the earmark of liberal media commentators, reassured us that, in that case, Ms. Cyrus' obscene simulations were okay after all.  In other words, "the kids are alright" -- no matter how obscene their behavior.  Chuckle, chuckle, wink, wink. 

              Other media sources reflexively mocked social conservatives for their allegedly puritanical intolerance in objecting to a young woman being "able to perform as she chooses."  Their "defense" of the VMA show's extreme forms of pornographic exhibitionism, promoted to appeal to both teens and pre-teens, is simply the circular and conclusory argument – what lawyers call "ipse dixit" -- that there is nothing wrong with the unfettered broadcast of extreme obscenity because millions approve of it,; and that conservatives are therefore unenlightened puritans to object.  Take that.

                Cyrus, many will recall, originally came to fame starring as "Hannah Montana" in the brainless, but relatively innocuous, Disney TV series targeted largely at teenage and sub-teenage girls.  She no doubt retains a large following among these very young girls.  And many of their parents were undoubtedly idiotic enough to allow them to watch the VMA's grotesque carnival sideshow of creepy and lurid sexual simulation.

                So this is  the depth to which we have descended:  millions of American families gathering around their television sets to watch Hannah Montana engage in simulated sexual contortions with her smirking and strutting backup dancers and with prancing teddy bears.  It's a long way from "Good-night, Jim-Bob," to put it far too mildly.

                Lurid and depressing stories like this tend to reinforce a growing conviction that our culture is poisoned and polluted beyond the cleansing capacities of disinfectant and decontamination chambers -- leading SR to throw up his hands and pose the rhetorical question, "Where is Karen Carpenter when we need her?"

                But then one stops and realizes that Ms. Carpenter, and other refreshing oases of cleansing and uplifting beauty like Astrud Gilberto and Dionne Warwick, are merely a Youtube click away.

                After wandering into the depravities of VMA, Gaga, and the degenerate remains of Hannah Montana, what one needs is a cleansing, musical Karen-bath to restore one's faith in the prospect that there is genuine innocent beauty still lingering somewhere out there.

                A good place to begin is by enjoying the Carpenters' charming performance of their hit recording "Sing" at their sold-out concert before an enthralled Japanese audience at Tokyo's Budokan in 1974.  Karen Carpenter's gentle and protective inter-action with the choir of very young Japanese schoolgirls who were invited to sing back-up, including her rendition of several of the song's lines in fluent Japanese, nicely illustrates the class, decency, and sweetness of this remarkable vocalist and pioneering lady drummer (Ms. Carpenter appears a bit disheveled in the video because, only minutes before, she had just concluded an all-out, "head-banging" drum-riff as part of the group's rendition of "Johnny-be-Good"; she is not called the Drummer Girl for nothing.). 

                For another refreshing escape from the sordid and lurid anti-music of the VMA exhibitionists, it would be difficult to improve on Karen's moving live rendition of the Carpenters' classically beautiful Gold Record, "For All We Know" – which rescued that song from the obscurity of a forgettable scene in the movie "Lovers and Other Strangers" to the celebrity of an Academy Award for best song, and became a wedding song classic for the ages.  The video of Karen's performance of the song at the "Live at the BBC" concert in London in 1971 faithfully records not only the unmatched depth and beauty of her flawless contralto, but the ladylike grace and modesty of this remarkable and lovely superstar.  At a time when she was the most successful female pop vocalist in the world, Karen never resorted to any form of self-indulgent exhibitionism or vanity, but simply let her magnificent voice, surrounded by her brother's exquisite arrangements and a superb group of backup musicians, do artistic justice to great music.

                A final illustration of the uplifting qualities reflected in Miss Carpenters' musical performances can be found in the Carpenters' classical ode to innocence, "Bless the Beasts and the Children."  This was the emotive soundtrack theme song of the somewhat edgy animal rights and adolescent right-of-passage movie of the same name.  The song was nominated for an Academy Award in 1972.  It is hard to envisage any other vocalist who could credibly bring off this anthem with the sincerity and innocence which it required, and which Karen so naturally and movingly conveyed.  The song also provided the backdrop for a series of public service television ads urging responsible treatment of pets which the Carpenters performed for the Humane Society.  Fast forward 40 years to find Miley Cyrus using teddy bears -- once the innocent toys of childhood -- as porn props for her creepy VMA burlesque, and we can grasp the pertinence and foresight of Karen's exhortation concerning the adult world's responsibility towards children and animals:  "Light their way when the darkness surrounds them."  In today's wretched media culture, regrettably, the darkness is winning that battle in a rout.
                Karen Carpenter was a model of personal and professional modesty even as she recorded and performed some of the greatest pop and romantic music of the 20th century.  Her preserved performances, a perfect antidote to the VMA smut of Gaga and Cyrus, provide a refreshing and cleansing retreat from the cultural sewage that too much surrounds us in the early years of the 21st.




  1. Although our politics may differ (I do have a lot of LGBT friends, for example), I must say I am greatly enjoying your Carpenters posts! They're one of my favorite groups as well, and speaking as someone in my 20s (who has enjoyed oldies ever since I was an admittedly out-of-touch-with-the-present kid), I really wish that style of music could come back. I can't stand most modern music. My local oldies station never plays the Carpenters, either (as you've pointed out), and I've even requested it. Sigh.

    I do think that Karen found her "virginal, modest" image somewhat frustrating, though. After all, she was a young woman coming of age in the '70s. She was FAR from being a "slut" or anything like that, but she was a normal girl. She had boyfriends.

    There was an interview where she said, "We believe people should be free to do what they want to do. Richard is 30, and I am 26. But the letters we got when we said we weren't virgins read as though we had committed a crime. People must have been dumb to believe we were that good." It seems like no matter what they said or did, they were criticized, whether it was from the "hip rock establishment" or even their own fans. "And when we said we thought pot ought to be legalized, in came a shoal of letters saying we were drug addicts.... We had to speak out and tell the truth about us as it is. It's hell living like a pair of angels."

    1. I see what you are saying and it is an excellent point. I however do not see Karen having a "virginal" image. Sure the whiter-than-white image was overdone however that was tacky marketing and not really the fault of Carpenters. I like the fact that it was not about sex appeal. You focus on the music. Watching Karen play drums and sing live perfectly at the same time in black-and-white gives me a nostalgic feeling for a time i never even experienced. Karen would hold notes for longer when performing live and it would amplify her excellent lower register.