Today marks 32 years since Karen Carpenter, the beloved Drummer Girl from Downey, California, passed to a better place. Lovers of great pop music can only be grateful that the unforgettably beautiful recordings produced by Karen and her talented brother and lifelong collaborator, Richard, remain with us to provide a harmonic refuge from the grating cacophony of what passes for popular music today.
At the height of her success from 1970 to 1975, the Carpenters' songs ruled the charts, the duo were in constant demand for major television appearances, and Karen's enormous popularity spread worldwide from Southern California to the UK, Japan, and ultimately even the Peoples Republic of China. Ms. Carpenter was indeed the Princess of Pop for her era. So it seems fitting to commemorate her passing with a classical composition by Maurice Ravel which captures the beauty and melancholy of her tragically abbreviated musical legacy – Pavane for a Dead Princess (video courtesy of YouTube embedded below).
Ravel's "Pavane for a Dead Princess,"a fitting commemoration for a musical princess
As thoroughly documented in these pages and elsewhere, see http://splashingrocks.blogspot.com/2013/02/remember-drummergirl.html, an extensive list of Ms. Carpenter's past and recent musical peers have testified to the unique quality of her mellifluous contralto and her standing as one of the 20th century's truly Great Ladies of song. Leon Russell, the colorful musical virtuoso who wrote some of the Carpenters' most compelling songs (including the haunting slow-rock ballad Superstar) may have put it best when he said, "Well, Karen Carpenter was just a singularly amazing singer. There was just not anybody like her." Elton John expressed similar sentiments, when he declared that Karen possessed "one of the greatest voices of our lifetime."
The late Princess of Pop, wearing her trademark jumper in the early years of her stardom
Interestingly, Sir Elton made that observation in an interview in which he was subtly drawing the distinction between music that is favored because it is "hip" and fashionable, compared to music that is simply excellent, even if denigrated or downgraded because it might be romantic, rather than reverberating or raunchy. His fuller remarks were as follows:
Elton: I'm never going to be thought of in the same terms as David Bowie
or Lou Reed. I'm a different animal. But then you get Michael Stripe telling
me he used to go around LA with Courtney Love in a limo listening to Yellow
Brick Road. I guess I'm not the sort of artist people are writing in their to-ten
list, but . . .
Interviewer: You're in their cars.
Elton: Yeah, like you would never say, "I like the Carpenters." Yet Karen
Carpenter is one of the greatest voices of our lifetime. You would slip Led
Zeppelin on and put the Carpenters in the closet. I accept that.
Quoted from: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/sir-bitch-is-back-20041125#ixzz3Qj4AOYz.
Sir Elton was pointing out an anomaly that has deprived Karen Carpenter and the Carpenters of their rightful place in the pantheon of recognized giants of American pop and rock music (e.g., their absurd exclusion from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) -- even while they are recognized and revered as musical legends in leading international markets such as Japan and the United Kingdom (as well as in the world's largest nation, China). The stifling conformity to the libertine, leftist, and anti-suburban cultural norms of the Woodstock generation and its latter-day heirs created a climate in which feckless youngsters who deeply loved Karen's voice and the Carpenters' music were ashamed to admit it, as though they would somehow be shunned simply for expressing their personal musical tastes.
The very same mindless conformity explains the virtual black-listing of Carpenters' recordings, even today, from the playlists of even many American radio stations that purport to play "classical" pop and rock from the 60's and 70's. No American group produced more hits than the Carpenters in the 1970's, yet many stations perversely exclude their recordings from their "classic" playlists for that very decade. Think of the crass absurdity: A station pretends to play the hits and classics of the 1970's, but refuses to play the group that produced more of those very hits and classics than anyone else. Only in America.
As Elton John and his interviewer noted in their exchange, millions of people privately listened to the "unhip" music like the Carpenters "in their cars," notwithstanding the contempt of the self-appointed hipsters and opinion-makers. Today, you could substitute "on You Tube" for "in their cars."
Although radio stations might suppress Carpenters recordings based on a philistine canard, legions of music lovers worldwide still listen to Karen's incomparable voice and Richard's harmonic arrangements on You Tube and other Internet outlets -- sources which are not filtered or censored by the prejudicial norms of a degenerate contemporary culture. One 45-year-old video of Close to You alone has been visited by 20 million viewers, and well over 60 Carpenters' videos have been visited by at least one million viewers. And in those East Asian cultures (Japan, China, Thailand, etc.) that are not infected by the bizarre biases of American's twisted contemporary tastes, the musical legacy of Karen and the Carpenters lives on and grows in brightness like an unquenchable flame.
An ethereal Karen Carpenter at Huntington Gardens
In 1975, the Carpenters filmed a video for their last Top 5 hit, Only Yesterday, at the remarkably beautiful botanical setting of the Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino, California, near Pasadena. A still shot from that video shows a ghostly image of a solitary Karen Carpenter strolling gracefully over a gentle rise in the gardens. It is a fittingly ethereal vision, capturing the spirit of the departed princess who spread so much beautiful music throughout the world during her short time here.