'Unrestricted' look at Karen Carpenter

I was one of the millions who took a liking to Karen Carpenter's singing as early as the late 60s and well into the 70s at least.I don't remember I ever paid much attention to her brother, Richard. To me it was Karen's singing, and her renditions of "Top of the World," "We've Only Just Begun," and "Close to You" that I remember, and that appealed to me, the best. I understand now that she sang many other songs of note, but those are the songs that stand out in my memory and that I associate with her. I have many other favorite songs and singers, of course. Karen's voice was different from, say, Jo Stafford's or Petula Clark's or, for that matter, Olivia Newton John's (Olivia became one of her close friends). It was distinctive, it was deep and resonant, and it sounded nice. I lived as far away from Downey then as could be imagined, not suspecting that years later, after layers and layers of other favorite, competing voices and living have buried any consciousness of her singing, I would discover that she was a part of Downey's history. I am today aware, among other things, of the Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center at the Cal State Long Beach campus and the permanent exhibit of Carpenters memorabilia at the Downey City Library (c/o the Friends and Richard himself).But I never really paid too much attention to either. But I'd always wondered what became of her. "Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter," a book of some 360-odd pages that just came out last week, supplies answers. It was written by Randy L. Schmidt, who has previously compiled and edited "Yesterday Once More: Memories of the Carpenters and Their Music," and is described as a creative consultant for several TV documentaries on the Carpenters (E! True Hollywood Story, A&E's Biography, and VH1's Behind the Music) as well as being a music educator living near Dallas, Texas. His publicist contends that "previous biographies of the pop duo have been edited by the Carpenter family," while "Little Girl Blue" is the "first unrestricted biography devoted to only Karen" and that it "reveals the true, private story of this tragic pop star who rose to fame during the 1970s with 16 consecutive top-20 hits." The book is pretty revealing. It details Karen's conflicted relations with her manipulative mother, Agnes, and often meddlesome (and apparently insensitive) brother; her romantic involvements and her unfortunate marriage to Tom Burris; her hopeless affliction with anorexia nervosa; and her shocking death on Feb. 4, 1983, at age 32, at 9828 Newville Ave., Downey. Readers of this book will be treated to accounts of many interesting episodes in Karen's life, including her early days in New Haven, Connecticut; the family's move to Downey; the duo's attendance at Downey High; the trials and tribulations of their early career; their signing with A&M Records (Herb Alpert & Jerry Moss); and their storybook rendezvous with fame and fortune. Schmidt does a good job of tracing how it all had to end up tragically, at least for Karen, who was, as close friend Itchie Ramone said, "full of wit." Another close friend, Frenda Franklin, remarked: "Karen touched your life and embraced it with such laughter and fun and happiness." John Bettis, a sort of family friend who saw Karen up close, noted her "sense of humor," her "sense of life," a "certain profundity" in her, and in the end simply referred to her as "irreplaceable." Author Schmidt will sign copies of his book on Saturday, July 17, at Bob's Big Boy (which Karen used to frequent) from 5-9 p.m. A car show is also scheduled. "Little Girl Blue," published by Chicago Review Press, is priced at $26.95.

********** Published: July 15, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 13