CALLING OCCUPANTS OF INTERPLANETARY CRAFT
"The primary duty of the Seraphim is to sing without ceasing- 'the lintels of the doors were moved at the voice (of them) who cried to one another.'" - from the book "Beyond Space" by Fr. Pascal P. Parente
LIFE WITHOUT KAREN
It is 2012. The home of the Carpenters, the illustrious musical family who stuck to their roots in Downey, California to worldwide acclaim, is in disrepair. The parents, who were the owners of the worldly and palatial estate, have been dead for some time now. Beautiful Karen Carpenter, the guardian angel of adult contemporary pop music, died in this house, in her brother's closet, long ago. Movies were made, tribute albums wrought upon the Earth, and multitudes of fans have visited the spot. Her brother, Richard Carpenter, now tours the world with a "sound-alike" of Karen from South America named Claire De La Fuente. She doesn't look anything like Karen (who could?), but she does a mean vocal imitation of our girl, and the audiences enjoy it. All over the world.
But Karen is gone. And her brother cannot bring her back, no matter how many times he re-records the bridge to "Top Of The World," or tweaks the back-up vocals on "Lovelines." The only evidence of her existence left behind for us now are the recordings, the photographs, the memories.
"In your mind you have capacities, you know, to telepath messages through the vast unknown. Please close your eyes, and concentrate, with every thought you think, upon the recitation we are about to sing." - Carpenters, "Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft."
SARAPH (To Burn)
The music that Karen and Richard Carpenter created together during the lifetime of the former is an extraordinary accomplishment. This accomplishment is sometimes overshadowed by the shocking nature of Karen's unfortunate demise at the young age of 32. Her passing was greatly sensationalized, used by major media outlets to promote the realities of anorexia nervosa. This was a heretofore unknown eating disorder stemming from negative body image, disproportionate to one's actual appearance. Unfortunately, her death and illness has come for many to define this amazing woman, who accomplished great things in her life during a time when women (in the music industry and elsewhere) did not have an equal status to men. Beyond her rich, syrupy voice and natural beauty, Karen was an extremely talented drummer who was acknowledged by fellow percussionists such as Buddy Rich and Hal Blaine for her impressive intuitive drumming skill. While her older brother showed great talent as a keyboard prodigy (leading him to spend several harsh semesters on the East Coast at Yale studying the instrument), she played baseball with the local boys, favoring the position of pitcher. Her youthful desires to play music alongside her brother were encouraged by their teacher in Downey, California. He attempted to teach her to play the glockenspiel, but she found the instrument to be less than inspiring. She quickly switched to drums after being observed on the instrument by a mutual friend, who recognized her natural sense of rhythm. Karen and Richard were heavily inspired by popular music of the day in their music-kaing, in particular the Beatles. The singing/songwriting duo of John Lennon and Paul McCartney would prove to be an enormous influence on Richard. He wished to create a musical group with his sister that could have the same sort of appeal as those Liverpudlian cultural avatars. Due to his prodigious talent, Richard was enthusiastically encouraged to perform and write music by his parents, studying and practicing constantly. He was fascinated with the concept of "musical arrangement" from a very young age, after seeing a television special starring Liberace (the 1960s heartthrob to the Pepsodent crowd). Liberace's glamour had a huge impression on Richard. Although he was musically influenced somewhat by the "acid rock" of the day, the spirit of showmanship exhibited in what became the Carpenters shows great influence from the campy and eager presentation presented by Liberace. In his determination to be a success in the music industry, Karen's brother was already taking notes from popular performances even in his youth. With Karen on the drums, they formed the Richard Carpenter Trio with a friend of theirs playing the bass. It was a learning experience, but did not bring them much success or attention. It was during this period of time that a local LA musician named Joe Osborn noticed Karen's amazing vocal talents, encouraging Richard to allow her more opportunities to use her voice. Initially starting out as a more rock-oriented group called Spectrum, they teamed up with songwriter John Bettis to embark upon a series of demo recordings. These tapes would be consistently rejected by the various labels that they were sent to, but the process of recording and editing the tapes was invaluable experience for the young musicians. These were very experimental recordings, with Karen playing drums alongside her brother's instrumentation... very likely incredible material that has been lost to time.
The two consistently refined and restructured their approach as Spectrum, but each subsequent appeal to record labels was rejected. An unfortunate side effect of this was that the young musicians became extremely discouraged with their tapes, which eventually were discarded and in fact (accidentally) destroyed. It was obvious that Spectrum's style was not going to work out for the duo, but they were not daunted in their quest for domination of the pop charts. The two began to practice constantly, with Richard hurriedly searching for the right songs that would propel the duo to the top. He eventually settled on a theme of choosing already successful songs from other songwriters, which he would arrange and interpret for Karen to put lead vocals and possibly drums over. This setup, with Richard as the "man behind the curtain" and Karen as the face of the group, suited the duo perfectly. The secret weapon was Karen's magnificent, lush voice. People who watched her sing would comment that they heard emitting from the the scrappy teenager's tiny frame a world of emotion that was said to be "far beyond her years." Under the direction of her brother, Karen eased into the role of singer with the relaxed attitude of a pro, laying down many hours of music to tape in an effort to hit the big time. Her brother's work ethic fit perfectly with Karen's deep-rooted desire to be the best she could be. In the meantime, Richard got work performing with co-songwriter John Bettis at the original Disneyland in Florida as official "street performers." The two would deviate somewhat from the expected material and ramble into pop music territory - in the process developing the squeaky-clean pop-star image and presentation that the Carpenters would become famous for. Richard's friend John would become an important and vital aspect of the Carpenters, co-writing some of the songs that are most dear to the group ("Goodbye To Love," "I Need To Be In Love"). Leaving behind the psychedelic trappings of their early work, Richard, Karen, John, and several other musicians created a new backdrop for Karen's amazing vocal presence, this time called simply "Carpenters." The music of the Carpenters (including such hits as "We've Only Just Begun," "Top Of The World," "Close To You," "Superstar," "We've Only Just Begun," and a multitude of others) would become an iconic, generation-defining force that would define the lives of many lonely souls.
"Electronic voice phenomena (EVP) are electronically generated noises that resemble speech, but are not the result of intentional voice recordings or renderings. Common sources of EVP include static, stray radio transmissions, and background noise. Interest in the subject normally surrounds claims that EVP are of paranormal origin, though there are natural explanations such as apophenia (finding significance in insignificant phenomena), auditory pareidolia (interpreting random sounds as voices in their own language), equipment artifacts, or simple hoaxes which are offered to explain them. Recordings of EVP are often created from background sound by increasing the gain (i.e. sensitivity) of the recording equipment" - From the Wikipedia entry on Electronic Voice Phenomenon.
After rejecting several previous demo tapes from the Carpenters, Herb Alpert (former leader of the Tijuana Brass Band) of A & M Records liked the new direction and signed the group to his label. Part of the groups transformation included pressure on Karen to lose weight after an early producer of theirs (Joe Osborn) referred to Karen as "chubby." Under pressure from the label and her parents, Karen was put on a diet (ominously called the "Stillman diet") that reduced her weight from a healthy 145 pounds to a health-defying 95 lbs. Even before her success, Karen was put under an immense pressure to lose weight, which would have deep psychological implications for her life. The initial Carpenters LP was titled "Offering," later to be re-titled "Ticket To Ride" after it's sole hit, a somber meditation on the classic Beatles tune. The arrangement of their version was completely unique, with Karen's distinctive vocals a stark presence over a slowed-down and intricate arrangement of the upbeat classic. Listeners were impressed with the unorthodox arrangement and highly ornate orchestration (courtesy of Richard), and equally they were impressed by the soulful and emotive voice of Karen. The two had found a formula that would make sense for them, throughout their career interpreting a variety of other songwriters' work in order to express their own unique voice. The first two Carpenters LPs contain some of the finest examples of Karen's drumming on tape (although it does not make up for the fact that the material that they made as Spectrum seems to have been lost to time). After the success of the single version of "Ticket To Ride," Karen and Richard followed that up with their breakthrough second LP, titled "Close To You." This record also features four songs co-written by Richard with his friend John Bettis, with whom he used to work at Disneyland. Over the years, the album has proven to have a lasting appeal, going far beyond the cultural zeitgeist it captured during its initial heyday.
The LP opens with "We've Only Just Begun," a slow-paced ballad that sets the tone for the prevailing image of the Carpenters, presented by the A&M publicity team as existing somewhere between being a married couple and identical twins. Richard had heard the song in a wedding-themed bank commercial, and had a feeling that it could be a successful track for the group to cover. He was right. The song, written by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams, presents a romantic take on the concept of life's long and lonely road, extolling the possibilities that arise when partnering through life with another person. This would be a long-running theme with the songs that were chosen for Karen to perform. In fact, Karen very rarely (if ever) was allowed to choose the material that she wished to perform, although there are several instances (such as their version of the song "Rainbow Connection") where she put her foot down and said that she just didn't like the song. For the most part, Karen found herself doing what she was told in order to make the people around her happy. Not only was it making them happy, however, but it was also making them a lot of money. Another notable track is a Richard Carpenter/John Bettis ditty called "Mr. Guder," which is a completely undisguised diss track dedicated to their former boss at Disneyland. The Carpenters were not above burning a few bridges in their newfound path toward success. The lyrics extrapolate on the issues that the two men shared against their former employer, depicting him as an Ahrimanic entity seeking to turn people into automatons. The track uses an interesting multi-tracking technique during a vocal section in the middle that is similar in tone to the 1960s work of the New York street performer Moondog. Karen's voice combined with Richard's vocal arrangements and production often created a bombastic, pop-operatic production style that would go on to be a great influence on experimental rock groups like Queen and Pink Floyd (see the vocal production on "A Night At The Opera" and "The Wall" for instance compared to the earliest material by those groups). Karen was adept at recording her voice to tape in a manner that seemed to come as natural as breathing, but it was the result of tireless efforts in the studio, including many pieces that never made the final cut. Another significant track on the album is the group's original tune "Crescent Noon," an eerie piece about the transformation of the seasons. Karen sings these words that Bettis wrote for her to sing:
"Green September turned October brown.
Bare November led to December's frozen ground.
The seasons stumble 'round;
our drifting lives are bound to a falling crescent noon."
The record closes with a more up-tempo number called "Another Song," which closes the album with an uncharacteristic rhythm driven psychedelic-influenced rocker. It shows off some great drumming and tight musicianship in an uncharacteristic style, perhaps more like some of the material that they had recorded as Spectrum. The album pushed the group directly into the limelight with hit after hit climbing up the charts. The public couldn't believe the immense power emitting from the diminuative frontwoman of this tight and professional ensemble. The Carpenters' music had become so ubiquitous that there was a huge demand to know what was behind the group. The "bread and butter" clean-cut sort of attitude that the two had inherited from their parents was strikingly absent of irony or pretentiousness. In particular, Karen's personality shone brightly in interviews, as star-struck reporters asked her if she enjoyed her new-found fame: "Oh yeah. It's a kick. At times, it's just a little...well, you have to walk very fast! sometimes you just want to go out, go down the corner and buy a hamburger. But you really can't do that. That gets me sometimes not being able to walk around on my own! Sometimes you get tired of being protected 24 hours a day but..."
It was apparent that all eyes were on Karen from the very beginning, as her powerful spirit was fiercely evident in all aspects of the group. From her otherworldly and uncommon beauty to her intoxicating singing voice and intuitive smarts, Karen seemed like she could conquer the world: "For myself, when I decided what I wanted to do, I went ahead and did it. Nobody got in the way. If they did, you had to figure out a way to get around them. I think anybody who has enough self respect and enough brains can do what they want to do and the bit about blaming it on somebody else is just garbage! There's nobody that's going to stand in the way of somebody if they really want it - male or female!... Its stupid you know, just because you're a girl...so what?... We've got as much brains as anybody else. You see a lot of dumb guys around too! This bit about me being a successful girl drummer. I'm not a successful GIRL drummer, I'm just a drummer that happens to be a girl that's happy! I have a ball!"
"Although she has been successful in what is generally considered a man's field (drumming) she has little patience for "women's lib" and feels it's a wife's duty to cook for husband, because, 'Well, I like to cook. And just look at him,' pointing to her brother, 'he can't even cook water. . . just say that I certainly plan to cook for my husband.'" - Karen, quoted in The Washington Post in a 1973 article titled WHOLESOME IMAGE NO PUT-ON FOR POPULAR CARPENTERS.
Coming out of the turbulence of the 1960s and the Vietnam War era, American pop music in the late 1960s had moved toward a more raw and protest oriented sound (not unlike the "grunge" era of the 1990s that followed the initial Gulf War, under former CIA director George Herbert Walker Bush). Blues-rock and mod were the styles that were hip in the UK, more so than the sort of pop being peddled by the Carpenters. Songwriters like Burt Bacharach (who penned "Close To You" and other massively successful Carpenters songs, along with fellow hebrewish man Hal David) couldn't get arrested for their efforts. The Carpenters changed this, with Richard adeptly utilizing a dinosaur-like record industry's rules against itself to buck the norm, and in the process made a great deal of money for himself and A&M. A large part of this sales effort came from the fact that the group had been molded into shape and sold in such a manner as to be completely inoffensive pop music, theoretically from a couple of wholesome teenagers. Despite the sunny image of the Carpenters, the content of most of their songs actually dealt with the issues of severe depression and loneliness. The "perfect" appearance of the group was pushed as a major selling point, appealing to a desire to return to the suburban values of the 1950s. America wished that it could turn back the clock on the acid-drenched preceding years, and the Carpenters seemed to be the perfect solution. The group had come to represent a movement back toward a time that never actually existed, with the siblings coming to represent an impossible-to-attain perfection that seemed to be the goal of that era. Richard Nixon invited the group to perform at the White House for a dinner with the leader of West Germany, declaring that the musicians represented "the best that young America has to offer." The group came to represent the wholesome values that Nixon wished to actively associate himself with. Although Nixon's White House would soon come under attack for participating in espionage and mafia-like behavior, Karen and her brother continued to flourish as some of the most influential and popular entertainers of their time.
"Calling occupants of interplanetary craft... you've been observing our Earth, and we'd like to make a contact with you. We are your friends." - Carpenters.
Throughout all of this newfound fame, Karen and Richard's mother Agnes was careful to guide them through the trials and tribulation of success. She encouraged them to invest in local real estate, and they used the money from their first two hit singles to purchase a pair of apartment complexes in Downey. Everyone in town knew the family and was well-aware of their worldwide success, but for the most part Karen did her best to continue a normal existence in her hometown. She was known for frequenting a local Bob's Big Boy restaurant (she loved the black bean soup there, and she was a prolific imbiber of iced tea). Even after becoming wealthy and famous, Karen would always do her own shopping, whether it was for home appliances or clothing from a thrift store. She remained, at heart, a small-town girl, partially because she was discouraged by her mother from pursuing a desire to move to Los Angeles. She would spend her entire life as a resident of Downey, where she lived an ideal suburban existence that rivaled that of the fictional Cleaver family. Far from living in seclusion, the famous family continued to throw parties for the neighborhood at Karen and Richard's parents house. Karen was known for her fun-loving, even rambunctuous behavior, excited to cut-up like a teenager in the presence of company. Karen always put her best face forward, and despite some difficulties with her mother (including many disagreements about who she was allowed to spend time with) she always wanted to make everyone happy. Throughout the 1970s, the Carpenters made several television specials, as well as a multitude of appearances on a variety of television programs (including a memorable spot on ultra-creepy proto-reality show "This Is Your Life"). Richard's great talent and enthusiasm always shined during the mostly lip-synched performances, but it was Karen who America would become enamored with. Her large, beautiful brown eyes sparkled with an angelic radiance, and she read words from a cue card like she was speaking off the top of her head. It was clear that Karen had the face and personality of a "superstar." The bulk of the pressure on the duo's physical appearance would weigh upon her. Richard began to grow tired of the 'schtick' that him and his sister would perform in the specials, a sickly-sweet dramatization of often supposedly true events of their lives, delivered in a schmaltzy, Lawrence Welk-like manner. Nonetheless, audiences ate it up, and Karen became one of the most watched performers of her day, an otherworldly beauty, with an unforgettable voice.
Karen and Richard had a lot more up their flowing silk sleeves than a bunch of showtunes written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, however. Richard knew how to play the game, and he adeptly participated in the A&M marketing machine, while still maintaining a bit of artistic independence. The two were frank and easy-going in interviews, both openly declaring their opinion that marijuana should be legalized ("It's no worse than alcohol," said Karen in a People Magazine article from 1976) and maintaining that their main focus was on music and not making any kind of statement. The group recorded what would be two of their most successful releases, the self-titled "Carpenters" LP and "A Song For You." Both of these albums venture into a country/Americana sort of sound, and contain some of the most recognizable hits that the band ever produced (including the massively popular Leon Russell-written ballad "Superstar"). "Superstar" would become a Carpenters anthem, with Karen's lead vocal pleading to a rock star to come back to her, plaintively asking "Don't you remember when you told me you loved me, baby? You'd said you'd be coming back this way again, maybe..." Interestingly, because of a concern over the audience being unable to separate the performer from the song, Richard changed a line so that instead of singing that she can't wait to "sleep" with her lover again, she says she can't wait to "be" with them. There is much speculation that Karen's mother Agnes (who was a devout Christian) would have been upset with the notion of Karen singing about pre-marital sex. Even into adulthood, Karen was forced to report to her mother, and placed under intense scrutiny, especially after the onset of stardom. The fact that the words that were chosen for her to sing were so intricately analyzed and weighed upon each other shows the immense control that others had over Karen's life and performance. The song "Rainy Days and Mondays" would typify her appeal to the masses, taking clinical depression and condensing it to a three-minute catchy bit of purchasable pop. She seemed to be singing what many women and men in America were already thinking, and A&M Records and Karen's family were riding her emotions to the "Top Of The World" in financial success. By the time of the album "Now And Then" (which was, in fact, given its name by their mother Agnes), Karen was no longer a singing drummer but a bona fide frontwoman to one of the worlds most successful musical ensembles.
1974 sent the Carpenters on a tour across the entire planet Earth. "Goodbye To Love," with its surprisingly powerful arrangement (including an uncharacteristic electric guitar solo) became another enormous hit for the group, crossing over somewhat with rock and metal audiences. Critics coined the term "power ballad" to describe the intensity of the track. Guitarist Tony Peluso thought that a friend of his was pulling a prank when he had received a phone call from "Karen Carpenter" asking for him to lay down an electric guitar track for an upcoming single from her group the Carpenters. It seemed like at this point that the group were completely unstoppable, steamrolling through the charts in the early 1970s with the force of a great white shark. So many people were depending on Karen and putting pressure on her that it began to take its toll, however. In a strike back for independence, she began to noticeably fluctuate in her physical weight, at times appearing unhealthily thin. Also during this time, Karen began to seek outside influences beyond her overbearing mother and the record label system that her brother's loyalties sided with. She became friends with people such as Dionne Warwick (whom she greatly looked up to before becoming a star herself) and the goddess-like disco maven Olivia Newton-John. The presence of these other famous ladies was a warm and positive influence on Karen's life, and provided for her what must have been an oasis of calm and support. Her mother was still controlling of her life during this time, however, and tended to view Karen's newfound friendships with suspicion. In the meantime, Karen and Richard held an almost militaristic level of band meetings and practice sessions, desperate to keep the Carpenters machine operating. Karen's deep and intense self-control was a focused energy that she emitted from her body during live performance.
"The Beatles, who incorporated the techniques of concrète into their recordings, were responsible for popularizing the concept of backmasking. Singer John Lennon and producer George Martin both claimed they discovered the backward recording technique during the recording of 1966's Revolver; specifically the album tracks "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "I'm Only Sleeping," and the single "Rain". Lennon stated that, while under the influence of marijuana, he accidentally played the tapes for "Rain" in reverse, and enjoyed the sound. The following day he shared the results with the other Beatles, and the effect was used first in the guitar solo for "Tomorrow Never Knows", and later in the coda of "Rain"." - from the Wikipedia entry on Backmasking (Redirected from Backwards Message).
The Carpenters next released a record titled "Horizon," the cover of which depicted the duo among a stark rocky landscape, mirroring the emotional terrain dealt with inside. Reviewed poorly upon its initial release, tracks such as "Solitaire" and "Desperado" have stood the test of time as poignant and gripping ballads about human emotion. Both of those tracks examine an emotionally barren person trying to love after a series of deadening events. It seemed that the joy and excitement of early fame had given way to an intense sadness, an emptiness represented by a strong distance from others that both Karen and Richard were both feeling at the time. One of the more upbeat tracks, the synthesizer-filled "Happy," showed a potential futuristic direction that the Carpenters would dabble with but unfortunately never fully explore. The album did not share the enormous success of the previous efforts. The group found that their own track record was stark competition, and they were unable to regain the immense relevance and popularity that took them over the top at the beginning of the decade. The seams were beginning to show in the Carpenter empire with both siblings experiencing personal strife and turmoil. Karen was increasingly looking for an outlet for her own personal voice, while still pleasing the people around her. Unfortunately, some of those who she wished to please did not have her well-being in mind.
"The name Seraphim clearly indicates their ceaseless and eternal revolution about Divine Principles; their heat and their keenness, the exuberance of their intense, perpetual, tireless activity, and their elevative and energetic assessment of those below, kindling them and firing them to their own heat, and wholly purifying them by a burning and all-consuming flame, and by the unhidden, unquenchable, changeless, radiant, and enlightening power, dispelling and destroying the shadows of darkness." - Pseudo-Dionysus the Aeropagite, "On The Divine Names, On The Celestial Hierarchies."
1976 brought "A Kind Of Hush," an innocuous record from the group that saw them covering a Herman's Hermits hit from the 1960s as the title track. Richard was determined to keep the group a successful hit machine by any means necessary at this point, and Karen would be dragged along through the process due to her necessary presence as the star. Although Richard sang lead on a couple of songs from the self-titled "Carpenters" record, it simply was not a Carpenters record for real without the dominant vocal presence of Karen. At this point, she was all but forbidden to play the drums, constantly finding herself lip-synching the same songs over and over for various promotional appearances and publicity junkets. Increasingly, the group found themselves less relevant with each year going further into the more liberal era of the late 1970s. Jimmy Carter's America was becoming more enthralled with cocaine, disco music, and New York culture than the "peace and love" good California vibes that the Carpenters came to represent. This album contained a song that Karen would count as her favorite Carpenters track, a ballad co-written by her brother and Bettis called "I Need To Be In Love." It is a sad and lonely track of searching for an unattainable love that seems to define the aura of heartbreak surrounding the work of the Carpenters. It was a personal success for the group, but, unfortunately, did not translate into the astronomical record sales that the group was seeking. Richard regrouped his efforts for one last push towards success with a slightly experimental approach in song choices. Although this effort did not equal the success that he perhaps was aiming for, it did make for one of the strangest albums that the Carpenters were to create, titled simply "Passage."
"Some EVP enthusiasts describe hearing the words in EVP as an ability, much like learning a new language. Skeptics say that the claimed instances are all either hoaxes or misinterpretations of natural phenomena. EVP and ITC are seldom researched within the scientific community and, as ideas, are generally derided by scientists when asked." - From the Wikipedia entry on Electronic Voice Phenomenon.
While other groups were topping the charts with disco or punk-inspired material, Richard stuck to what he did best: complex and ornate arrangements of saccharine pop balladry. He definitely knew how to pick an interesting track for Karen to sing, and the choices that top this one are rather curious. "Passage" shows Richard trying out some arrangements of musical styles not usually broached by the duo, including light-jazz and calypso. An overlong cover of "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" is fiercely out of place, and paints a tragic picture of Karen that her brother very possibly saw coming in some capacity. He had certainly noticed her rapidly decreasing weight and related health problems, puzzled that she seemed to be intentionally avoiding nutrition. During family dinners and meals away from home, Karen had become adept at finding ways to avoid eating the food on her plate, including giving it away to others at the table and hiding portions to be disposed of later. She appeared to be headed down an unhealthy path, but no one around her could seem to get close enough to help. Coinciding with an increasing interest in the subject of extra-terrestrial visitation to Earth, the Carpenters released the single "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft." The track, and the accompanying video, feature the duo pleading to extraterrestrial intelligences to bring justice to the Earth and destroy the "adversaries" of the Carpenters. The song has an intricate orchestral arrangement that shows great care and effort, but it failed to connect with American audiences, who could not at all relate to what the duo was laying down before them. It seemed that the group was being sincere in their way, but they were not creating the sort of material that the public wanted. The Carpenters made their way through another television special called "Space Encounters," banking not only on the recent single but also the current (at the time) popularity of sci-fi films Star Wars and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Literal-minded audiences who had embraced the saccharine flavor of "Top Of The World" and "Close To You" could simply not relate to hearing the same group sing about attempting psychic communicating with extraterrestrial entities. Karen's vocal performance presents the subject calmly and seriously, intoning matter-of-factly to the listener the process of telepathy: "With your mind, you have ability to form and transmit thought energy far beyond the norm. You close your eyes, you concentrate, together that's the way..."
"The term Instrumental Trans-Communication (ITC) was coined by Ernst Senkowski in the 1970s to refer more generally to communication through any sort of electronic device such as tape recorders, fax machines, television sets or computers between spirits or other discarnate entities and the living. One particularly famous claimed incidence of ITC occurred when the image of EVP enthusiast Friedrich Jürgenson (whose funeral was held that day) was said to have appeared on a television in the home of a colleague, which had been purposefully tuned to a vacant channel. ITC enthusiasts also look at TV and video camera feedback loop of the Droste effect." - From the Wikipedia entry on Electronic Voice Phenomenon.
MAL'AKH (The Messenger)
Deeply concerned with his sister's health, and the groups faltering status as pop royalty (along with his own personal concerns), Richard soon committed himself to a rehabilitation program for an addiction to Quaaludes. While Karen had her own health issues, he had been harboring heavy Quaalude use throughout the previous years in order to maintain himself during the periods of high stress. After their initial breakthrough success, the duo had purchased two large apartment complexes and Richard had been staying in one throughout their fame. Karen had been kept under more control, with the mother Agnes seeming to be harshly judgmental of her and unhappy with her friendships. She was especially controlling over Karen's friendship with other women, and was threatened by the influence that the successful artists she was hanging out with had over her. For these and other reasons, Karen was forbidden to move away from home until the age of 26. Karen's father was loving and understanding during all of this, but Agnes Carpenter ruled the house and had extreme jurisdiction over many of the choices that Karen was allowed to make. Although Karen's lack of identification with the "women's lib" movement on one hand shows her independence, but also it is likely that if she had been exposed to feminist literature she would likely be alive today. As an unmarried and "unspoiled" female child of strict, she was held under lock and key by her family, with Richard being encouraged to have almost complete control over Karen's every artistic decision. The two met every morning in a militaristic regimen for an "o'eight-hundred" breakfast where Richard would discuss the important matters of the day with Karen, who would sometimes grow weary of the constant control. Because of the deep love and respect that she had for her family and their values, she had allowed them to dictate her life for her well into adulthood.
A good example of this dynamic is Karen's short-lived marriage to real-estate magnate Tom Burris. Burris was an opportunistic man who was introduced to Karen by her family as a man that she needed to meet. Karen often sings in her music of having a romance that could last the test of time, and marriage was a childhood dream that she had always hoped to fulfill. Burris took her on a "whirlwind romance," proposing to her and offering her the picket fence existence that she dreamed of. She wanted to have children and be a homemaker for a nice man, and Burris offered to provide this for her. Unfortunately for Karen, he was simply an opportunistic person who was manipulating her emotions, like so many others around her. He lied about his affluence, constantly hitting her up for tens of thousands of dollars to make up for failed investments. To add insult to injury, he revealed several weeks before their scheduled marriage that he had lied about his intentions to have children with Karen. Less than a month before their wedding day, he revealed to her that he had a vasectomy and was unable to father children. She felt completely betrayed by Burris and those who had influenced her to submit to his control. She told her mother that she wanted to cancel the ceremony, and she responded by telling Karen that it was going to happen no matter what. The cameras were coming, "People magazine would be there," and the wedding was happening whether she liked it or not. Karen was forced to endure a sham for the benefit of the "good face" of her family and their interests. She was forced to swear loyalty a man who cared not one iota for her. They would be separated only one year and some months later, with an irate Burris yelling at her family that "you can have her!" He showed up to her funeral only to throw his ring into her coffin before the beginning of the ceremony. She looked incredibly beautiful throughout the ridiculous charade.
Karen, meanwhile, sought to expand her artistry to more adult concerns than those which the Carpenters had become associated with. She had grown distant from her family, feeling controlled by a domineering mother who always treated Karen as being inferior to her industrious and talented older brother. Although she felt independent of it, Karen was defined in the eyes of her family and the world by her gender. She sought to overcome the control over her life by traveling to New York and working on a solo record with producer Phil Ramone. She had agreed also to seek treatment for her eating disorder, which had at this point caused her to collapse on-stage and exhibit drastic changes in her physical appearance. Artistically, however, she greatly flourished during this period, managing to put together a phenomenally powerful solo debut record with a strong disco flavor. Along with having a great professional repoire with producer Ramone, she became very close friends with his wife Ichi Ramone during this time. Ichi would continue to be a good friend to Karen all the way to the end of her life. Noticeably, many of the songs featured an unexpected sexuality to them, an aspect of the album which would prove incredibly controversial to A&M executives (and her brother) once she tried to release it. During the beginning of the recording sessions for the record, Karen returned home to Downey briefly and played the tracks she had worked on for her mother Agnes. Both of Karen's parents fiercely disapproved of the overtly sexual lyrics to the music, and when she returned to the studio to resume recording she had dropped to 80 pounds. It seemed that the disapproval of her parents had a great effect on her physical well-being. The sessions for the record were very successful, and Karen recounted the time she spent working on it as the happiest time of her life, but meanwhile her physical appearance was growing more and more disturbing to those around her, clearly Karen was not nourishing herself. "Karen Carpenter" is an impressive record, the release of which would have made a great transition into solo artistry and future relevance for Karen, but the forces around her simply would not allow this to happen.
"It depends what the girl wants and if she wants it bad enough. She can figure it out for herself if she's going to stick to it. And if a guy is really in love with her, he would stick with her. I mean, if a guy was really hung up on a chick... like if a chick wanted to do something really bad, the guy would give of himself and let the chick do what she wants. That's only natural." - Karen on relationships.
After a listening party for the record in New York (accompanied by supportive friends and co-workers in the recording industry), Karen very confidently returned to California to face the scrutiny of label executives for A&M. Herb Alpert and Richard Carpenter stared ahead unemotionally as each song went by. The two men fed off each other's coldness and indifference to Karen's warm and beautiful music that she had created without either of their input. They cruelly disregarded her efforts, pretending to dislike the album because of a supposed lack of quality. This is laughable, considering that both men cannibalized the release for years to come after the death of Karen, endlessly remixing many of the tracks from the release to appear on a multitude of posthumous "Carpenters" records. What they did not like was Karen's fierce independence, which they sought to crush under their heels so that they could continue to use her to increase their own fame and wealth. Executives at A&M and Richard canned the record, sending Karen out of the room in tears. It is possible that she never recovered from the incident, a stone-cold reminder that she was under the yoke of people who had no interest in letting her be her own woman. New A&M employee Quincey Jones offered to add some remixing to the record, believing that it should be released, but his suggestions were ignored. He later created the "Thriller" album with Michael Jackson, one of the most successful pop recordings in the history of the music industry. She was charged $400,000 for the cost of the record, an amount of money that was levied against future Carpenters royalties, putting increased pressure on her from her family and the label to return to the unattainable success of the first Carpenters music, in order to catch up with what her controllers deemed an immense financial mistake. The emotional damage had been done, and by the next television appearances, Karen had become a skeletal shadow of her former self. She was put on an intravenous drip at a California hospital that unnaturally increased her weight by twenty pounds in an attempt to make her better.
On the day that she died, Karen had an argument with her mother over wanting to spend the weekend hanging out with Olivia Newton-John. Karen, who lived with her parents until the age of 26, died in the closet of her brothers childhood bedroom. She was staying in that room because there was a VHS player in there, and she enjoyed watching tapes of dramatic television programs, such as Magnum P.I. (a crime drama starring Tom Selleck). She had spent a night escaping into entertainment, and then she walked into the closet, laid down peacefully facing the ground, and allowed her heart to stop beating. Her mother found her unconscious, passed out from heart failure without any sign of struggle. Her eyes were wide open and she was unclothed, facing the carpet. Karen's spirit had left her mortal form just shortly before her 33rd birthday. Her body had given up. Karen again made international headlines, but this time those words of news brought intense sorrow to her legions of fans and supporters.
Many have wondered how this could have happened to someone with paid body-gaurds around them and a severely overprotective family dynamic. There were a lot of people around Karen who noticed that she was not eating. They told her that she needed to eat. That she needed to nourish her body. She made her body weak through malnourishment. She didn't dislike food, some of her favorite dishes were black bean soup and a nice big hamburger from Bob's Big Boy with a shake. According to an interview, she "detests water." She was very opinionated about her body as well, and had strong opinions regarding whether or not she looked good. Because of this, she would starve herself or take on unhealthy habits in order to obtain a never attainable "perfect weight" that she felt pressured to achieve. When anyone wanted to try and intervene, she protested intensely, knowing exactly what she wanted. She was a powerful, forceful woman in many ways, just like her mother. She stood her ground and got what she wanted in most situations that did not involve her family, and although she was not closed minded she was indeed determined. She looked the way she wanted, whether or not it was what she needed. In reality, she felt completely malnourished of what she felt that she truly needed, her deepest desire that she sang about so often. The words ring true because she was singing the truth. What she needed was love, and she felt a million miles away from it.
"Please come in peace, we beseech you... Please interstellar policeman, please give us a sign that we've reached you." - Carpenters.
Previous to Karen's battle with anorexia, there was little public awareness of the existence of "anorexia nervosa." The glamourization (through television and print media) of excessively skinny women, combined with the real-life oppression and silencing of female sexuality, has led to the development of an epidemic of eating disorders that continues to this day. Women, young and old, who have been exposed to the particular manner of body enslavement so peculiar to Western society, are simultaneously discouraged from exploring the sexuality promised them by the unattainable body image. Karen was put under immense pressure to maintain her weight at a particular level by her family and her management, to the point that she could not look into the mirror without seeing something that she was made to feel bad about. When her appearance dipped to a point of a deathly skeletal shade during televised interviews for the "Made In America" record, she had already begun to leave her desires for this life behind her. Because of the way her label and family treated her after she made her solo album, she knew definitively that she would not be allowed to express herself artistically in any true capacity. She faced $400,000 worth of debt for simply taking seriously her status as a recording artist and making high-quality, sellable work. Richard had a lot on his plate to deal with at the time, and was most certainly thinking about his own career for his part. He seems to have regretted his decision somewhat, and when Ichi informed Richard that she had dedicated her solo album to him he broke down in tears on the phone with her. Herb Alpert's selfish decision to not allow Karen to release the "Karen Carpenter" LP most certainly lead to the despair that she felt in those final days. Karen's parents came from a time when women were not expected to do much but cook and clean, and her mother seemed to actively seek to keep Karen in that mindset. Agnes died in 1995, and in 1996 Karen's solo record, featuring songs adult fare such as "Making Love In The Afternoon," was finally released to the public. Agnes Carpenter would never in her lifetime have to deal with the idea of her daughter having an independent adulthood, filled with the desires and imperfections that all people share, her mother included. Whether or not she directly had any part in the withholding of the Karen Carpenter record from the public, it is extremely significant that Richard chose not to release the album until after her death. Although the music was not an enormous departure from the Carpenters, the free and energetic spirit of the album proved that Karen had a side to her that was boldly independent. It sounds completely non-controversial today, but compared to the image that had been cultivated for Karen it was an unacceptable departure. Although things would change drastically for acceptable subject matter by female artists on major labels in the 1990s (see Hole, PJ Harvey, Alanis Morrisette etc), Karen would be forced to suffer as a martyr for the cause of gender equality within pop music. Wishing to protect her from the realities of the world, her mother had cultivated a highly controlled world for her that she ultimately escaped through the wearing out of her physical form. Through this process, a growing awareness of the reality of eating disorders (as well as the negative body image projected in the media, and its affect on women) became public knowledge, likely leading to many women not as famous as Karen whose lives were saved by the awareness and sensitivity generated by the unfortunate example of her death.
"NANCY: Are you close to your parents today?
KAREN: Oh, yes, they're right downstairs." - 1976 interview excerpt
Karen's life was plagued by the good intentions of those around her. The Karen Carpenter solo album contained within it many songs that expressed a vibrant and adult sort of sexuality that both her family and her record label sought to withhold from the public. Beyond this, the record label executives and Richard were afraid that the open sexuality of her solo effort would forever taint the clean and wholesome image that the Carpenters had developed (note that Richard followed up the aborted record by orchestrating Karen into the uncharacteristically patriotic and blander-than-ever "Made In America" record, a blatant attempt at making a money-grubbing appeal to the most common of denominators, blind nationalism and international pro-USA sentiment). "Made In America"'s promotional photos look like a funeral photography, and it proved to be the worst-selling Carpenters LP of all time. Richard would go on to remix and re-present most of the tracks from Karen's solo record, which were repackaged with additional recorded material (and certain parts removed) as new "Carpenters" songs for many years into the future. In the meantime, he has completely continued to disregard the quality her chosen mixes and demos. He continues to remain in denial about her musical and creative contributions to the group, still holding anger towards Karen for her "poor business decisions."
KAREN HITTING THE COSMIC DANCEFLOOR IN STYLE, NEW YORK 1979, SHINING WITH THE STARS, GLITTER AND NIGHT LIFE
Karen lives on through the music that she recorded, much of which is readily available for consumption. Every new generation that discovers her plaintive and haunting voice through the polished presentation given by her brother and the executives at A&M records is invited to a mystery of beauty and sadness. Her constant search, her "Need To Be In Love" was an existential cry for meaning in a world full of deception and hypocrisy, love going beyond the greed and selfishness causes us to judge and hurt one another. The accomplishments that were achieved by Karen during her short life live on in ways that are little understood but widely felt and appreciated. This world is just a station, and at this station we learn to truly "love" and give of ourself in a way that is inclusive of death. Our consciousness is meant to go beyond, to leave behind this shell and traverse the "vast unknown."