“Sing, sing a song;
make it simple,
to last your whole life long…
Don’t worry that it’s not good enough
for anyone else to hear,
just sing…sing a song.”
(The Carpenters, “Sing” c1973, A&M Records. Written by Joe Raposo.)
It’s been thirty years to the day since a star fell from the sky, and was mourned by a multitude. You see, this wasn’t just any star… it was Karen Carpenter. Karen had been suffering from a condition called “Anorexia Nervosa” through most of the mid and late-70’s, but was beginning to finally come to grips with her condition. Unfortunately her heart had sustained too much damage in the course of the disorder, and on a cold Friday, the fourth of February, 1983, Karen left us all.
Karen left us, but she did not leave us empty-handed. What she left us with is a timeless body of work which transcends mere music; it’s lessons for life. Each note, phrase, syllable and word speaks to a part of life that too many have simply forgotten how to express in a meaningful way; love. In fact, most of the songs in The Carpenters’ discography are about the many ways that one person expresses love for others, and themselves. I think the saddest part of this is that Karen, like so many people in the world, didn’t or couldn’t follow her own advice, the same advice that her music was conveying to others. For some reason that may forever remain unbeknownst to us, she couldn’t love herself just the way she was.
“I’ve been on this lonely road so long,
does anybody know where it goes?
I remember the last time the signs pointed home,
a month ago…”
(The Carpenters, “Road Ode” c1972, A&M Records. Written by Gary Sims and Dan Woodhams.)
Therein lies the tragic nature of her premature departure from life. There’s an almost unanimous agreement among audiophiles, that Karen’s vocal talent was on a completely different level, one that very few artists ever achieve. Although most of the songs in The Carpenters’ repertoire were written by other songwriters, only Karen could convey the full measure of their emotional depth. With this incredible vocal gift, coupled with her percussion abilities and the keyboard and vocal acumen of brother Richard, The Carpenters became a veritable household name in the early to mid seventies, at a time when their music was exactly the salve that a nation, just coming out of the turbulence of the sixties and an increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam, needed to aid in the long process of healing.
“Bless the beasts and the children, for in this world they have no voice;
They have no choice…
Bless the beasts and the children, for the world can never be…
the world they see…”
(The Carpenters, “Bless The Beasts and The Children”, c1971, A&M Records. Written by Barry De Vorzon and Perry Botkin, Jr.)
Karen and Richard’s music remains just as relevant today, as it was back in the seventies and eighties. In this modest blogger’s own humble opinion, we could learn a lot from listening to The Carpenters. (I did, growing up on “Carpenters”, “Close To You”, “A Song For You” and “Now & Then”, played on the old console turntable. I’ve taken those ideas and commentaries on life and love, and have applied them in my own life and relationships.) If people could just stop in their daily “sturm und drang” and listen to a few of the songs from Karen’s catalogue, I know that their lives would be enriched for having done so.
These are the gifts that Karen left us, these are her greatest legacy; the millions of lives that she touched with her music. Lives enriched by love, and a love of music. Although she left us at a still youthful thirty-two years of age, her legacy embodies that most important of adages; “It’s not the years in your life that count…it’s the life in your years.” So today, if only for a few minutes…sing. Take a page from the Karen Carpenter songbook, and a tune first made famous on Sesame Street. Sing a song.
“Sing, sing a song,
sing out loud, sing out strong;
Sing of good things, not bad.
Sing of happy, not sad…”