June 8, 2010

Karen Carpenter: Toxic Waste Under Fantasyland

Randy L. Schmidt's new biography on Karen Carpenter is one fascinating read.

As someone who has followed the career and personal lives of Karen and Richard Carpenter for almost 40 years, I was alternately, surprised, dismayed, curious, angry, sad and ultimately touched by his portrait of a beautiful young woman who could not escape the toxic world she actually lived in- the world far beyond the pristine Fantasyland imagined by listening to her art. No wonder the woman loved the recording studio!

The Carpenters hits on A&M Records almost seem to deny what was under the surface of it all: a possessive and insecure mother, a passive but loving father, and a strangely codependent and sometimes destructive relationship with her brother and musical partner. Yet a second look at their albums reveals the truth is there- see "Road Ode" from A Song for You album, "Ordinary Fool" from Voice of the Heart, and yes, "I Need to Be in Love" from A Kind of Hush.

Randy's book provides some insight into the reasons Karen struggled with anorexia but allows the reader to draw his own conclusions. Her life is more the focus than her career, but Randy balances the story well, including exposing real life bad guy ex-husband Tom Burris for what he was. Bravo to Karen's friends Karen "Itchy" Ramone and Frenda Franklin for daring to speak out.

Some little tidbits of new information will make you want to pick up this book:

  • Olivia Newton-John discussed working with Karen both in the studio and on tour
  • The truth behind Karen's marriage and why it was doomed before it happened
  • Karen was offered "Rock with You" and "Off the Wall" before Michael Jackson
  • Richard's shocking and short sighted response to her about the solo album
In all, we've got the story of a very real woman trapped by her own success and emotionally held captive by her family. Yet Karen was not a innocent bystander. Randy also reveals her flaws and human shortcomings, with her own destructive behavior towards herself and those who crossed her. Again, it's a fascinating read that will make you listen to the music with your eyes open.
Go here to see details and buy the book.

If you want to see/read more about Karen's last hours, this post will interest you.

Want more Karen and Richard? To date, there's over 100 more posts on this blog, including album reviews, rare photos, and more.

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