or a ﬂeeting time a couple of years ago,
The Carpenters teetered on the edge of
credibility. They were within grasping
distance of the mantle of trendiness,
undergoing an Abba-esque critical
reappraisal. New York art-core group Sonic Youth had recorded a track called ‘Tunic (Song for Karen)’ and it seemed feasible that in the grand tradition of passed-on pop people, Karen Carpenter might be granted iconic status. But the baton was refused, Sonic Youth’s patron- age was forgotten and The Carpenters’ cultural emancipation, like that of Simon and Garfunkel and Cat Stevens before them, was bundled back into the bottom drawer.
Then ensued a 70s revival of such distressing proportions that sparkly boob tubes, roller boots and The Goombay Dance Band were given the green light, with no questions asked. Kitsch was cool; tack was tops. Mistakenly. The Carpenters were tossed into this iffy sartorial soup, despite the fact that Richard didn’t possess a satin cape. and Karen never stooped to sporting face glitter. This year three Fn'nge shows, devoted, with varying degrees of reverence, to The Carpenters. are sharing programme space with The Gary Glitter Story and Ra-ra-rasputin, an exploration of Euro disco sensations, Boney M. This juxta- position does the duo a great disservice, however.
‘Because we were all so naff, at least I was so naff, at the time, you imagine that the music was naff as well,’ says Graham Norton, this year to be found . . . At The Karen Carpenter Bar and Grill with the likes of Imelda Marcos and Shirley Temple Black. ‘Lots of the music when you hear it again is as tacky as you thought it was going to
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In the tenth anniversary year of Karen Carpenter’s death, the Fringe pays tribute to the maudlin genius of The Carpenters with three shows inspired by the superstar siblings. Fiona Shepherd shares each sha-la- la-la and every woah-oh-woah-oh with the performers.
be, but The Carpenters are just good. They’re not as embarrassing; you can play them and there’s more than a joke going on, whereas you can’t really play Kelly Marie at a dinner party, can you? All you can do is laugh at it.
‘But I still think there’s something intrinsically funny about The Carpenters; it’s just that their music wasn’t funny. But the idea of them being brother and sister - there was always this weird relationship between them. And the way she went and all that . . . well, it’s certainly kind of amusing.’
Actually, I’d call it ruddy unfortunate myself. This year sees the tenth anniversary of Karen’s death after a drawn out battle against anorexia nervosa which fatally weakened her heart. The strain finally took its toll in February 1983 and. a decade on, the time seems ripe for some kind of veneration. After all, premature death is a good way to secure cultural immortality; for a pop star it is a surefire route but with ironic premature death of a pop star, it is a virtual certainty.
‘I hated the Carpenters. They turned out ; completely puerile, middle of the road drivel. I'm basically getting my own
Remember, Karen lived clean, and died young. Keith Moon, drummer with mod-rockers The Who, was immonalised after a textbook rock ’n’ roll death involving a swimming pool, whereas guitarist Pete Townsend’s attempts to die before he got old foundered, and he has been reduced to concept albums and a funny buzzing noise in his ear. Witness what could have become of The Carpenters if their partnership had not been terminated when it was.
Dave Carpenter (no relation — but we only have his word for it) has written and directed the ‘gentle comedy’ two-hander Calling Occupants 0f Interplanetar)‘ Craft. ‘There’s a three-page interview with them in Rolling Stone,’ he says, ‘saying how they were fed up with being seen as safe and how their record company had pushed them into that safe as milk position and they were going to try to get raunchier and sexier.’
Perish the thought of The Carpenters as anything other than compulsive wallowers in the detritus of ill-fated love. They excelled at the maudlin. Ask anyone what the worst two Carpenters’ songs were, and without hesitation they will reply (if they have an iota of aesthetic judgement) ‘Top Of The World’ and ‘Jambalaya’; the two ‘jolly’ ones. Coincidence? I think not.
Dian Perry, who stars in Yesterday Once More — Growing Up With The Carpenters, is a woman who appreciates the tragedian in Karen. ‘1 was about eight years old when ‘Close To You’ was released. I heard them on the radio andjust fell in love with what Richard Carpenter calls ‘the chill factor’. I was eleven or twelve
when I got their album and it was the only album I owned until I was seventeen.’ Stupidly, I don’t ask what Dian’s second purchase was,
The Bollocks. ‘l tended to like music I could lock myself away with and be moody with and The Carpenters were very good for that. I found a boyfriend in high school who mentioned that he liked The Carpenters and I thought “this is the man for
The Carpenters were not so fondly remembered
but it probably wasn’t Never Mind .l
by everyone, however, and Dave Carpenter’s ;
Calling Occupants . . . revenge. ‘My full name is, bizarrely enough, David Richard Carpenter and I suffered hom'bly at school because I was nicknamed Karen,’ he remembers. ‘I absolutely hated The Carpenters. I thought they turned out completely puerile. middle of the road drivel. I’m basically getting my own back. Comedy is shared experience; things that people look back on either with fond- ness or hatred are a good way of involving people in a piece.’ Shooby doo lang lang to that. C]
‘ ,1 lett: Karen and Davld - tragic songs, tragic pnlloven.
is less tribute, more