Only Yesterday – The Carpenters’ Story
You get some bitching music documentaries on Four and this retelling of the Carpenters’ story was another one in the can. While Richard was the master producer and instrumentalist, the story is always going to be the tragedy of Karen Carpenter. The boniest of boneypies, Karen Carpenter went through life like a startled fawn. Hiding her tiny frame behind those big drums where nobody could see her, it was only a matter of time before her one-in-a-million voice ("like a piece of silk" – Dionne Warwick) removed that percussive shield and exposed her to the world. Was she ready? She was born not ready.
"Karen Carpenter, hiding her tiny frame behind those big drums. It was only a matter of time before her one-in-a-million voice removed her percussive shield and exposed her to the world. Was she ready? She was born not ready."
Featuring interviews with a tetchy Richard Carpenter, friends and band members Only Yesterday – The Carpenters’ Story goes over familiar ground but has some neat behind-the-scenes footage and some pretty cool anecdotes. While Richard was groomed for stardom, Karen only learnt the drums in the school marching band to get out of Phys Ed and while very happy beating the skins, took a long time to be persuaded to sing. With that voice? It seems so.
But the Carpenters should never have happened in any case. As the 60s screeched to a bloody halt ushering in the era of Zeppelin, Floyd and Glimmer Twins-era Stones the brother-sister combo from Connecticut were as square as it got. A look at them and it was like the 60s, hell even the 50s, never happened. They spent years busting their humps trying to get a deal
and then everyone tried to talk Herb Albert at A&M to get rid of those dorky sweater wearing chumps but he kept believing. These two had something special.
"Richard took refuge in heroic doses of quaaludes. Meanwhile, Karen started worrying about her weight. The cracks became faultlines. The centre could not hold."
When success came it came in spades. They stayed as square as ever but about a hundred times more popular, Herb Albert’s faith in them vindicated. A collaborator talks about exiting a restaurant with Karen just as John Lennon entered. Lennon stopped her and said "I wanna tell you, love – I think you’ve got a fabulous voice". Karen couldn’t believe he meant it. She was prickly like that.
As their fame grew, cracks began to show in their wholesome facade. An insane touring schedule began to take its toll and Richard took refuge in heroic doses of quaaludes. Meanwhile, Karen started worrying about her weight. The worrying became obsession. The cracks became faultlines. The centre could not hold.
As anorexia ravaged her body, people noticed that Karen was starting to weigh less than her dresses. In an interview, Sue Lawley asked Karen if it was true her weight dropped down to six stone. Carpenter rolled her eyes and said "I don’t even know how much six stone is". You got to love a metric martyr.
Not that love ever came easy to her. A brief unhappy marriage to a real estate
"A broken woman in a girl’s body, watched over by her loving but angry quaalude-blitzed brother, singing dark lyrics over sugary melodies – small wonder she was conflicted. "
developer precipitated her decline. Towards the end she was taking 10 times the recommended dose of thyroid medication to speed up her metabolism, coupled with 100 laxatives a day. She died of cardiac arrest 4th February, 1983 aged 32.
Karen Carpenter’s strange life was defined by struggle. The struggle for recognition, the struggle for control and the struggle to break free from the musical franchise that defined/confined her. A broken woman in a girl’s body, watched over by her loving but angry quaalude-blitzed brother, singing dark lyrics over sugary melodies – small wonder she was conflicted. When she sang "I’ll say goodbye to love – no one ever cared if I should live or die" you believed it. And better vocal performances than the one she puts in on Superstar? Counting them won’t eat into your day.
The verdict on Only Yesterday – The Carpenters’ Story: There are no tomorrows for this heart of mine (because it’s stopped).
Marks out of 10: 7.5
Imagined: Friday, March 12, 2010