I’ve spent a lot of my rehab time listening to “Reaction” videos on YouTube. For those who aren’t familiar, the reactions consist mostly of young people, the majority of whom seem to be black people, listening to older music (by what seem to be mostly white performers) for the first time. The results range from hilarious to heartbreaking to cringe-inducing to eye-opening (imagine someone reacting to “Night Moves” without understanding the significance of 1962 or “Ode to Billy Joe” without knowing what the Tallahatchee River represents).
One of my favorite follows is some black kids called Dean Bros, fellow North Florida natives who appear in various combinations but always bring infectious enthusiasm. They just recently discovered Karen Carpenter. I have a delicate relationship with Karen. My mother–also my favorite rock critic–was an incredibly gifted singer, with an appreciation for all kinds of music. I only heard her compare two human voices to angels. One was Karen Carpenter, the other was Martin Luther King.
The spiritual element in Carpenter’s voice wasn’t missed by me…I didn’t inherit my mother’s talent but I did inherit her ear. I’ve always told anyone who would listen that if you had shown me two photographs in 1978, one of Karen Carpenter and one of Johnny Rotten, and guaranteed one of them was a Show Biz lifer and the other was being ridden by a Hellhound, I would have pointed to Karen as the latter. If you had asked me how I knew, I would have said: “I’ve heard her sing.”
As our fat, unhappy nation now resumes the spiral back into spiritual numbness, a process that began in earnest around the time of her death, it’s a treat for me to hear a bunch of kids from my neighborhood get instantly what three generations of crit-illuminati didn’t so much fail as refuse to notice.
Listen again, through their ears: