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.
It looks like whatever effects I’ll feel will be late Sunday into Monday. If I go dark for a couple of days do not be alarmed! (That might include not responding to comments for a while if, for instance, the power goes out for an extended time.)
Mostly good news on the family front. My niece who lives in Naples (which now looks to be dead center of the storm’s landfall) has safely evacuated to her husband’s folks in Georgia. Another niece who was on vacation in Disney World with her family left this morning (a day ahead of schedule) and, as of dusk today, they were nearing the Georgia line (a trip that would normally take about three hours). My best friend from work, who lives on the Gulf Coast of the Panhandle, has evacuated to Georgia with her family and pets as well. My sister’s family on the east coast of the peninsula is hunkered down, but they’re lifers who have ridden out many of these and are experts in prepping for the worst. I’m still slated to see only the west edge of the storm, hopefully after it has worn itself down some, so things are about as good as they could be all things considered.
Bottled water is back in supply and being sold at normal prices after some price-gouging yesterday.
Their kind of enduring, semi-iconic mid-level fame no longer exists. If they have thirty-ish equivalents now, you can be certain that, if they live to their seventies or eighties, they will not be remembered by anything like the same number of people or with anything like the same degree of fondness. Maybe the superstars will be.
I have to walk softly around Karen Carpenter, lest I get something opened to the bone.
I’m of the Seventies–different than having merely lived through them, though that was trial enough. So between her and, say, Johnny Rotten, I never was confused about which one was an eminently reliable Show-Biz Lifer and which one was being ridden by a Hellhound. Not even lingering memories of an overdose of “Rainy Days and Mondays” in Junior High Chorus could make it otherwise. (The other biggie, circa the fall of 1972, was Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again Naturally,” a cheery paean to Suicide evidently deemed suitable for seventh-graders. No idea if that teacher ever suffered a reprimand, let alone offed himself. “The Seventies,” for those who are neither of them nor old enough to even remember, was a time of some extremely weird Ju-Ju.)
That being said, I didn’t necessarily love a lot of the Carpenters’ records. The need to fence the female voice in takes a lot of different forms and brother Richard’s preferred method–perhaps a bit too ably aided and abetted by massive public acclaim–was to ladle on tastefully muted instrumental touches and needlessly cushy vocal overdubs. Over time, even his melodies got a bit sing-songy for my tastes.
Those elements aren’t entirely gone here, by any means, but this BBC concert from 1971 is still a godsend–early days with just enough of the sheen knocked off, just enough of the time, for the Voice to truly take hold in front of an audience that clearly knows what it’s getting.
And, somewhere in there, she absolutely kills “Rainy Days and Mondays.”