WHOLESOME IMAGE NO PUT-ON FOR POPULAR CARPENTERS
Karen Carpenter, 23, says she sometimes eats
a Peanut Butter Cup for quick energy before a performance.
When she's on tour, which amounts to about
eight months a year, she travels with a seven-foot tall wardrobe
trunk which is one of her proudest possessions. In
one half of the trunk hang the long culottes she wears onstage,
protected with plastics bags. A pair of fluffy bedroom
slippers rests underneath. On the other side of the
trunk are drawers for her matching boots and shoes, and little
plastic packages of spot remover and shoe polish.
The trunk came to Washington recently when
Karen and her brother, Richard sang at a White House state
dinner for West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. After
their performance, President Nixon described the Carpenters
as "Young America at its very best."
Judging from the Carpenters' sustained national
success, there can be little doubt that the President's assertion
is supported by a impressive number of Americans. Now
heading into their fifth triumphant year, the Carpenters
have acquired thousands of fans of all ages. Last week
their latest record "Sing," was certified "Gold"
- that is, it had sold a million copies.
It is their 11th gold record. They won
the 1970 Grammy Award for "best new group," and
the 1970 and 1971 Grammies for "best vocal duo."
With their earnings they have purchased two apartment complexes
(named "Close to You" and "We've Only Just
after two of their early hits), two shopping centers and
are talking about opening a music school in Southern California.
The musical style upon which the Carpenters
have ridden to such success is eclectic, to put it mildly.
Richard, 26, the acknowledged leader of the
duo and the six-man back-up band, claims Liberace, Spike
Jones, Red Nichols, Dixieland, the big band sound and Les
and Mary Ford as musical influences.
The Carpenters' music belongs in a sub-category of rock known
at various times as soft-rock, pop, easy listening or top-40.
On almost any car radio station you hear the
sounds of soft rock. Second cousin to Muzak, grandchild
of folk and estranged relation of rock, its musical effect
is to soothe, to pep up or to amuse.
Like the Carpenters, its popularity increased as reaction
to harsh electronic hard rock set in. In reaction to
rock's loudness, it is quieter, using the same electric guitars,
drums and horns as rock, but not as loudly.
In contrast to the angry anti-establishment
lyrics of many rock songs, soft rocks leans to songs that
talk about love in the rain and yellow ribbons on oak tress.
On the day that you were born the angels
And decided to create a dream come true.
So, they sprinkled moon dust in your hair of gold
And starlight in your eyes of blue."
(From "Close to You," by Burt Bacharach
and Hal David.)
In terms of interpretation, strong feelings
articulated in lyrics are muted in performance, so that broken
hearts never sound any more serious than indigestion.
The high-living antics and anti-establishment lifestyles
of hard-rock stars are anathema to the pop crowd. Soft
rock stars, like the Carpenters, are proud to belong to the
their lifestyles as well as their music reflect traditional
middle-class American values.
"We've been call sickly sweet, goody-two shoes and squeaky clean," said
Richard in a interview at the time of the White House appearance. "But
it's all relative, isn't it? I mean, when we came along in '69 it was right
in the middle of acid rock when all the performers had this negative sort of
'Take me as I am' attitude. And then we walk out, just normally clean. I
mean, everyone takes showers, right?"
Sometimes the Carpenters sound like a cross
between the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the early Beatles. The
key to their "sound" is their use of Les Paul and
Mary Ford's techniques of over-dubbing voices - blending
many recordings of the same two voices, singing different
harmonies, onto one track. The Carpenters have used
as many as 39 recordings of their voices in one song.
Like the Osmonds, Glen Campbell, or the Jackson Five, the
Carpenter's appeal is largely in their music and partly in
their image as just-plain-folks happy family. It's
not personality that sells their records, nor gimmicky theatrical
Karen may eat a Peanut Butter Cup for quick energy
but not an amphetamine, and there are no groupies camped
out in hotels where the Carpenters stay.
The Carpenters' "wholesome and sincere" image is
not a put-on.
The two live with their parents in a newly constructed home
near Los Angeles. ("Why not?" asks Karen.
"We always have. It works out great.")
"A work-free afternoon or evening,"
says one of their numerous press releases "will find
them out bowling, playing a game of baseball with friends,
or - like any typical L.A. young folk- dancing at a discothèque.
Or dropping in at Bob's Big Boy for a super-hamburger."
Richard started music lessons at 12, studied classical piano
at Yale while the family was living in New Haven, Conn.
When his father, now a retired pressman, moved the family
to Southern California, Richard was ready to start pursuing
a career in the music industry.
Karen, the idol of thousands of girls for her cuteness, her
career, and for having an older brother, started drumming
when she was 16. Through subsequent group transformations,
first as the Carpenter Trio (with a friend), then as Spectrum,
as a larger band, she developed into the lead singer.
Although she has been successful in what is
generally considered a man's field (drumming) she has little
patience for "women's lib" and feels it's a wife's
duty to cook for husband, because, "well, I like to
"And just look at him," pointing to her brother, "he can't even
cook water. . . just say that I certainly plan to cook for my husband."
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