Saturday, February 4, 2023

My Ten Minutes With Karen

1971 photo of Karen Carpenter in concert

Ten Minutes. 


It was February 23, 1971. I got to spend ten minutes with Karen Carpenter. 


I was a freshman at the University of Oklahoma. Friend Bill Woodring and I had a news and music show called Equatorial Doldrums on KGOU, the campus radio station. I was a meteorology student who handled the news and weather on the show while Bill handled the music. 

After spending the weekend covering a record-setting blizzard that affected western and northern parts of the state, station manager Linda Durbin said, when we had concluded Monday’s show, “They sent us two tickets to the Carpenters concert in Tulsa tomorrow night. Would you like to cover it?”


Would we?! The Carpenters were the hottest recording group in the nation. Within the previous twelve months they had released “Close to You” and “We’ve Only Just Begun.” The latter was part of Boomers’ wedding ceremonies for the next dozen years. Because we had press credentials, we could listen to the concert and then go backstage and interview Karen and Richard if we wished. 


The concert was excellent. YouTube has an audio recording of their Carnegie Hall concert two months later if you are interested their sound at that time as well as a high-quality video of a Carpenters concert in 1972. 


When the concert concluded, we found our way on stage. Karen and Richard were there with their respective instruments awaiting anyone who wished to speak to them. To my surprise, everyone was clustered around Richard. Karen was standing – by herself – next to her drums. Bill went over to speak to Richard while I went to talk to Karen.


By all accounts, Karen thought of herself as a drummer who sang; not as a great vocalist. She was far more attractive in-person than she photographed. I recall introducing myself and having a real conversation with her. Karen could not have been more gracious as I’m sure I asked the same questions she had answered dozens of times. Two things I clearly recall: the first was that I asked if there was a particular type of album (I was thinking of Sgt Petters Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds) they wished to make in the future? Karen brightened and said, “A Christmas album!” They had just had a huge hit with “Merry Christmas, Darling” but I was caught off-guard by her eagerness. [In 1978, Carpenters’ Christmas Portrait*, one of the best Christmas albums of the last 50 years, was released].


Her second comment (by this time, others had gathered) was, “We have a party to go to in a few minutes and I can’t tell you how much I hate going to these by myself.” She seemed genuinely uncomfortable at the thought. I pondered for a moment: Do I really want to volunteer to escort Karen Carpenter? I was afraid I’d look like a fool! But, being a 19-yr old boy, I said, “Karen, I will escort you, if you would like.” She looked at me for a moment and said, “No, thank you.” I've never been accused of being timid. 


Others wanted to talk with her, so I thanked Karen and concluded the interview. Bill and I drove back to Norman on “cloud nine.” We had wonderful material for our show. Next day, we went in early to edit the tape and present it to our listeners. Unfortunately, the tape has been lost over the years. 


Not only did Karen Carpenter have "the voice" of her generation (and one of the best, ever) everything said about her being bright and sweet is true. Yet, by most accounts, Karen led a heartbreaking life. She died from anorexia which had turned to bulimia which led to heart failure. She was just 32. 

Fortunately, we will always have the Carpenters’ music. Here is my favorite vocal performance of Karen's where she also plays the drums. On the 40th anniversary of Karen’s premature passing, I fondly recall my ten minutes with Karen


*  Richard has tinkered with their Christmas albums over the years, while leaving the titles the same. The only YouTube copy of the original Christmas Portrait is here. I highly recommend it, it is one of the best Christmas albums, ever. 

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