Biographical Poetry posted March 17, 2024

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A Song for You

The Carpenters

by Debbie D'Arcy

Amid the rage of rock and roll, a sweet sound filtered through -
in tender, velvet tones, her plea, to follow Close to You;
and, though their look would fail to fit the fashion of the day,
their melodies would mesmerise that they were here to stay.
Their parents would move west, an aim to herald a new start,
for Richard was the golden child with music in his heart:
his talent on the keyboard ever destined to go far;
while Karen, much the sporty girl, outshone by brother's star.
And LA, the Horizon, was the hub for pop and sun,
to celebrate a youthful time: We've Only Just Begun.
Young Karen would take up the drums with passion blending flair,
combining with her vocals - they would make the perfect pair.
Before too long, reward would greet their clean-cut, airy style;
in duo line up, charmingly, they shone their Sweet, Sweet Smile.
But Karen was the prize fans yearned to claim her as their own -
this Superstar who stole the show, though seated all alone.
Her Masquerade would need to go, she could no longer hide
behind her drums, the message clear: now own the stage with pride.
A bird within a gilded cage, she'd found her Hideaway
and pressure to forsake her art meant yield to others' sway.
Though Richard was creator, still the accolades would fall
on Karen's silken vocals that touched the hearts of all  -
A Song for You that echoed through her words and sought to show
a peaceful calm amid the storm would chime For All We Know.
As shows and tours then multiplied, the siblings suffered strain,
but Karen's was more visible, an outward sign of pain.
A shadow of her former self, while losing still more weight,
her Yesterday Once More would seem Now hollow and too late.
And Rainy Days and Mondays escalated and would blight
a partnership in crisis mid a future once so bright.
Determinedly, she even sought a solo path (in vain),
recording her own album in her plight to take the rein.
Her life unravelled quickly as her health then took its toll;
she needed Reason to Believe, to wrestle back control.
Our Day Will Come (her long held wish) and wed, she couldn't wait
but, sadly doomed, Goodbye to Love, all hopes would dissipate.
She battled on, at last to find some Help in therapy,
but, hidden deep within, her life was fragile as could be.
She'd put on pounds to prove her will to fight her private war
but, weakened by starvation years, her heart could take no more.
Angelically, aTop the World, she Sings, from high above,
her stories of Those Good Old Dreams, forever shared with love.
In glowing harmonies that shine pure artistry sublime,
their music, still celest'ally, transcends the bounds of time.



Image: courtesy of Google free pics; information sources: Wikipedia and internet biographies, You Tube videos.
My thanks to Jim Wile for his helpful subject suggestion (always welcome).

Song/album titles have been used for the poetic purpose of the biography and may not necessarily relate to the context of the songs (which may be covers) or their period. They may also be slightly amended or shortened to accommodate the meter. Dates in brackets refer to original release. Many thanks for your kind understanding.

Stanza 1: Close to You (1970)
In the middle of the Hard Rock period, The Carpenters emerged with their soft musical style. Their squeaky-clean image stood in marked contrast to the gaudy scene that predominated. Despite what they perceived as a stigma against them, they were encouraged by their management to maintain their image which, ultimately, proved wise advice in terms of commercial success.

Stanza 2: Richard (b. 1946) and Karen (1950-1983) were born in a middle-class suburb of New Haven, Connecticut. Richard was a prodigy, playing the piano from a young age and listening to classical as well as modern music; his sister was more outgoing, enjoying sports and ballet but also sharing Richard's interest in music.
In 1963 the family moved to California for the sunshine and also to further Richard's musical career.

Stanza 3: Horizon (1975 6th studio album); We've Only Just Begun (1970)
Karen started learning to play the drums while still at school. The siblings made their first public appearance in 1965 for a local musical, Guys and Dolls. Karen also took singing lessons, with her coach describing her as "a born pop singer."

Stanza 4: Sweet, Sweet Smile (1977)
Initially, in an instrumental band called The Richard Carpenter trio, the couple then established themselves (Signed to A&M Records by Herb Alpert) as The Carpenters with Karen, on the drums, taking the lead with vocals.

Stanza 5: Masquerade (1973; A Place to) Hideaway (1971 single and 3rd studio album)
The lyrics of Masquerade are about the mask we wear in our everyday life, exploring themes of duplicity and pretence.
It became increasingly obvious that Karen (only 5 ft 4) needed to leave her beloved drum kit and take centre stage. This was a tough call for her. She was shy and very sensitive to criticism of her appearance, especially her fuller figure.

Stanza 6: A Song for You (1972); All We Know (1971)
Karen's popularity was soaring and Richard (understandably) felt somewhat aggrieved by the fact that she was getting all the credit for songs that he'd written and produced. Their music touched a chord of peace amid the noise of rock music.

Stanza 7: Yesterday Once More ( 1973) Now (1976 A Kind of Hush album);
But, as so often happens, the tours were taking their toll. Karen, in particular, felt less and less in control of her life and her need for managing this loss took the form of her deteriorating eating disorder (anorexia nervosa and bulimia - now recognised as a mental illness in which the patient struggles to reassert control, in this case, over their appetite by effectively starving themselves).
Richard was also in trouble, having become addicted to Quaalude, an hypnotic sedative.

Stanza 8: Rainy Days and Mondays (1971)
While Richard was in rehab for his drug addiction, Karen began recording her own solo album. She dedicated it to Richard "with all my heart." However, he later decided to shelve it, albeit subsequently releasing it according to Karen's approval. The decision was primarily based on the agreement that it was more important that they be seen as a partnership. Karen's drive, despite her failing health, is testament to the agency she retained during the course of their musical career.

Stanza 9: Reason to Believe (1970); Our Day Will Come (1973) Goodbye to Love (1972).
Karen had always dreamed of a marriage and children, When she met Thomas Burris, a real estate businessman, it was a whirlwind romance and they married in 1980, her requirements being that her husband should be financially independent and important in his own right so that he didn't feel intimidated by her stardom. There was never any real evidence of his status in this regard other than via his marriage and he waited until after they'd wed to inform Karen that he'd had a double vasectomy and was unable to provide children. They separated after 14 months, Karen crushed by his admission, aggravated further by his physical and emotional abuse (He called her "A bag of bones"). He continued living off her fortune following the separation, leaving her with only stocks and shares. The marriage was, apparently, the worst experience of her life. She was due to sign the divorce papers the day she died.
Richard remains married (from 1984) with 5 children.

Stanza 10: Help (1970)
Paradoxically, Karen's rehab treatment had actually been quite successful and she'd put on over 20 pounds (up from 77 pounds), appearing much better before her fatal collapse some months later. However, it's likely that her already damaged heart was unable to take the strain of her additional weight. She'd suffered for years the secret shame of her condition which had made her believe in a dysmorphic image of herself (an obsession with perceived flaws in her appearance, namely her body size). Had this occurred today, she most probably might have lived as so much more is known about it. As it was - and I've watched a British interview with her that made me cringe - confrontation is counter-productive and often drives the patient into a spiral of self-defence (their inner voice of control taking precedence). The process of recovery is a lengthy one that requires a huge amount of patience and understanding on the part of the therapist. Karen was a strong individual but there were aspects of her growing up (she felt unloved by her mother), career choice (manipulated and controlled by others) marriage (abuse) etc that exacerbated her lack of confidence and self-worth, contributing to a web of lies in which, sadly, her inner demons gained ultimate control. Her death triggered widespread media attention on eating disorders which, in turn, became the subject of extensive research.

Stanza 11: Top of the World (1973); Sing (1973); Those Good Old Dreams (1981)
During the 14 year career, the Carpenters sold more than 100 million records worldwide, making them one of the best-selling music artists of all time. Karen's distinctive voice has been the subject of significant acclaim with Paul McCartney quoted as saying: "She had the best female voice in the world." Their soothing harmonies broke through the rebellious clamour of the 60s and 70s with enduring impact, still resonating today.

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