These days, I make no secret of my affinity for the Carpenters’ music. However, I have never really spoken to anyone of my fascination with Karen Carpenter herself, and the precious few things I knew of her brief life.
There are several TV retrospectives and biographies– and of course, the 1989 biopic which started this whole thing for me. I’ve seen them all now (thanks to the magic of the internet) and at the end of each one, I always felt that there was something vital missing, like we weren’t getting the whole story. Things like that don’t just happen. There had to be a reason for her illness and struggle besides her being unhappy with her body, as many women are.
I would sit and listen to the songs, and prompted by the sadness in her voice, the curiosity would set in and I’d ask myself, why? Why was Karen Carpenter dead? Why did her marriage fail after such a short time? Above all, why was she so damn sad? I’d watch those biographies over again, hoping maybe I’d notice something I hadn’t before. There were hints of it in the TV movie, but they were only hints hidden under a lot of television gloss, and still I was left with far more questions than answers.
In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, after having listened to Karen sing all day, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to Amazon.com, intent on purchasing Carpenters: The Untold Story, the official biography written by Ray Coleman in 1994. Maybe there would be some answers hidden in its pages.
I read the reviews, as I always do before buying something, and I started to change my mind. One reviewer stated, “…unfortunately, Coleman fails to deliver the intimate personal details that help one to understand the tragic and bittersweet story that is the Carpenters.” This wouldn’t do at all. I knew it was just going to say the same stuff I’d already heard in all those other biographies and TV specials. This was whitewashed– not necessarily the fault of the author, but an inevitable result of collaborating with the Carpenter family, whom I’d long suspected of being a little too secretive on the whole matter. What were they trying to hide?
Then over in one of the side panels of the Amazon page, I spotted Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter. I had never seen or heard of this book before– that’s because it just came out a month ago today. This is an all-new, “unauthorized” biography of Karen Carpenter, created with the help of many of her trusted friends.
Again, I went to the reviews. “Finally, the truth,” they declared. Still skeptical, I looked at the preview of the book, and read the foreword by Dionne Warwick, and the author’s note, and the prologue, which told of the struggle of the writer hired to pen the TV movie, and how he was forced by the family to edit and edit until he gave up and quit the project. I said to myself, aha! This is the one.
So I ordered it, shelled out for the one-day shipping, and spent a good bit of today reading the thing from cover-to-cover. After I finished reading it, I felt like I had lost a dear friend. I laughed a couple of times, but mostly cried. This story is possibly the saddest thing I’ve ever read. My suspicions and those of many other fans were correct– in many of their songs, Karen had been singing her life. She had suffered so many hardships: being forced out from behind her beloved drum kit into the harsh spotlight, her practically non-existent personal life, her failed attempts at independence from her family, her shelved solo album, her utterly disastrous marriage. She really, truly was Little Girl Blue.
What really broke my heart was finally learning the details of her marriage and why it fell apart so quickly. The book also lays bare some of the hurtful, cruel things that her husband said to her, and I almost couldn’t believe it. How could a person bear so much pain with a smile? The answer is, they can’t. And that’s why she’s not with us today.
In spite of all these sad details, the book is lovingly told, not sensationalized, not slanderous. It’s a respectful account of her story, and I’m very, very glad for it. We, her fans, can now begin to understand and come to terms with her death instead of being left wondering why. Hopefully, all of those who read it can learn something from it, can learn that what we all need more than money, talent, fame, or anything else is love, acceptance, and support. And of course, I hope that it would also help shed some more light on anorexia nervosa and similar afflictions.