Got an e-mail yesterday about a local author named Randy Schmidt who's written a book about Karen Carpenter, Little Girl Blue. The book, from the very reputable Chicago Review Press, isn't officially released till July, but copies have been sneaking into stores in recent weeks, and early reviews are good (and there's a Dionne Warwick intro). And, there are two book-signings forthcoming: July 9 at Legacy Books in Plano at 7 p.m.; and the next day at the Denton Barnes & Noble from 2 to 4 p.m.
I found Schmidt online and asked him how local's local; he responded: "I am the music teacher (K-5) at Pecan Creek Elementary in Denton ISD." At which point I had two questions for the author: Why a book on Karen Carpenter? And: What did you think of Superstar? I was referring to the gone-into-hiding Todd Haynes movie. I wasn't clear about that. Hence, the three answers that follow.
Why a book on Karen Carpenter?
I've been fascinated with Karen Carpenter for more than 20 years. Since January 1, 1989, to be exact. That is the date the CBS biopic The Karen Carpenter Story aired. Her music drew me in from the opening strains of "Rainy Days and Mondays." She sang so simply and effortlessly, quite the opposite of many pop stars from my generation (I just turned 35). Above all, it was her conversational delivery of a song (most any song) that made me feel like she was singing only to me. I was equally intrigued by her story, and having been born right in the middle of the Carpenters' heyday, felt like I had to play "catch up" to learn all I'd missed. As a 13 year old kid I started collecting articles and interviews, concert reviews and memorabilia, all in an attempt to learn more.
By 2001 I began interviewing friends and associates of the Carpenters and worked toward the goal of a book -- off and on -- for the next few years. It soon began to take shape as a KAREN Carpenter biography, as most of those I interviewed wanted to talk about Karen more than the duo. Since there had been no other book about Karen as an individual, it made sense to head in that direction. Despite the release of the TV movie and an authorized biography on the duo, Karen's true story has never really been told. Now, thanks to the trust placed in me by Karen's closest girlfriends and confidants, that is no longer the case. Questions about her life and music, the Carpenter family dynamics and a strained relationship with her mother, her short-lived marriage and her seven year battle with anorexia nervosa, are finally answered.
What did you think of Superstar?
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Quick clarification -- "Superstar" the song, or Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, Todd Haynes' "Barbie" doll movie?
The SONG "Superstar" happens to be my favorite Carpenters single. It was released in 1971 near the beginning of the duo's string of 16 consecutive top 20 hits. The haunting melody works perfectly with Karen's mournful delivery. It's definitely a dark, mood piece. Classic, classic Carpenters!
The Todd Haynes film Superstar was both disturbing and enlightening -- all at the same time! Haynes had a pretty good grasp on the story. The controlling mother was there, but he must not have caught on to Agnes Carpenter's downright obsession with her son and his talents. She was so invested in his musical future that Karen and her interests were often pushed to the side. It was only after her voice led the siblings to a recording contract that her value went up, but not enough to gain her mother's love and affection.
Some of Superstar was a little "in your face," being that Karen had only been gone a few years at that time. Unfortunately, Haynes chose to release the film without properly securing the rights for the music. Granted, he would have never been given such permission in the first place since Richard Carpenter closely watches over every use of their music. In fact, he rarely allows any of the Carpenters recordings to be included in television and movies. In an attempt to discourage its use, Richard asked the producers of the new Shrek movie for $500,000 to use "Top of the World" in that film. Surprisingly, they did!