Tag Archive | Karen Carpenter

Wedding Woes

“You’re practically guaranteed great weather.”

August 31, 2021

By my count, I have only 137 Tuesday Newsday posts before I hit the magic number of 365. That’s a whole lot of posts. So some days, like for August 31, it can be difficult to hit on just the right topic.

As I was surfing the web… er, researching… I found myself watching a documentary on The Carpenters. For those who have been reading my blog posts for a while, you know that I’ve featured something about The Carpenters twice so far.

Richard Gere and Debra Winger in the romantic movie ‘An Officer and a Gentleman

To be fair, I WAS researching actor Richard Gere whose birthday is August 31, 1946. I had watched a couple of clips from two of the movies he was in (Looking For Mr. Goodbar and An Officer and a Gentleman) when a Carpenters video popped up and then I remembered a connection between myself and Karen Carpenter.

So, my friends, this is the third post for arguably one of my two favorite musical acts.

It was on August 31, 1980, when Karen Carpenter was married. Unfortunately, her marriage lasted only 14 months and, in many ways accelerated her downward spiral that ended with her death in February 1983 (https://barbaradevore.com/2020/02/04/goodbye-to-love/).

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“In early interviews, Carpenter showed no interest in marriage or dating, believing that a relationship would not survive constant touring, adding ‘as long as we’re on the road most of the time, I will never marry’. In 1976, she said the music business made it hard to meet people and that she refused to just marry someone for the sake of it. Carpenter admitted to Olivia Newton-John that she longed for a happy marriage and family.(snip) After a whirlwind romance, she married real-estate developer Thomas James Burris on August 31, 1980, in the Crystal Room of The Beverly Hills Hotel. Burris, divorced with an 18-year-old son, was nine years her senior. A few days prior to the ceremony, Karen was taped singing a new song, ‘Because We Are in Love’, and the tape was played for guests during the wedding ceremony. The song, written by her brother and Tom Bettis, was released in 1981. The couple settled in Newport Beach.

James Burris and Karen Carpenter at their August 31, 1980 wedding

Carpenter desperately wanted children, but Burris had undergone a vasectomy and refused to get an operation to reverse it. Their marriage did not survive this disagreement and ended after 14 months. Burris was living beyond his means, borrowing up to $50,000 (the equivalent of $142,000 in 2020) at a time from his wife, to the point where reportedly she had only stocks and bonds left. Carpenter’s friends also indicated he was impatient. Karen Kamon, a close friend, recounted an incident in which she and Carpenter went to their normal hangout, Hamburger Hamlet, and Carpenter appeared to be distant emotionally, sitting not at their regular table but in the dark, wearing large dark sunglasses, unable to eat and crying. According to Kamon, the marriage was ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was absolutely the worst thing that could have ever happened to her.’

In September 1981, Carpenter revised her will and left her marital home and its contents to Burris, but left everything else to her brother and parents, including her fortune estimated at 5–10 million dollars (between $14,000,000 and $28,000,000 in 2020). Two months later, following an argument after a family dinner in a restaurant, Carpenter and Burris broke up. Carpenter filed for divorce on October 28, 1982, while she was in Lenox Hill Hospital.”

By August of 1980, I was no longer obsessed with The Carpenters. My life had moved on. I had graduated college in May 1979 and also met the man who would become my hubby.

That year I took a job in Eatonville, Washington, as the sole reporter (and grunt of all things small town newspaper) for The Dispatch. When I wasn’t out covering a story, weekends often involved driving to Seattle to spend time with my boyfriend. Life was full and busy. Then in May of 1980 we became engaged and planned our wedding for the end of August.

The soon to be hubby and I discussed having an outdoor ceremony in a park in West Seattle. My mother had other plans.

Instead we ended up at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Yakima on August 30. We had not given much thought to that particular date. As it turned out, that was the Saturday of Labor Day weekend which prompted more than a few declines of guests due to other plans.

Reciting our vows at Westminster Presbyterian Church

A couple weeks prior to the ceremony, the soon to be hubby was on the phone with one of his friends, encouraging him to attend. It was in this conversation when one particular phrase was uttered which has come back to haunt the hubby over the years:

“You should definitely come since you’re practically guaranteed great weather.”

According to WeatherUnderground at the time our OUTDOOR reception in my parents backyard was to take place, it was a decidedly un-summerlike 61 degrees with rain. An even more astonishing fact is that the record low temperature for August 30th in Yakima was 36 degrees set on that date in… 1980.

There were a few other glitches that day also. The hubby’s brother never arrived as he was attending a Porsche car rally near Mt. Hood and his car broke down.

Then, as I was literally about to start the traditional walk down the aisle, the photographer whispers to me, “There was a problem with the camera and none of the pictures I took turned out. We’ll have to do them over.”

Pro Tip to photographers everywhere, this is NOT something you tell a bride just before she walks down the aisle.

Turns out that some of the outdoor photos did turn out… like this one of us, our attendants, and our soloist before the rain started. Note the gray stuff in the grass. Yup. Mount St. Helen’s ash – a little more than three months after the eruption – was still everywhere in Yakima.

So there I was, standing in the church on what is supposed to be the perfect day and all I can think about is what the heck are we going to do about the photos AND listening to the rain drops echoing on the skylights overhead wondering how the party next to the pool will turn out.

With our greatest role models… The hubby’s parents recently celebrated their 75th anniversary. Mine celebrated their 70th in 2017 a couple months before my mom passed.

But all things being equal, it actually was a perfect way to start a marriage. Because weddings are not marriages. Marriages are all about overcoming the various challenges which life tosses at you. In the 41 years since that cold and rainy summer day, there have been broken bones, illness, and challenges which have all but swamped us. But there has also been laughter, adventures, and joy.

So Happy 41st Anniversary to the hubby. It’s been quite the ride.

The links:

https://www.wunderground.com/history/daily/us/wa/yakima/KYKM/date/1980-8-30

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_Carpenter

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Gere

Goodbye To Love

February 4, 2020

Karen Carpenter

February 3, 1959. August 16, 1977. December 8, 1980. February 4, 1983. April 5, 1994.

For any person who is a true fan, any one of these dates might invoke an unpleasant memory of the ‘day the music died’ for them. Each date marks the passing of a well loved and famous musical artist. Do you recall where you were and what you were doing on any one of these days?

My brother – who is a disc jockey – still talks about August 16, 1977. The day Elvis died. For Nirvana fans it’s April 5, 1994. Beatles devotees recall December 8, 1980 as a day which shocked the world. And, of course, February 3, 1959, marks the tragic date when Buddy Holly died in a plane crash along with a few others.

Karen Carpenter early 1970s

Karen Carpenter in the early 1970’s

If you don’t recognize February 4, 1983, you can be forgiven. But for me that was the date when the first artist whose voice and music truly captured me died: Karen Carpenter.

To this day I wonder it was an avoidable outcome if only…  if only her mother had been more loving and less controlling… if only she hadn’t been forced to come out from behind her drums… if only the press had not been so awful to her… if only she could have loved herself the way her fans loved her.

By all accounts, Karen’s life could have become a fairy-tale come true. At the age of 19 Karen, as one half of The Carpenters, saw their first big hit “Close To You” rocket to the top of the pop charts. Fame and financial success followed with a string of Top Ten records. Concerts, TV specials, and an invitation to the White House were all a part of those heady years.

And yet. Karen was particularly sensitive to body image. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Carpenter began dieting while in high school. Under a doctor’s guidance, she began the Stillman diet, eating lean foods, drinking eight glasses of water a day, and avoiding fatty foods. She reduced her weight to 120 pounds and stayed approximately at that weight until around 1973, when the Carpenters’ career reached its peak.  That year, she happened to see a photo of herself taken at a concert in which her outfit made her appear heavy. Carpenter hired a personal trainer who advised her to change her diet. The new diet caused her to build muscle, which made her feel heavier instead of slimmer. Carpenter fired the trainer and began her own weight loss program using exercise equipment and counting calories. She lost about 20 pounds and intended to lose another five pounds. Her eating habits also changed around this time, with Carpenter trying to get food off her plate by offering it to others at the meal as a taste.”

With increased success, came increased pressure to look and be perfect. By most accounts it seems that Karen spent her life trying to gain her mother’s love and approval. Older brother Richard was the focus of the family’s attention. At age 3 he was playing the piano and identified as a child prodigy with immense talent. It must have come as a huge shock to her parents when it was Karen and her amazing voice that proved to be the secret to success. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“(Karen) Carpenter had a complicated relationship with her parents. They had hoped that Richard’s musical talents would be recognized and that he would enter the music business, but were not prepared for Karen’s success. She continued to live with them until 1974. In 1976, Carpenter bought two Century City apartments which she combined into one; the doorbell chimed the opening notes of ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’.”

Karen carpenter in grip of her disease

In this photo, you can clearly see that she is not at a healthy weight.

Most of the focus on Anorexia Nervosa came after Karen’s untimely death. In the decades since there has been research and a public push to find solutions for those who are afflicted by the disorder. Karen Carpenter’s struggle has been largely responsible for this.

One of the things I would have loved would have been to attend a Carpenter’s concert. Alas, being only 13 when they hit the top of the charts, it was not going to happen. My mother believed rock and roll concerts (the Carpenters were not exactly rock and roll BTW) were not appropriate places for young women. In fact, the first concert I attended was in 1980’s, long after the Carpenters were no longer touring.

For several years in the 1970’s, however, I purchased every one of their albums and would listen to Karen’s dulcet tones for hours on end. I loved her voice.

Fast forward to Friday, February 4, 1983. I was working at Microsoft – then located near the Burger Master on Northup Way in Belleuve, Washington – paying more attention to selling computer software and not listening to music for hours each day.

It was payday and at lunchtime one of my fellow Microsofties, Sue C., and I decided to go deposit our paychecks in the bank. We headed to downtown Kirkland, a few miles north. Once our banking was complete, we drove south on Lake Washington Boulevard. We likely had the radio on – background to our chatting – when I heard the announcement “Pop star Karen Carpenter has died.”

I think Sue was behind the wheel and immediately stopped the car as we both exclaimed shock and dismay. How could it be? What I most recall about that day is that it seemed dark to me. In reality, according to the weather history, it was a fairly mild, clear day. But in my mind, it’s dark.

Karen Carpenter was such a part of our growing up experience; she was 32 years old, a mere seven years older than ourselves.

In 1989 I watched with interest the CBS TV movie The Karen Carpenter Story. In the years since her death I had not listened much to The Carpenters. The moment I heard those favorite songs and her voice, however, it was as if I was transported back to the early 1970’s. What a voice. It was filled with emotion and able to convey a sadness that transcended the years. Like so many artists who died young, I wonder what wonderful songs the world missed out on when Karen Carpenter left us on February 4, 1983.

A few links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_Carpenter

I couldn’t make up my mind as to which of these two songs to share… so I did both. I think Superstar also captures the depth of whatever pains she felt in life.

Superstar: https://youtu.be/SJmmaIGiGBg

Just like me, they long to be…

…Close To You

July 30, 2019

In the spring of 1970 there were around 17 million Americans between the ages of 12 and 16, approximately eight and a half million of which were female. It was the era of AM radio and the dawn of a musical period often dominated by a form of music known as soft rock.

According to the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The Hot 100 and Easy Listening charts became more similar again toward the end of the 1960s and into the early and mid-1970s, when the texture of much of the music played on Top 40 radio once more began to soften. The adult contemporary format began evolving into the sound that later defined it, with rock-oriented acts as Chicago, the Eagles and Elton John becoming associated with the format. The Carpenters’ hit version of ‘(They Long to Be) Close to You’ was released in the summer of 1970, followed by Bread’s ‘Make It with You’, both early examples of a softer sound that was coming to dominate the charts.”

Carpenters album cover 1970It was during the last week of July 1970 when Close To You topped the Billboard Hot 100 and held the number one position for four weeks. It marked the ascension of The Carpenters as one of the defining musical acts of the early 1970’s.

Despite the group being derided as saccharin at the time, their musical success is undisputed. Much has been written about Karen Carpenter’s voice and her three octave range and soulful interpretations. The Carpenters would not, however, have been the Carpenters without older brother Richard who was the arranger behind their ‘sound.’

Love em or hate em, the Carpenters’ style was original enough to propel them to the top of the pop charts. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“They produced a distinct soft musical style, combining Karen’s contralto vocals with Richard’s arranging and composition skills. During their 14-year career, the Carpenters recorded ten albums, along with numerous singles and several television specials.”

It was from 1970 through 1973, however, when they achieved their greatest success, appealing to a demographic who purchased their records and made the Carpenters a household name: females aged 13 to 18.

“Their career together ended in 1983 when Karen died from heart failure brought on by complications of anorexia. Extensive news coverage surrounding these circumstances increased public awareness of eating disorders. Though the Carpenters were criticized for their clean-cut and wholesome conservative image in the 1970s, their music has since been re-evaluated, attracting critical acclaim and continued commercial success.”

I have decided to reserve the right to blog more about the Carpenters at a later date. They were the most influential musical group for me during my teen years and I will have more to say. But this article is only to focus on their launch and the song Close To You. 

My early blogging was in the form of keeping a diary. Although I couldn’t put my hands on my 1970 diary, I found a reference to this song at the end of my 1971 diary, noting when it was played on the radio.

I was so obsessed with the song that I used a cassette tape recorder with the microphone held up to the radio to record it for later listening. Close To You was one of the first single records I purchased as was their album of the same title. It’s four week run on the charts also coincided with my 13th birthday.

My obsession even prompted me to think it was a good idea to do a lip-sync version for a competition where I needed a ‘talent.’ (I have zero public performance talents) Taken from the pages of my 1971 diary on December 31 I dutifully record that “I am going to pantomime Close to You like I’m a chorus girl or something. I’m going to wear Sue’s blue velvet formal and silver shoes. If she’ll let me.”

Yes, my older sister did let me wear the dress and the shoes. Yes, it was a total embarrassment. It’s why I avoid karaoke and limit my singing to the shower and the car.

Thank goodness Karen Carpenter – who suffered from stage fright – was able to overcome it enough to share her amazing voice with the world. But I’m not so sure the price she paid was worth it.

The lyrics:

Why do birds suddenly appear, ev’ry time you are near?
Just like me, they long to be close to you.
Why do stars fall down from the sky, ev’ry time you walk by?
Just like me, they long to be close to you.

On the day that you were born the angels got together.
And decided to create a dream come true.
So, they sprinkled moon dust in your hair of gold
And star-light in your eyes of blue.
That is why all the girls in town follow you all around.
Just like me, they long to be close to you…

On the day that you were born the angels got together.
And decided to create a dream come true.
So, they sprinkled moon dust in your hair of gold
And star-light in your eyes of blue.
That is why all the girls in town follow you all around.
Just like me, they long to be close to you…
Just like me, they long to be close to you…

And a couple of links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/(They_Long_to_Be)_Close_to_You

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soft_rock