Tag: Karen Carpenter

Drawing Karen Part 3—I’ll Say Goodbye to Love

People never think of entertainers as being human. When you walk out on stage the audience thinks, “Nothing can go wrong with them.” We get sick and we have headaches just like they do. When we are cut, we bleed. — Karen Carpenter

 

Weeknights, I sang and played piano at The Mark Twain in Salt Lake City, run by polygamists. Alice Knudsen was one of Willard T. Knudsen’s many wives. She managed the restaurant with her oldest son.  She wasn’t like the polygamist women I’d seen in St. George where I attended Junior College.  Those women wore long-sleeved, ankle-length prairie dresses cut from the same homely pattern and rarely spoke to anyone, always looking at the ground. Alice held her head high. She wore ruffled blouses and a cameo broach. Her dark hair was stylishly twisted into a bun on the top of her head. On the day of my audition, she looked regal standing against the swagged jacquard curtains.

“I’m not supposed to ask this,” she said. “But, are you Mormon?”

“Yes,” I said, confidently, leaning against the piano which rested under a heavy crystal chandelier. I didn’t tell her that I no longer believed.

“Oh good,” she said, smiling. “Serve a mission?”

“Indiana. I’ve been back two years.”

“And you’re not married?” Alice said, looking surprised at my ringless hand.

“Not yet.”

She was impressed that I could fill two hours without repeating a song.  After hearing my rendition of “Somewhere in Time,” she hired me on the spot.

“Wear black slacks and a white dress-shirt. We’ll provide you with a vest and a bow tie.”

Of course, I played a lot of Carpenters songs.

After my last set on Friday nights, I’d go back to my apartment only to change my clothes. Then I’d head to the gay dance club where I could celebrate who I was, at least until midnight. I had to be up early Saturdays. The Mark Twain didn’t pay enough to cover my rent or feed my gas-guzzling car, so I worked weekends as a security guard.

One Saturday morning, groggy and hungover on my commute, The Carpenters, “Road Ode,” played on the radio. It was unusual for a top 40 station to play an obscure album cut, but it was one of my favourites. Karen’s vocals, like a magical drug, could soothe any kind of ache or discomfort.  Something in her voice acknowledged all of the pain, but at the same time, pointed towards acceptance and hope. I pulled my rust-coloured Oldsmobile into the vast empty lot and parked by the front gate. I stayed in the car until the song ended. The other guard glared at me through the window, urgently pointing to his watch.

“I’m coming,” I said, as if he could hear me.

When I came through the door, he said, “You’re late!”

“By thirty seconds,” I said.

“Late is late!”

“Sorry,” I said, as he slammed the door.

I turned up the heat and tuned the radio to KOVO—Provo’s all-hit station. Another Carpenters song was playing. Two in a row? Then the phone rang.

“Billy?” It was my thirteen-year-old sister, Kimberly. “Did you hear?”

“Hear what?” I said.

“Karen Carpenter, she died. She had that disease. Mom, what’s it called?” In the background I heard my Mother’s voice whisper, “Anorexia Nervosa.”

 

 All the years of useless search/

Have finally reached an end/

Loneliness and empty days will be my only friend/

From this day love is forgotten/

I’ll go on as best I can.

 

“Billy?” Kim said.

“I’m still here.”

“We thought you probably knew. We wanted to see if you’re okay.” Kimberly said, holding back her tears.

“Kim, I’ve got to make my rounds. I’ll talk to you later.”

“I love you,” she said.

I hung up the phone as the song ended.

“Folks, that was the late Karen Carpenter singing her 1972 hit, “Goodbye to Love.” What a voice! We’ll be taking your Carpenters requests all day long until midnight. A-sides, B-sides, we’ll try to play them all.”

The radio news confirmed that Karen Carpenter, 32 years old, was found unconscious on the floor of her bedroom closet, at her parents’ home in Downey, California. Cardiac arrest. The Carpenters kept playing.

The Pacific States Cast Iron Pipe Company was a sprawling complex of gritty industrial buildings, surrounded by swampland. Every hour, I made my rounds which took me twenty-five minutes to complete. Except for the occasional lone worker doing overtime, the entire place was void of life and too bleak to be haunted. Dressed in a navy-blue polyester uniform, I usually walked around the plant belting out show tunes, but not that day.

In the afternoon, the phone rang again. It was my Mother.

“How are you doing?” She said, gingerly.

“I wish that I didn’t have to be here.”

“People have been calling all morning, asking about you.”

“Really? Who?”

“Oh, relatives mainly. Your cousin Verleen said it felt like a death in the family. Everyone knows how much you loved her.”

“That’s really sweet,” I said. “Kind of embarrassing too.”

“Where on earth did she get the silly idea that she was fat?” There was silence. “Billy, I worry about you. Are you spending the night with us? I’m making funeral potatoes.”

“Because of Karen?”

“I don’t know. I guess.”

“I’ll come home,” I said.

“Oh, your old missionary companion called.”

“Which one?”

“What’s-his-name? The one that sounds like God—in church movies.”

His name was Jack, but we called him Lumberjack because he was six feet, seven inches of solid muscle. Loud, outspoken, and irreverent, he made me laugh so hard I’d forget to be depressed. Jack had a thing for Liza Minelli, so he didn’t mind that I put a Carpenters poster on the wall of our apartment next to Joseph Smith. He took a picture of me standing next to it. It looked like I was standing right next to Karen. img_2187

Out of all the guys I was paired up with, over my two-year mission, he was my favourite. Instead of tediously going door to door, trying to get converts, we visited the elderly and volunteered at the YMCA. It was an easier way to meet people, and it felt like we were making a difference. We followed the strict mission rules, except for the time we checked out Karen and Liza records from the library. We weren’t supposed to listen to anything but the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

“What if someone finds out?”

“Elder Lunt,” Jack said authoritatively. “There’s nothing more spiritual than listening to the voices of angels sing.”

 

Pacific States had twenty-one security checkpoints. Some were outside in the cold, some down stairs, up ladders, and through dark cement tunnels. A layer of soot covered everything. The smelting furnaces were always hot, and an acrid chemical smell pervaded. Inside an enormous open enclosure, a giant magnet dangled over two-story mound of scrap metal. Tons of metallic waste would be melted down into a molten liquid, and formed into sewage pipe. I felt minuscule, standing at the base of the rusty apocalyptic heap.

“She’s gone.” I said, to the emptiness.  I screamed towards the magnet as loud as I could. It felt good. I screamed again. My yells echoed through the enclosure and dozens of pigeons fluttered about and scattered. A feather fell and spun circles in the rising heat of the furnace.

Frozen snow crunched under my feet and the sky darkened as I made my way back to the office. When I turned a corner, l saw a tall hooded figure rattling the front gate. My instinct was to hide, and I did for a few moments. Then I timidly approached the padlocked gate.

“Are you going to let me in, or do I have to rip a hole in this thing?” He roared.

“Lumberjack!”

“Through here,” I said, pointing to the turnstile.

“I heard about your woman and I had to see if you were okay.” He put his arms around me and squeezed the air out of my lungs. I sobbed against his chest.

“Man, if anything ever happened to Liza, I’d tie myself to the train tracks or jump off a cliff. My luck, I’d survive the fall, and end up dying from the hospital food.”

My sobs turned into laughter. He slapped me hard on the back as he followed me into the office.

“You know the world is going to Hell in a handcart when a place like this hires you to work security.”

“I’m hoping it’s temporary,” I said.

“Are you going to finish college?”

“I was accepted at the University of Utah, but my parents won’t help me out unless I go to BYU, where I won’t get exposed to any more liberal ideas. Mom flipped out when I told her I believed in evolution.”

“That’s not a liberal idea; it’s science.”

“Even if I wanted to attend BYU, I wouldn’t pass the Bishop’s interview.”

“Your Mom said you’ve been avoiding church.” I was irked that she told him. I didn’t want to be anyone’s project.

“She can’t look at me without breaking into tears. It’s uncomfortable.”

“She’s just worried. What does your Dad say?”

“Not much,” I said. “He treats me about the same.”

“So, what’s going on?”

“I fell into a depression last Spring. A bad one,” I added. “Church made it worse. The longer I stayed away, the better I felt.” I wasn’t ready to tell him I was gay.

“Hmmm,” Jack said.

“I don’t fit the mold, Jack. I never did. I was pressured to go on the mission, and now I’m being pressured go to BYU, find a wife, and start a family. Like it’s as simple as going to the mall and picking out a tie.”

“People at church look at me like I’m a menace to society, especially with this beard,” he said, stroking his chin.

“It suits you.”

“I want you to understand something,” he said, slapping his big hand on my knee. “Church or not, I’ve got your back. I’m here if you need me.”

“Thanks Jack.”

“And I know the Guy Upstairs has your back too.” He looked up.

I looked up too. There were cobwebs and a fluorescent light.

 

When my twelve-hour shift finally ended, I was relieved that I didn’t have to drive back to Salt Lake. My Mom hugged me when I came through the door.

“You smell like someone’s science project backfired. Go change and I’ll toss that in the washer.”

I changed into sweatpants and an old t-shirt. Kimberly came out of her room.

“I’m going to miss her too,” she said. “I’ve been listening to your old records.”

My Dad didn’t say anything, but he was there. That’s how he was.

The chime rang and Mom pulled a plate of funeral potatoes, a slice of ham, and some green beans out of the microwave. I sat at the table.

“All day I’ve tried to think of something comforting to say,” Mom said. “Things people usually say at funerals seem so silly and trite. Like Verleen said, it feels like a death in the family. And it hurts.”

“Thanks Mom.”

 

Monday night at The Mark Twain, Alice was fluffing the napkins and lighting the votive candles. She smiled when I entered the dining room.

“I’m so glad you’re back. All weekend guests were requesting Carpenters songs. How are you?” She reached out and squeezed my hand.

“Glad to be here.”

That night, I sang Karen’s songs, inwardly dedicating each one of them to her. Maybe her own words could comfort her now.

Above me, the chandelier was sparkling.

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I made this chalk pastel portrait a few weeks later. It hung on my wall for years.

Drawing Karen Part One—Monsters End

Drawing Karen Part Two—The Portrait

 

Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

 

 

 

Drawing Karen Part 2—The Portrait

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Part two.

At the start of my Senior year, I thought having a mall job was cool, even though it was washing dishes at the food court. On my lunch break, I’d browse the record store and meander through Hickory Farms to get cheese samples. I’d drop by the fabric store to see my friend Tricia. She was slender girl with thick brown hair that fell to her shoulders in bouncy curls. She had an olive complexion and green eyes that sparkled when she smiled. Even though I was secretly attracted to guys, I liked Tricia a lot.

“Hey Trish, how’s everything at the Fabric Barn?” I said.

“Busy! Girls are getting their formals ready for the Homecoming dance at BYU. That reminds me.” She paused and priced a remnant of lavender gingham. “Are you taking me to see the Carpenters?”

“They’re coming?”

Tricia nodded. “Tickets go on sale Saturday morning.”

“Yes, I’m taking you!”I jumped and down. “Shoot, I have to get back to work. See you tomorrow at school.” My hand grazed the bolts of tulle, and taffeta as I dashed out of the store.

 

That night, I stormed in the house. “Mom! Mom, guess what?”

“You didn’t wreck the car, did you?”

“Of course not.”

“What?”

“The Carpenters are coming, and I’m taking Tricia as my date. I’m going to camp overnight if I have to, and I’m going to need the car!”

“Lower your voice. Daddy’s asleep,” she scolded in a whisper. “Have you been smoking something?”

“No!”

“Who’s this Tricia?”

“Tricia Thomas. You remember, her parents teach at BYU.”

“Oh yeah, but aren’t they Democrats?”

“What if they are?”

Mom clutched her chest, and let out a heavy sigh—as if she’d learned that Tricia was a stripper, or a Catholic. “Billy, haven’t we taught you anything?”

“Mom, she’s nice. She even told me that she likes guys that are artsy.”

“I’m just teasing,” she said. “What’s this about camping?”

“I want to be the first in line, so I can get front-row seats.”

“Can’t you just go early in the morning?”

“Not if people are lining up the night before.”

Mom shook her head. “It seems so silly—spending good money on a concert. You can listen to records at home.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I am serious,” she said. “You know they’re going to play the same old songs.”

“Mom, they’re called hits, besides, it’s Karen!”

 

I did camp out all night—with a parking lot full BYU students who got there first. They had tents, blankets, and sleeping bags. I brought a pillow to sit on, a bag of Jolly Ranchers, and a Coke I’d smuggled in a root beer bottle. At that time, caffeinated beverages were strictly forbidden at Brigham Young University. I sat on my pillow at the end of the line. Scattered laughter, ghost stories, and Mormon hymns, echoed through the parking lot until 10:00 pm when the Campus Cops told everyone to shut up.

Hours of silent boredom. Green apple, grape or cherry. What if I drew a portrait of Karen Carpenter, and gave it to her after the show?  Maybe it would be a way to get backstage. Whoever is in charge might be impressed with my labour of love, or feel sorry for me—I didn’t care. The thought of meeting Karen Carpenter made me too giddy to rest my eyes. The hours passed and the students slept soundly. I gradually scooted myself closer to the front of the line. At the first hint of dawn, the asphalt became speckled with dots of rain. The sleepers woke as the rain turned into a downpour. Many were prepared with umbrellas. Some crowded into tents, and others gave up; giving me the opportunity to move even closer up the line. My pillow had become a burdensome sponge. I was soaked, shivering, and needed to pee. I popped my last Jolly Rancher and reminded myself that Karen was worth it. When the ticket office finally opened, I handed the cashier a wet twenty, and scored two third-row seats.

A week before the concert, I purchased some Canson paper and fresh chalk pastels from the BYU bookstore. Then I sequestered myself to my bedroom until the portrait was finished. I pushed aside all my homework and even missed an episode of The Waltons.

“Look Mom, what do you think?”

“It’s the smart one from Charley’s Angels—Kate Something-or-other,” she said, looking over her reading glasses.

“It’s supposed to be Karen Carpenter!”

“Why don’t you draw someone else for a change? Marie Osmond is pretty, and she’s right here in Provo.”

I realized that my imperfect portrait would have to do since I didn’t have time to make another one.

 

IMG_2251Tricia and I took our seats early. I stored the rolled up portrait under my seat.

Tricia was studying her ticket stub. “Who is Steve Martin?”

“Who?” I said.

“The guy that’s opening the show?”

“I’ve never heard of him,” I said.

Steve Martin, a goofy man with salt and pepper hair, took the stage and made us laugh non-stop for forty minutes. The audience gave him a standing ovation. We had no idea that two weeks later, he’d host Saturday Night Live, and become a huge star.

Richard Carpenter was the next to appear on the stage. He thanked everyone for enduring the rain, and then he took his place at the keyboards and started to play. Then suddenly, as if a cosmic portal had opened, Karen appeared like a heavenly apparition. Dressed in all white, she sparkled in the spotlight. The audience cheered.

“It’s her!” I said. “She looks amazing!”

“She’s thinner than me!” Tricia said.

Wearing a rhinestone-studded culotte suit, and white leather boots, Karen Carpenter moved confidently about the stage, singing her latest single, “A Kind of Hush.” Her stage presence was polished and elegant. The Carpenters performed their greatest hits flawlessly. Richard played the Warsaw Concerto. Karen performed an impressive drum solo, and had five costume changes, but it was over too soon.

We stayed in our seats after the lights came on.

“Tricia, see that guy on stage with the dark glasses and bushy sideburns?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll bet he’s in charge.”

I grabbed the portrait and approached the stage.

“Um, excuse me,” I said to the man on the stage.

“Yes.” He looked down at me suspiciously. “What’s up.”

“Are you part of the crew?”

“I’m the road manger,” he said.

I unrolled the portrait. “I was wondering if you could give this to Karen, or maybe let me give it to her.”

He rolled his eyes, looked at the portrait, and back at me.

“This way,” he said grumpily. “But only you!”

I motioned for Tricia to join me. Karen and Richard were already greeting VIPs and radio contest winners.  Richard turned to us and noticed my rolled up paper. I didn’t rehearse what I might say to to Richard Carpenter. It never occurred to me to draw him, let alone speak to him. My mouth hung open.

“Great show,” Tricia said, breaking the awkwardness. “That Warsaw Concerto was wonderful!”

“I’m glad you enjoyed it,” said Richard.

Karen finally turned to us.  Her silky brown hair fell loose and straight on her shoulders, as if all the curl and hairspray had been brushed out. A lock of hair fell in her face and she combed it back with her fingers.

“Hi, what’s your name?” she said, reaching for Tricia’s hand.

“I’m Tricia,”

“Nice to meet you, Trish. And you?” She reached for my hand and shook it firmly. I could feel her jewelry, loose on her slender fingers, almost sliding off as our hands parted.

“I’m Bill,” I said. “I made this for you.” I handed her the portrait and watched her unroll it.

“Wow Bill, this is really good.” She said my name. “You’re quite talented.”

“Thank you for being so amazing,” I said. “You’re so beautiful. I love your music. I loved your show.”

“Thanks! We have a lot of fun. Can I keep this?” She rolled up the portrait tightly and held it up like a diploma.

“Yes, it’s for you,” I said.

“My Mom will love it. She can put it in her collection portraitures.” She raised her brows dramatically and fluttered her lashes like a diva. Then she looked right at me with her big brown eyes and said, ‘Thank you, Bill. Thanks for being a fan.” I wanted to stay in that moment forever.

We said goodbye and backed away as Karen Carpenter was swallowed by the crowd.

Karen Sketch

The following week I made this sketch when I should have been studying for my Math test.

 Drawing Karen Part 3 — I’ll Say Goodbye to Love

Drawing Karen Part 1 — Monster’s End

 

 

Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

 

 

 

 

 

Drawing Karen Part 1 — Monster’s End

This is Part One of a three part series about my early obsession and love for Karen Carpenter.
Before Karen Carpenter, I drew Dracula; I drew monsters. I drew the Wolf-man, Frankenstein, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, copied from monster magazines. As I sketched, I would imagine them coming to life to torment the bullies who were tormenting me at school. Charcoal on snow, chalk on black paper. Each stroke, a slap or a slug. A blending of fears to wash over my enemies, like it washed over me, each morning when the bus swallowed me up. “Faggot,” or, “Big fat queer!” came with a shove or a smack on the head.

“Lunt the cunt,” stood on its own.

At the end of each class, I would stare at the second hand of the clock until the bell rang. I’d imagine my monster friends beside me as I darted out the door. This never prevented an attack; it just got me to the next class.

One Saturday, I was at the neighbourhood Seven-Eleven, buying some candy and a magazine. Brother Briggs from church, a handsome man, much younger than my Dad, saw me leaving the store.

“What have you got,” he asked, pointing at my rolled up magazine.

I proudly revealed my latest copy of Famous Monsters. After browsing a few pages he shook his head in revulsion.

“This is the work of Satan!” he said, handing it back to me. He examined his hands for signs of contamination. “You shouldn’t be looking at this filth. Get rid of it. Burn it!”

No one was going to burn the Mummy Madness issue, which I bought with my own lawn mowing money. I just stood there.

“See you at priesthood meeting?” he said, getting into his car.

“Yep,” I said, and bit a chunk off my red licorice rope.

Later that day, I was at the mall with my Mom and younger sister. A poster at the record store advertised the Carpenters in concert, at Brigham Young University. The tickets were only three dollars, so I bought two and invited my friend Pete.

On the day of the concert, my Mom dropped us off at BYU’s Marriott Centre. We took our seats which were on the second-to-the-last row. Pete brought his hunting binoculars and we watched the place fill up with BYU students wearing their Sunday best. After the opening prayer, the lights dimmed to black. Then, out of a drumroll, a voice announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, The Carpenters!” The music began and the stage lit up.

Long ago, and oh so far away,

She glided across the stage in mint green.

I fell in love with you/

Before the second show.

Graceful and flowing, but sometimes her movements were clumsy, as if to convey, “I’m a real person. I’m just like you.” Maybe she was like me. Maybe, somehow I could find some kind of value in my own life; discover a talent or gift that could outshine my imperfections. Her brother at the keyboards, in a suit white as pearls, dimmed in Karen’s radiant cast. The boys in the band, like cardboard props in a school play stood easy in their supporting roles. Nothing out shined Karen, except for the occasional flash of light reflected on a swaying saxophone. Her velvety low notes swirled around the arena like chocolate filigree, and found me on the eighty-ninth row, smitten, clutching the binoculars so tight the image shook. Song after song, she enthralled me. I wanted to be closer, on the front row and I didn’t want the concert to end.

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We lingered after the lights turned on. BYU students, solemnly headed for the exits. Pete and I made our way down to the main floor and watched the roadies wind up cords and pack instruments. We sat in two empty front-row seats until BYU security came to clear out the stragglers. Pete and I evaded them by hiding behind a big piano case that had a Carpenter’s logo stenciled on it. From there, we saw a small crowd forming around a back-stage door. I had nothing but my ticket stub. Pete reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper and a chewed up pen. I grabbed it and wiggled myself into the crowd. When the door finally opened, it was Karen, beautiful and radiant, as if the spotlights were still shining on her. The Homecoming Queen shook Karen’s hand and presented her with a gift; probably a Book of Mormon with her name engraved on it. Everyone was taller than me. I waved my crumpled paper in the air to get her attention. She reached over someone’s shoulder and took it from my hand. “Here you go,” she said, handing the paper back. She kept Pete’s chewed up pen to sign more autographs. I trembled with excitement.

 

 

Scan 1

Vampires and monster magazines faded into Karen Carpenter.  Each day, after school, I’d play Carpenters records on a hand-me-down record player in my room. I would sing along as my freshly sharpened pencil struck the page in wispy, circular strokes, building layer upon layer of what would be Karen’s hair. I loved drawing hair. Time blurred out. I escaped into a fantasy world where I was tall, slender and had lots of friends. I pretended that I went to a school surrounded by palm trees, somewhere in California, where I could actually learn stuff; not just survive the day.

One Sunday after church, Brother Briggs confronted me in the foyer.

“We miss you at Scouts Bill,” he said.

“No you don’t,” I replied.

“We really do! Why haven’t you been coming?”

“I’m bad at sports, and I have more important things to do.”

“Like what,” he asked. “What could be more import than sports, I mean Scouts?”

Not getting called names, I thought.

“Drawing,” I said. “I like to draw.”

“Draw what?”

“Stuff.”

“What stuff?” He pressed.

“Umm, lately I’ve been drawing Karen Carpenter.”

He glared at me.

“She’s pretty,” I said, “and I like her voice.”

“Bill, you’re in the eighth grade. You’re much too young to be thinking about girls,” he said. “There’s plenty of time for that after your mission.”

“But she’s special,” I said, “She makes me feel good, she makes me feel like…” I couldn’t find the right words.

“But Karen Carpenter isn’t even a member of the church!”

“Maybe she’ll join,” I said. “She’s got a Book of Mormon.”

“But she’s not the Saviour, she didn’t die for your sins, and she can’t lead you to Heaven.”

“I don’t expect her to,” I said. “Thing is, she gets me out of Hell every day.”
Shocked that I said the word Hell in the Lord’s house, he looked around to see if anyone was in earshot.

“Idolatry can lead to more serious transgressions.” He fumbled in his scriptures, looking for the right verse.

“I gotta go.” I said. “My family’s waiting.”

“She’ll let you down some day.”

I pushed glass door open. “You wait and see,” he said, as the door behind me clicked shut.

 

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I drew this long after the story took place. After obsessing on the hair, I’d rub graphite all over her face and erase highlights with my kneaded eraser.

Drawing Karen Part 2—The Portrait

 

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