Why Karen Carpenter Matters

Why Karen Carpenter Matters

In the '60s and '70s, America's music scene was marked by raucous excess, reflected in the tragic overdoses of young superstars such as Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. At the same time, the uplifting harmonies and sunny lyrics that propelled Karen Carpenter and her brother, Richard, to international fame belied a different sort of tragedy--the underconsumption that led to K...

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Title:Why Karen Carpenter Matters
Author:Karen Tongson
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Why Karen Carpenter Matters Reviews

  • Sara

    I was so looking forward to reading this book and it did not disappoint! Tongson is a talented writer and cogent pop culture critic. I loved loved loved her observations and how she made connections to KC’s story and her own life experiences. It was well done. I enjoyed learning more about the Filipino music scene of Tongson’s youth as well. The ending made me longing for a second volume!

  • chantel nouseforaname

    A really cute friend of mine just got me into the Carpenters. I didn't grow up intentionally listening to the Carpenters; I just recently was put on to a couple of their songs and realize that I've been hearing their songs in passing for years and never really knew anything about them.

    While looking around online for something to read last night, I came across this book and was just instantly attracted by the way that Karen Tongson proudly lined up her Filipina heritage in the beginning and how o

    A really cute friend of mine just got me into the Carpenters. I didn't grow up intentionally listening to the Carpenters; I just recently was put on to a couple of their songs and realize that I've been hearing their songs in passing for years and never really knew anything about them.

    While looking around online for something to read last night, I came across this book and was just instantly attracted by the way that Karen Tongson proudly lined up her Filipina heritage in the beginning and how openly she spoke about how important the Carpenters were in her discovery of music in her home town of Manila. I love that she talked about how much of a badass Karen was to her as a young, brown queer woman. I love how she talked about the similarities in Karen Carpenter's voice and her mother's and the prevalence of The Carpenter's on radios, karaoke machines and jukeboxes in her area before she immigrated to the states. It was beautiful.

    I really liked how even Tongson's speculation about certain things that Karen Carpenter was notoriously private about - her love life - was handled in this genuinely imaginative way that was kind of innocently romantic, hopeful and nostalgic for positivity in a life that was complex inside and out, to say the least. I appreciated Tongson's approach around cementing Karen Carpenter's legacy and icon status in this book.

    I also didn't know that Karen Carpenter died at such a young age. Tragic, really.

    Not everything about either woman's life was given away either, which I loved because some mystery is always good.

    I find that in a lot of music memoirs, people just try so hard to jump into every aspect of a person's life. Karen Tongson avoids that pitfall by referencing other bios already done about the Carpenters (Richard and Karen) as a duo and is basically like -

    I love the interpretation aspect. I loved Tungson's passion. That's what's amazing about music too, you never always know who anyone is talking about in particular, you just know that they feel so much emotion towards something/someone and it's a marvelous feeling as a listener to even step inside that secondhand emotion. You get that here as a reader. You can feel how important Karen Carpenter is to Karen Tongson.

    I love that Tongson traces The Carpenters' influence in her parents lives as well. I think it's something special when a particular artist or band has a history in a family lineage. It's cool. This book was short and easy to devour and you could palpably feel Karen Tongson's hype about Karen Carpenter shining through every page.

  • Sara

    What impressed me the most about this book was the richness of the language. Even though there is brevity, a short read, the words are so well chosen that the experience of reading it was very expansive. At this point in my life I prefer reading about music more than listening to it. Tongson was able to make me enjoy music I was not listening to. There is a frankness and generosity to this book that was at once delightful, and comforting.

  • Will

    In this excellent book, Tongson explores the appeal Karen Carpenter and the Carpenters have for queer people and people of color. Although the Carpenters are, on the surface, a bland, white, suburban act seeming at odds with popular accounts of the 1970s, Tongson surfaces their queer appeal and also shows how their music circulated transnationally. Although the author clearly loves her subject, this appreciation is also incisive and critical, combining rich historical contextualization with meti

    In this excellent book, Tongson explores the appeal Karen Carpenter and the Carpenters have for queer people and people of color. Although the Carpenters are, on the surface, a bland, white, suburban act seeming at odds with popular accounts of the 1970s, Tongson surfaces their queer appeal and also shows how their music circulated transnationally. Although the author clearly loves her subject, this appreciation is also incisive and critical, combining rich historical contextualization with meticulous readings of select songs, readings that are attuned not only to what the songs say but also to the way in which their performance affects meaning and reception. I couldn't put this down, and ended up reading through the whole work in a single afternoon.

  • M.

    From my review on 4Columns:

    "A remarkable thing happened while I was working on this review. Diving into the Carpenters’ discography, I found myself—almost without knowing it, without agency or control, spontaneously, as if taken over by a benign but powerful force—singing. There’s something about Karen Carpenter’s voice: the crisp enunciation and warm, rounded vowels; the earnestly affected emoting, doubled, tripled, held in harmony; the audible smile and come-with-me nods. I can’t help it, I’m

    From my review on 4Columns:

    "A remarkable thing happened while I was working on this review. Diving into the Carpenters’ discography, I found myself—almost without knowing it, without agency or control, spontaneously, as if taken over by a benign but powerful force—singing. There’s something about Karen Carpenter’s voice: the crisp enunciation and warm, rounded vowels; the earnestly affected emoting, doubled, tripled, held in harmony; the audible smile and come-with-me nods. I can’t help it, I’m impelled, slipsliding through lyrics I don’t actually know but the songs are so songy, they lead me right through: we’ve only just begun, they entreat, to live. They need me, I think. Karen needs me.

    In this way I’m contributing to her resuscitation, or to what Karen Tongson, in her new book Why Karen Carpenter Matters, describes as her “queer afterlives.” Since her tragic death, at age thirty-two, in 1983 from complications related to anorexia, Carpenter has been the subject of three documentaries and a cult film (Todd Haynes’s early, brilliant Superstar), at least two biographies, innumerable newspaper and magazine features. (And these are the Karen-specific artifacts, discounting the vast archive of material on the Carpenters, the band she formed with her brother Richard in 1969.) If the subject of Tongson’s idiosyncratic and very fun book is not that Karen Carpenter matters—a given of the title—but why, it’s also where, how, and above all to whom. Karen has lived on, Tongson argues, through an unlikely diaspora encompassing Filipinos and Filipino Americans, people of color, immigrants, queer and gender-nonconforming people, pretty much “everyone other than the white Nixon-era suburbanites she and her music are said to have represented.” "

    Full review here:

  • Chi Chi

    Great mix of biography of Karen Carpenter, Autobiography of author Karen Tongson, and academic analysis of music and culture. I've never had a personal connection to the music of Karen Carpenter, but this was a compelling read anyways, as Tongson does an excellent job of explaining why Karen Carpenter is special to Long Beach, The Philippines, and the queer community. I certainly learned a lot.

  • Jay Gabler

    An informative, moving reflection on Karen Carpenter's legacy.

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  • Ian Hamilton

    Read this concurrently with Hanif Abdurraqib's Go Ahead In The Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest. Both are released through the University of Texas Press, which seems to be publishing some interesting music criticism and ethnography. Both nicely work as odes to music idols and illustrate how music is so personally formative and shapes as well as acts a product of the larger cultural landscape. Tongson's work is great fascinating examination of the nuances of identity and actually peaked my int

    Read this concurrently with Hanif Abdurraqib's Go Ahead In The Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest. Both are released through the University of Texas Press, which seems to be publishing some interesting music criticism and ethnography. Both nicely work as odes to music idols and illustrate how music is so personally formative and shapes as well as acts a product of the larger cultural landscape. Tongson's work is great fascinating examination of the nuances of identity and actually peaked my interest in The Carpenters.

  • Amelia

    I know it's not even related, but this would have been the best entry in the 33 1/3 book series.

  • Eric Gilliland

    Fairly brief and engaging read on the enduring voice of Karen Carpenter. In the 1970s, The Carpenters appeared to epitomize the values of white bread "Middle America." Yet their music had a wide international appeal. American-Filipino Professor of Gender Studies Karen Tongson (named after Karen Carpenter) explains how and why their music shaped her as an individual. The book includes incisive cultural and gender analysis. At its best the book is about intimate connection we listeners have with t

    Fairly brief and engaging read on the enduring voice of Karen Carpenter. In the 1970s, The Carpenters appeared to epitomize the values of white bread "Middle America." Yet their music had a wide international appeal. American-Filipino Professor of Gender Studies Karen Tongson (named after Karen Carpenter) explains how and why their music shaped her as an individual. The book includes incisive cultural and gender analysis. At its best the book is about intimate connection we listeners have with the music and the artist.

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