It’s a lovely day, and I’m not sure how we’re going to spend it… We really should get out and see something new, especially since my last two posts on this blog have been about the IBLP, Bill Gothard, and culty fundie Christian groups. I should probably clear my head of such stuff and enjoy beautiful Germany, during this rare sunny weather.
Or, maybe I could finish my project, migrating my huge music library so that’s done…
I could practice guitar, or make another video for an old song from the 70s, like this one. What I probably should do is go on a long hike, and burn off my beer gut.
I was going to do a different song, but it wasn’t quite working out in a timely manner, and I didn’t want to spend hours on it. I had other stuff to do on Friday. Yes, even people with my ridiculous lifestyle have chores to do.
I don’t like to record music on Sundays, though… call it a holdover from living in Swabia, where people are a lot more uptight about local conventions. So, I think maybe I’ll go find something quiet to do, or maybe we’ll venture out somewhere new. The possibilities are endless.
Bill and I watched Shiny Happy People yesterday. Bill wanted to see what I was going on about. He was just as disgusted as I was. The docuseries generated some discussion that will probably turn into a blog post sometime soon. It’s sad that so many people willingly give up their lives to cults, and money and power hungry people like Jim Bob Duggar. I did notice that I got a hit from Siloam Springs, Arkansas… Perhaps the Dillards paid my humble blog a visit?
Ah well… Sundays aren’t the best days for thinking about cults. I think I’ll go find something fun to do.
The featured photo was taken last night in Hofheim, where everything was especially nice and lovely… It’s at times like these when living in Germany is the most awesome.
This morning, I ordered a bottle of Avon’s Skin So Soft. I don’t usually use this product, but thanks to the pesky hedgehog who has made a home in our backyard, I feel compelled to buy it. I woke up this morning with a rash around my neck, and I’m pretty sure it came from fleas on the hedgehog and her baby. Hedgehogs are notorious for having fleas.
Arran has been messing with the hedgehog ever since she showed up on August 1, and sure enough, he did get fleas. Now, these aren’t the usual fleas that infest dogs and cats. These are hedgehog fleas, which supposedly can’t infest pets the way they do hedgehogs. The fur on dogs and cats is too soft, or something. However, these little beasts do bite, and while Arran isn’t covered in them, I know that he brought a few into our house. In fact, when he was at the vet’s office last Friday, the vet was looking for an actual infestation. She didn’t find one, but then a flea jumped off Arran’s head. The tech managed to catch it, and they killed it so they could look at it under a microscope. Maybe that’s where Arran’s swollen lymph nodes came from. The vet did tell Bill that Arran’s hormones are fine. I actually hope the swollen nodes are from fleas… because the alternative is probably cancer.
Today, I’m also washing all of the bedding. I needed to do that anyway, and often do it on Wednesdays, but thanks to the blood sucking little fuckers Arran brought into the house, it’s necessary to be aggressive. Both dogs have been treated for fleas. Ordinarily, I would be giving them oral flea preventative as a matter of course, but since Arran is old and has had mast cell tumors, I try not to give him products that might encourage tumors to form. He only gets the most basic vaccines now.
It’s finally raining, which is a huge blessing. We need the rain desperately. I’ve been really delighted to see the grass starting to grow back in our yard. I even used the lawnmower for the first time in weeks a couple of days ago, because there were patches of grass that were looking unkempt. The cooler weather will help get rid of the fleas. The hedgehog will also be going into hibernation soon, if she hasn’t already.
I haven’t had to deal with fleas since the 1980s, before dogs routinely got flea and tick preventative. Our dogs used to get them every summer, and my mom would obsessively find and kill them with her bare hands. I would give the dogs baths to get rid of a bunch of them at once. I gave our dogs baths a few days ago, and all that came off of them, besides a little dirt, was lots of undercoat. Arran, especially, had lots of loose hair coming off.
So how did I know about the wonders of non-toxic Skin So Soft? It was thanks to my days riding horses. My old riding coach used to buy the product to use on the horses. I couldn’t put it on my horse, because he was allergic to the oils in it. I had to use special fly spray on him. However, I do remember my folksy riding teacher talking about how effective Skin So Soft is for getting rid of biting flies, mosquitos, and other insects. A quick Googling told me that the product will also work for fleas. Some people like the way it smells, too; however, I find the scent basically pleasant, but kind of cloying and sickeningly sweet. I will be able to tolerate it, though, if it means the fleas don’t bite me anymore.
There are, of course, more important things I could be writing about today. Lots of news stories that are blogger worthy have popped up on my radar. But I’m just not in the mood to write about such things today, because I’m irritable. Itchy rashes have a way of doing that to a person.
Remembering about Skin So Soft reminded me that sometimes, even the carefree pursuits of childhood can prove useful in the future. I probably would not have known about Skin So Soft if not for my horse crazy days. My mom didn’t use Avon products. In those days, you had to have a supplier. Now, you can just buy the stuff on Amazon. They even have it in Germany, so I won’t have to get it through the APO system.
In other news, I decided to make another music video yesterday. I had wanted to do it last month, when Olivia Newton-John died, but I was having trouble getting the vocals right. It’s not a lyrically challenging song, but the key is right at the part of my voice that goes from chest to head, so it can be hard to be accurate with my pitch. I’m a stickler for pitch, so I held off on recording. Then, when the Queen of England died, I decided it was time to give “Grace and Gratitude” another try. I managed to do it yesterday, complete with harmonies. Took me about two hours from recording to making a simple video.
This song comes from the album, Liv On, which Olivia Newton-John made with Beth Nielsen Chapman and Amy Sky in 2016. It’s a very comforting album, especially when a person is experiencing loss. So anyway, here’s my take on “Grace and Gratitude”. I don’t think it turned out too shabbily. I used photos from last fall’s trip to Slovenia, which was combined with our first proper visit (as opposed to a joyriding day trip) to Croatia. Both places are insanely beautiful. I hope to visit again soon.
Just in case anyone wants to know which product I bought… And if you purchase through the Amazon link, I get a small commission from Amazon. But there is certainly no pressure. I’m just sharing the link to be helpful to those who are suffering like I am.
Just as I was going to bed last night, I got the news that Olivia Newton-John had died at age 73, having spent the past three decades battling breast cancer. I have been an Olivia fan since I was about– oh, I don’t know, maybe three or four years old. I have always loved her very sweet voice, from the time she was an up and coming country star until she was a guest star on Glee.
There were a few interludes in her career that I liked somewhat less. I wasn’t a big fan of the song “Physical” when it was popular, probably because it was such a departure from what she had been doing in the 70s. Also, I got super sick of that song, because it was constantly on the radio and MTV. But, as I got older, I came to appreciate her in almost every incarnation, even when she was doing super sexed up songs like “Soul Kiss” and “Tied Up”. I listened to her less in the 90s, although I know she put out some new age type music then. I also remember she had an Aussie clothing line called Koala Blue.
Then, in 2016, she joined singer-songwriters Beth Nielsen Chapman and Amy Sky on the album Liv On. What I loved about that album was that all of the songs were so beautiful, with lyrics that were comforting, grateful, and consoling coupled with gorgeous melodies and harmonies. The trio must have known people would want to sing these songs, since they also released a karaoke version. On more than one occasion, when I’ve listened to Liv On, I’ve found myself choked up with emotion. I’m not sure why they put out an album with so many emotional songs on it. Maybe it was because Olivia had battled breast cancer, as did Beth Nielsen-Chapman. I just read that Amy Sky’s mother also suffered and died of breast cancer, so she has also been very active in raising money for breast cancer research. Indeed, Olivia even opened a research center in Australia to help battle cancer.
I know Olivia was originally diagnosed with breast cancer in the 90s, but she went into remission. In 2013, the disease came back, and a few years after that, it had spread to her spine. I read that the pain was pretty unbearable during this time, yet there was Olivia, so sunny, upbeat, pretty, and blonde. She always looked like an angel to me, even when she was supposed to be sexy, like at the end of Grease, when she traded her plain pink frocks for black leather, satin pants, and heels. Those winsome looks, combined with her beautiful voice, were enchanting to me. She was the one rare singer my dad and I could always agree on when we were in the car together. And I always admired her positive outlook and genuinely sweet demeanor, always delivered with good humor.
My favorite Olivia era is the 70s. I used to listen to three specific albums repeatedly: If You Love Me Let Me Know, from 1974, Don’t Stop Believin’ from 1976, and Making A Good Thing Better, from 1977, which my dad had on 8 track. Years later, I also fell in love with her 1975 album, Have You Never Been Mellow. To this day, I’ll often put on that album when I need to calm down. In fact, in my memories yesterday, I even mentioned that song, as I remembered moving to Texas in 2013, where we would stay only a year before leaving the United States for Germany. I remember being awed by her powerful vocals when she took on big songs like “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina.” And I always got a good laugh when I heard her try songs like “Ring of Fire”, which she gave a disco bent flavored with country, or “I’ll Bet You A Kangaroo”, which was no doubt a tribute to Australia, her adopted homeland.
Olivia’s music got me through many rough times. It also helped me bond with others. One of my best friends in college, a guy named Chris, was (and still is) a huge Olivia fan. He even went as far as to get a picture with her and an autograph, which he posted on Facebook yesterday. She was the one person whose albums he would always buy, and pretty much the only person whose music we could discuss without him managing to piss me off (don’t get him started about James Taylor). I loved to sing her songs at karaoke shows, and would often bond with others who liked her music, too. She was always a popular choice!
I even enjoyed Olivia’s forays into acting. I especially loved Xanadu, which was released when I was seven years old. I didn’t see it until a couple of years later, when we had HBO. In the early 80s, that movie was constantly showing on the cable movie networks. It bombed at the box office, but the soundtrack was awesome! And for 8 and 9 year old me, it was a magical film, with so many special effects and fantasy elements. Yes, as a 50 year old, I know it’s a cheesy film with a ridiculous plot, but I still count it as a favorite guilty pleasure. It, too, is something I watch when I need to cheer up. I can always count on Olivia to make me smile and soothe my soul with her sweet, warm, powerful voice.
I probably won’t do her justice, but I’ve decided to try a couple of songs from Liv On, as my own tribute to Olivia. We’ll see how they go. I would like to do some of her early stuff, too, but as it’s early in the morning, I figure my voice will probably hold out better with some of her more recent, more vocally forgiving songs. So watch this space, because this is where I’ll share the results, when they’re ready… which if I know myself, will be in a couple of hours or so.
I was going to do a second song. I may decide to do it tomorrow. I almost had it wired this morning, but Arran and Noyzi were demanding a walk, and then I decided it was too hot to try another. So maybe tomorrow… if only for the challenge of it, and the fact that I will always love channeling my inner Olivia.
You might say that today’s post is a continuation of the one I wrote on Sunday. In that post, I wrote about how a new and mind blowing insight hit me as I listened to a very familiar story Bill told me about how his narcissistic ex wife made him feel. If you haven’t read that post, this post may make less sense than it could. On the other hand, maybe it will make perfect sense. The first post has some of the backstory that led to the revelation that is spawning this morning’s post… which I don’t expect everyone to care about. It just helps me to write these things down, both for reference, and because it’s kind of fascinating to me.
Next month, Bill and I will celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary. Throughout the course of our marriage, I’ve repeatedly heard the story about how Bill decided that he would agree to his ex wife’s demand for a divorce. He realized that she’d drawn a metaphorical line in the sand. She wanted him to cross it. But if Bill crossed that line, he would lose part of himself. It also would not have taken long before he was back on the wrong side of the line. Somehow, he realized that it was pointless to keep trying to appease his ex wife’s demands. He agreed to the divorce, even though it wasn’t actually what she’d wanted. What she wanted was to regain control.
Bill is a kind and sensitive man. He tries very hard to make other people happy. His ex wife was never an exception. He wanted to love her and care about her. She couldn’t, and didn’t, return the sentiment. She wasn’t driven by love. She simply wanted security and control.
In Ex’s defense, I suspect that the reason she wasn’t “driven by love” is because she grew up in a chaotic home, where she was taught lies and forced to accept abuse. Somehow, as she came of age in that home where she was never valued, she never quite matured beyond adolescence. She probably never had time to grow up, since she was probably focused on survival– or perhaps that was just the perception she had. Somehow, she never got the message that real love isn’t supposed to be a contest. It also goes both ways.
I don’t think Ex even really knows what actual love is, beyond the most primal passions and urges. Her version of love doesn’t include respect, kindness, or gentleness. It doesn’t include trust, or the ability to relax and enjoy another person for who they are. She is constantly testing people, keeping them on their toes to prove their loyalty to her. But it’s not a two-way street. She expects people to fight for her, but she won’t do the same for them, except in a bid to own them somehow.
When Ex’s victims inevitably quit trying to please her, she accuses them of abandonment… when really, they are simply exhausted and defeated. They get tired of trying to win a contest that can’t be won. In essence, they realize that they can’t cross the chasm and shouldn’t want to cross it. Crossing the chasm means losing themselves and becoming someone who isn’t authentic. They become a shell of who they are.
Last night, Bill and his younger daughter Skyped for the first time in awhile. During the discussion, Bill decided to test my theory that he was not alone at the “chasm” he had frequently described to me over the course of our relationship. He asked his daughter if she ‘dever felt like she was standing on one side of a chasm, while everyone else important to her was on the other side with Ex. Sure enough, she identified.
They talked some more, and Bill pointed out that, in Ex’s world, no one is supposed to talk to anyone else. This is especially true when there’s trouble or someone is being shunned.
It occurred to me that people in Ex’s realm are like spokes on a wheel. If you look at spokes on a wheel, you see that they all connect to the middle, but they don’t touch each other. Imagine the narcissist as the middle of the wheel and the spokes as all of the people in the narcissist’s realm. They all support the narcissist and keep the wheel turning. But if they ever touch each other, that means they’ve broken, and the narcissist gets less support, just as a wheel does. What do you do with a broken spoke in a wheel? You repair or replace it.
I have learned that no one in a narcissist’s life is indispensable. They are always looking for someone to support them. It doesn’t matter who it is, as long as they’re up to the job. A spoke in a narcissist’s wheel has to be willing to focus all of its attention to the narcissist. It’s a thankless job, but crucial to the narcissist’s existence. And when the spoke inevitably bends or breaks from the pressure, it has to be replaced– discarded… or maybe repaired– punished and “re-educated”.
That’s where the nonsense about coming across the chasm comes in. The narcissist looks at the victim and says, “You don’t have be alone. All of these other people are here with me. Just do what I want you to do, and you can partake of the feast with us.”
But there is no feast… it’s all an illusion. It’s a mirage. Moreover, those people who seem to be on the narcissist’s side, are really on your side of the chasm. It’s as if you all wear blinders, forcing you to look directly across the abyss. You don’t see each other. You’re all focused on the narcissist– the center of the wheel. Somehow, the narcissist makes you think the center is where you really want to be. But the only person who can be in the center of the wheel is the narcissist. Everyone else is a spoke, and necessary to keep the narcissist’s wheel spinning. When one of you breaks, the wheel falters. Swift action must be taken to keep the wheel spinning. Otherwise, the whole thing falls apart. There is no time for a party on the other side of the chasm. There’s too much work to be done.
Why did it take me twenty years to see this? I think it’s because for so long, we didn’t have other perspectives. Many of the people in Ex’s wheel weren’t speaking to us, so we didn’t realize that she was treating them just as badly. It really did seem like Bill was being singled out as someone who wasn’t able to cross the chasm because of his perceived (and falsely attributed) character defects. I think we eventually assumed others were being mistreated, but we didn’t know for sure, because no one was communicating with us, except Bill’s mom. And Bill’s mom was probably the first one to get to the edge of the chasm, because she was the first one to threaten Ex’s perceived position of authority. Ex did her very best to separate Bill from his mother. When that didn’t work, she cast out Bill, too, and led them both to believe that they were awful people. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The reality is, in Ex’s world, everyone is defective. She, on the other hand, can do no wrong. Or, if she does do wrong, it’s only because people mistreated her. She’s “owed” the right to be an asshole, because other people were assholes to her. By that logic, being a narcissistic asshole is like a contagious disease– maybe we could even call it “narcissistic COVID”. Of course, Ex would never agree that other people have the right to mistreat her, even though she mistreats them.
Actually, the wheel metaphor isn’t new to me. That thought occurred to me at least ten years ago. I realized that Ex had all of these people working so hard to do her bidding. I wondered why people were so concerned with keeping her satisfied. Of course, now I know that I was on the outside of the wheel. I wasn’t a spoke. She tried to make me one of her spokes when she invited me to my own in-laws’ house for Christmas in 2004. I refused, which made me too dangerous to interact with the family. So she did what she could to lessen my influence and make me out to be a “bad person”. She told egregious lies about me and Bill, and she compelled Bill’s daughters, ex stepson, and even tried to compel his parents to cast him out.
Not long after I started thinking of Ex’s world as a wheel, I realized that everyone in her system was triangulated. She filtered and spun all of the information among everyone in the wheel; like spokes, they didn’t touch or speak to each other. She kept them all distrusting each other, focused solely on her, and competing for her attention. She also misrepresented the thoughts and opinions of other people.
For instance, Ex told my mother-in-law things like, “Bill and I don’t think you’re an appropriate grandmother figure for the kids.” Of course, Bill never thought or said anything of the sort. But by including Bill in that comment, she made it seem like he was on the other side of the chasm with her, when he was really standing right next to his mother, hearing things like “The kids don’t think you know them well enough to buy them presents they actually want.”
Meanwhile, Ex would tell Bill’s stepmother, who doesn’t like Bill’s mom, things like “Bill’s mom is smarter than you are…” or “Bill’s mom sends the children better gifts.” Or any number of other statements that are designed to isolate, alienate, or make the other person feel insecure, misunderstood, and not good enough. And Ex would slip in little comments that made it seem like other people shared her warped opinions, when, in fact, they didn’t.
Bill, his mom, and his stepmother, were on the same side of the chasm, looking over at Ex, who seemed to have everybody on her side. The reality was, no one was really on Ex’s side. Everyone was on the same side of the divide, thinking they were alone. But they weren’t alone at all… Ex had fooled them into thinking they were, and tricked them into focusing on pleasing her, when they should have been taking care of themselves and each other.
She would get people so spun up and angry that they wouldn’t speak to each other directly. They would just keep talking and listening to Ex, who would keep them agitated and misunderstanding each other. This was all done to keep her in charge. Got to keep the wheel spinning, you see… there’s no time for a party on the other side of the chasm. No time to build bridges to a place where everyone understands, respects, and simply LOVES each other. And Ex doesn’t want people to love each other. She wants them to admire and worship her. I don’t think even she wants to be loved. I think she simply wants to be adored. Maybe that’s what love is to her.
That was how Bill lost contact with his daughters. She told Bill they hated him. She told her daughters that Bill was an abusive bastard who cheated on her. Bill and his daughters never had the opportunity to speak to each other and learn the truth. Meanwhile, Ex did everything she could to remove Bill from their lives. He was a broken spoke who could no longer be trusted to do the work she required. She couldn’t risk him breaking the other spokes with the burden of the truth. She sure as hell didn’t want the kids to think of me as someone who might be “good” or could offer them love, or anything else. That was too threatening for her.
As I sit here thinking about this– all this crazy imagery– another image pops into my head. Did you ever see the 1976 movie, Carrie? It was based on Stephen King’s book about a teenager who has telekinetic powers. She’s a mousy girl, timid and shy, and raised by a weird mother who belongs to a religious cult. The other kids make fun of her. When Carrie gets angry, she turns into a demon from hell, whose rage kills.
In that film, just before Carrie’s final act of rage at the senior prom, a sympathetic character named Sue, who had tried to show Carrie kindness and understanding, shows up to watch Carrie and Sue’s boyfriend, Tommy, be crowned prom king and queen. Sue is initially happy for them… but then she notices a slender rope that runs under the stage. There are two mean kids there, waiting to pull the rope, which will dump pig’s blood all over Carrie. Sue has a perspective that no one else has. She’s not a part of the wheel. She tries to warn someone, but the others, thinking she’s just there to cause trouble, refuse to hear her warnings. So Sue is banished… much like I was. And then, the carnage begins.
Brian DePalma does a masterful job showing all of those perspectives. He shows what Carrie imagines to be happening. He shows Sue realizing what is actually happening. And he shows all of the other doomed people at the prom, not realizing that they’re about to be slaughtered. In fact, DePalma even shows these perspectives in a wheel that spins.
Naturally, this situation with Ex isn’t just like Carrie. So far, Ex hasn’t killed anyone with her narcissistic impulses. In fact, I don’t think Carrie was a narcissist. She was enslaved by her rage, which caused her to be destructive. Maybe if she hadn’t died at the prom, she would have had something more in common with the Incredible Hulk– a mild mannered scientist who turns into a green monster when he gets angry. The point is, in Carrie, there’s someone who has the perspective of seeing what’s happening. She’s not in the wheel. She tries to speak up, but no one hears her. Sue ultimately escapes, but everyone else stays trapped… until Sue lets her guard down in a nightmare and tries to bestow one more act of kindness toward Carrie, who betrays her by trying to pull her into Hell.
Hmm… maybe being friends with a narcissist is kind of like being friends with Carrie, after all. I still don’t see Carrie as a narcissist, though. Maybe given time, and enough cruel treatment by others, she might have become a narcissist. She might have become hardened and cruel, rather than misunderstood and sheltered. Maybe when she was much younger, Ex was more like Carrie, and turned into who she is because of abuse, abandonment, and cruel mistreatment from other people. Somehow, she got to the point at which she turned into someone who is directed by her destructive rages. Anyone who upsets her, threatens her, or doesn’t follow her orders has to be figuratively destroyed.
Anyway… I suspect Bill will have a lot to talk about with his Jungian analyst tonight. But I know he felt better after talking to his daughter, and realizing that, yes– they’ve all been standing on the edge of the chasm, unable to cross, and looking over at the illusion of everybody else, standing with Ex. If they’d only thought to trust each other enough to talk amongst themselves… The healing could have started a long time ago. But I understand now why they couldn’t, and didn’t. They were too focused on keeping the wheel spinning. They were too convinced that if the wheel stopped spinning, disaster would strike. That’s how it works in the narcissist’s world. Somehow, they manage to trick people into thinking that there will be hell to pay if they aren’t satisfied.
These two related book reviews, written for Epinions in 2007 and 2010, are both about books written about Karen and Richard Carpenter. They appear here as/is.
The almost complete Carpenters story…
For years I’ve enjoyed listening to music by Richard and the late Karen Carpenter, popularly known as The Carpenters. The Carpenters will forever be known for their ability to create and cover 70s era pop confections like “Top Of The World”, “Close To You”, and “Superstar”. Richard Carpenter provided his considerable arranging talents and piano playing. Karen Carpenter contributed her unforgettable voice. Together, the Carpenters were a musical force who reached fame and fortune while they were still in their 20s.
In April 1994, the late Ray Coleman published an authorized biography called The Carpenters: The Untold Story. I was quick to purchase a hardcover copy of this book and I’ve read it several times. Unfortunately, it seems that Coleman’s very comprehensive and informative biography is no longer in print. Nevertheless, I think it’s a must read for anyone who is interested in the Carpenters’ careers.
Coleman includes brief information about Karen and Richard Carpenters’ ancestry and childhood, as well as information about the time they spent in New Haven, Connecticut before they moved to Downey, California to pursue their music careers. The biography continues with the story of how the Carpenters were discovered, their meteoric rise to fame, and Karen’s and Richard’s legendary demons. Karen Carpenter was, of course, afflicted with anorexia nervosa, whereas Richard developed a drug addiction which led to a stay at the Meninger Clinic in Kansas. There are two photo sections with pictures of the Carpenters as kids and adults. There’s even a copy of an essay Karen Carpenter wrote for school.
The Carpenters’ story has been told and retold by different sources. The television movie The Karen Carpenter Story was shown for the first time in 1989. There is also an independent unauthorized film called Superstar available, which was made with Barbie dolls. Check out YouTube and you’ll find plenty of news and interview clips documenting the rise and fall of the Carpenters. In my mind, Coleman’s book is the only source that really provides a glimpse into who Karen and Richard Carpenter were as people. Although this book was written with the Carpenter family’s cooperation, it doesn’t cast the family in a perfect light. Though Karen had the voice of an angel, she didn’t always behave like one, especially when it came to Richard’s love life. And Richard Carpenter, talented as he is, also comes across as a bit stodgy and demanding.
This is not a short book, but I always enjoy reading it; Ray Coleman had a way with words. The only drawbacks I can think of are that this book is not as easy to find as it once was and the story ends in 1994. Richard Carpenter is still around, having married his cousin Mary Rudolph (she was the adopted daughter of his aunt) in 1984 and fathered five children. He still performs and he’s always tweaking the Carpenters’ sound and repackaging their music. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who wants the lowdown on the Carpenters’ career.
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And now, my review of Randy Schmidt’s book, Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter…
Karen Carpenter’s life and death…
It’s hard to believe that Karen Carpenter, who had one of the most recognizable voices of the 1970s and early 80s, has now been dead for 27 years. I remember quite clearly the day she died, February 4, 1983. I was ten years old and riding in a car with my dad to visit my sister, who was at that time a freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University. An announcer came on the air and said that Karen Carpenter had died that morning. I asked my dad what had killed her and he said “Starvation.” He didn’t elaborate, but it wasn’t much longer before I first heard about anorexia nervosa, the eating disorder that plagued Karen Carpenter’s final years and eventually led to her sudden death at age 32.
Karen Carpenter was, of course, part of the brother-sister pop duo the Carpenters. The other half of that duo was her older brother, Richard. While Karen had that magical voice that made their music so appealing to so many listeners, it was Richard who was known as the “brains” behind the outfit. He wrote and arranged songs, occasionally sang, and played piano like a genius. And in their very close-knit family, Richard was apparently the most important child, especially to their mother, Agnes Carpenter.
Author Randy Schmidt has just published Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter (2010). I happened to find it two days ago, while playing with the Kindle my husband Bill just gave me for my birthday. Karen Carpenter’s story has always fascinated me and I do enjoy the Carpenters’ music, saccharine as it often is. I downloaded it and managed to finish it within several hours of dedicated reading. Considering the fact that this book is well over 300 pages long, that was quite a feat and a testament to my interest in the book.
Back in 1994, the late author Ray Coleman wrote The Carpenters: The Untold Story. Coleman was a well known biographer of rock worthies as well as the editor-in-chief of Melody Maker magazine. Coleman’s book about the Carpenters was very comprehensive, so I was somewhat surprised to find Schmidt’s new book. Having read Little Girl Blue, however, I did notice that Schmidt had consulted many of Coleman’s works in Melody Maker and Coleman’s biography of the Carpenters in order to write this book. In fact, I even recognized a couple of paragraphs that appeared to come verbatim from Coleman’s book, which I have read several times since 1994. Coleman’s biography of the Carpenters, which Schmidt does list in a very comprehensive bibliography, obviously served as a major source for Schmidt’s Little Girl Blue. Why, then, if Ray Coleman had already written the Carpenters’ story, did Randy Schmidt need to write another book specifically about Karen Carpenter?
What I think Little Girl Blue offers…
What sets Little Girl Blue apart from The Carpenters: The Untold Story is that Schmidt managed to get information from sources other than those approved by Richard Carpenter. In particular, Randy Schmidt interviewed Karen Carpenter’s close friends, Frenda Franklin, Olivia Newton-John, and Karen Ramone. Karen Ramone was also interviewed for Coleman’s book, but from what I gathered in Little Girl Blue, Schmidt got more details, particularly about the time period when Karen Carpenter was in New York City in 1979-80, recording her one and only solo album, Karen Carpenter, with Karen Ramone’s husband, Phil Ramone.
Schmidt also updates Carpenters fans on things that have happened since Coleman’s book was published. For one thing, Karen Carpenter’s solo album, which had been shelved back when it was created, was finally released in 1996. For another thing, Richard Carpenter has become the father of five children– only three of them had been born when Coleman’s book was published. Schmidt also writes about why the Carpenters’ remains have been relocated from their original resting place at Forest Lawn in Cypress to Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village, California.
What’s good about Little Girl Blue…
Besides the fact that Schmidt updates fans on all things Carpenters, this book includes some photos– a few of which I had not seen before in Coleman’s book. Schmidt writes well and I appreciated the fact that he spoke to a lot of different people in order to give readers a less whitewashed version of events. Schmidt provides more details about Karen Carpenter’s ultimately doomed marriage to Tom Burris, making him out to be an enormous gold-digger. If what Schmidt writes about Burris is completely true, it’s tragically ironic that she married him. One of Karen Carpenter’s biggest fears was, allegedly, marrying a man who was a gold-digger.
Schmidt also makes Karen Carpenter’s mother out to be an extreme control freak, who refused to let either of her children grow up and be normal adults. Schmidt even interviewed actors Mitchell Anderson and Cynthia Gibb, who famously played Richard and Karen Carpenter in a 1989 movie of the week called The Karen Carpenter Story, which played on CBS on January 1, 1989.
What’s not so good about Little Girl Blue…
Like I mentioned before, Ray Coleman had already written a superior biography about the Carpenters. I am very familiar with Coleman’s book, which is unfortunately now out of print. I do think there’s room for two biographies about the Carpenters– but– it was pretty clear to me that Randy Schmidt leaned on Ray Coleman’s work quite heavily. In fact, there were a couple of instances in which it appeared to me that he’d actually copied some paragraphs or at least paraphrased them to the point at which I knew I had read them several times before. I didn’t have Ray Coleman’s book next to me as I read Schmidt’s efforts on my Kindle, but I feel pretty confident that I’d be able to find the text in question. Reading Schmidt’s work pretty much felt, to me, like the literary equivalent of a re-run.
Should you read Little Girl Blue?
If you are a diehard fan of the Carpenters’ music, you may already know a lot of the information Randy Schmidt reveals in his biography, especially if you’ve already read Coleman’s work. However, if you missed Coleman’s book and can’t get a copy of it, Little Girl Blue is definitely worth reading. Personally, I think I liked Coleman’s book better, though Schmidt does offers some new information, particularly on things that have happened since 1994. And I do think his interviews with Frenda Franklin give this book a perspective that is lacking in Coleman’s book. I do wish, however, that I didn’t feel like I had already read parts of Little Girl Blue.
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