On February 4th, 1983, Karen Carpenter—one half of The Carpenters alongside her brother, Richard—passed away after suffering heart failure brought on by anorexia nervosa, an illness from which she had suffered for years. She was 32 when she died. One of her millions of fans was Kim Gordon, singer and bassist of Sonic Youth, a band who in 1990 released a song named Tunic (Song for Karen) in her memory. Kim said of the song in 1997:
“I wanted to put Karen Carpenter up in heaven playing drums and being happy. This whole thing about teenage girls cutting themselves and that being associated with anorexia and girls being conditioned to having such a big desire to please – I’m just curious, because of Coco, at what point do girls start getting their sense of self-worth and [need to please] people, and why don’t they have anything else?”
Kim Gordon also wrote the following letter to Karen; it was reprinted, undated, in the brilliant book, Sonic Youth: Sensational Fix.
Thru the years of The Carpenters TV specials I saw you change from the Innocent Oreo-cookie-and-milk-eyed girl next door to hollowed eyes and a lank body adrift on a candy-colored stage set. You and Richard, by the end, looked drugged—there’s so little energy. The words come out of yr mouth but yr eyes say other things, “Help me, please, I’m lost in my own passive resistance, something went wrong. I wanted to make myself disappear from their control. My parents, Richard, the writers who call me ‘hippie, fat.’ Since I was, like most girls, brought up to be polite and considerate, I figured no one would notice anything wrong—as long as, outwardly, I continued to do what was expected of me. Maybe they could control all the outward aspects of my life, but my body is all in my control. I can make myself smaller. I can disappear. I can starve myself to death and they won’t know it. My voice will never give me away. They’re not my words. No one will guess my pain. But I will make the words my own because I have to express myself somehow. Pain is not perfect so there is no place in Richard’s life for it. I have to be perfect too. I must be thin so I’m perfect. Was I a teenager once?… I forget. Now I look middle-aged, with a bad perm and country-western clothes.”
I must ask you, Karen, who were your role models? Was it yr mother? What kind of books did you like to read? Did anyone ever ask you that question—what’s it like being a girl in music? What were yr dreams? Did you have any female friends or was it just you and Richard, mom and dad, A&M? Did you ever go running along the sand, feeling the ocean rush up between yr legs? Who is Karen Carpenter, really, besides the sad girl with the extraordinarily beautiful, soulful voice?
your fan – love,