May 8, 2015

The Carpenters: A Brother and Sister Pretend to be in Love

Nazarenes disapproved of rock music, which they defined as basically any music performed by a group with guitars.

They disapproved of songs that mentioned alcohol, tobacco, extramarital sex, or divorce.  That let out all of country-western music.

They disapproved of songs that mentioned premarital sex or dancing.  That let out disco.

In the 1970s, there weren't a lot of songs left.

For instance, let's look at the Top 40 for the week of  August 25th, 1975, when I was starting high school.   Only one was permitted:

1. "Get Down Tonight" (KC and the Sunshine Band): dancing and sex.
2. "Falling in Love" (Hamilton and Reynolds): sex.
3. "Rhinestone Cowboy" (Glen Campbell): alcohol.
4. "One of these Nights" (Eagles): sex.
5. "How Sweet It Is" (James Taylor): sex.
6. "Jive Talkin'" (The Bee Gees): dancing and sex.
7. "At Seventeen" (Janis Ian): dancing
8. "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" (Elton John): ok.  (They didn't know he was gay)
9. "Why Can't We Be Friends" (War): alcohol.
10. "Fight the Power" (Isley Brothers): dancing.

Now how about the week of November 13, 1977, when I celebrated my 17th birthday. Two were ok:

1. "You Light Up My Life" (Debby Boone): sex.
2. "Boogie Nights" (Heatwave): sex and dancing.
3. "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" (Crystal Gayle): ok
4. "It's Ecstasy" (Barry White): sex
5. "Baby, What a Big Surprise" (Chicago): sex
6. "How Deep is Your Love" (The Bee Gees): sex and dancing.
7. "Heaven on the 7th Floor" (Paul Nicholas): sex.
8. "Blue Bayou" (Linda Rondstadt): ok.
9. "We're All Alone" (Rita Coolidge): sex
10. "Nobody Does It Better" (Carly Simon): sex

That means at Nazarene parties and Afterglows, we spent a lot of time listening to the Carpenters.

During the early 1970s, everywhere you'd go, you'd hear the warbling treacle of Karen Carpenter, accompanied by Richard.  No sex, no dancing, no booze, just love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love....

"I think I'm gonna be sad, I think it's today."
"Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near?"
 "We've only just begun to live, white lace and promises.."

"Love, look at the two of us, strangers in so many ways."
"Rainy days and Mondays always get me down."
"Long ago, and oh so far away, I fell in love with you before the second show."

Well, you get the idea.

They were past their prime by the time I hit high school, but we played them at every party and Afterglow anyway.

We all assumed that Karen and Richard Carpenter were husband and wife.  Not until Karen's tragic death from anorexia in 1983 did I find out that they were actually brother and sister.

Singing all those gushy love songs to her brother?  Photographs in super-romantic heterosexual boy-girl modes?  Shockingly incestuous!

But then, they weren't really involved in a romantic relationship.  They were just pretending.  Sort of demolishes the heteronormative myth, doesn't it?

Besides, Richard had a nice smile, a slim hippie physique, and obvious beneath-the-belt gifts (check out this photo).  If you could just look at him without having to listen his sister singing "Love, look at the two of us."

In the 1970s, Karen and Richard were both icons among gay men and lesbians of a certain age, and widely assumed gay.  Karen may have been; Richard, probably not.

You're probably wondering why an article on the Carpenters has a photo of Tom Daly, the gay Olympic swimmer.

Because when you google "Richard Carpenter" and "shirtless," he pops up.

See also: Donny Osmond.

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