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The Carpenters: Up From Downey

Page 3 of 7

"This . . . thing they've built up, where it's implicitly understood the Carpenters don't smoke, the Carpenters don't drink. Never would swear. Never would listen to rock music. They can't figure out how the fast car could have gotten in there. It's like we're Pat Boone, only a little cleaner. As if all we do all day is drink milk, eat apple pie and take showers. I don't even like milk.

"Not that we're totally opposite from that; we're not. But there's an in-between, you know what I mean? I don't drink a whole hell of a lot. I do have wine with dinner. I voted to make marijuana legal. I believe in premarital sex. But then, I don't smoke."

"The image we have," Karen said, "it would be impossible for Mickey Mouse to maintain. We're just . . . normal people."

Richard returned to the subject of press photos and album covers. "Some I can stomach, as far as sending 'em out with the press kits. But I'm still waiting for something that really knocks me out. And some, especially that Close To You cover . . . zero imagination.

"They took me to Mister Guy's for that, outfitted me in all this stuff that didn't fit worth a damn. I can't buy stuff off the rack. I have big shoulders and I sort of taper in. I said, it doesn't fit. They said, you let us worry about it. The coat had to be pinned. The coat is held . . . in . . . with all these pins, all the way down, just for the picture. Cashmere coat, must have cost 250 bucks. Super expensive pants. Shoes. The whole outfit.

"They give her some expensive dress and then they take us and sit us – for an album cover that's sold four million copies or something – took us to Palos Verdes, have us scramble down a 200-foot embankment. Waves splashing over the $400 outfits. Freezing, sopping wet. We're supposed to record that night. And they sit us on a rock. And here's this amateur right next to us, some amateur just out on the weekend, takin' pictures of his girlfriend – the same identical pose! And I'm thinking . . . something isn't right here . . . 'OK, sit,' they say, and, 'OK, smile!' And there's the album cover.

"When they brought it in I said, 'I don't like it.' They said, 'Learn to love it.'

"I have never learned to love it. I hate it.

"That's all the early stuff was, the same old thing, whether we did it at A&M or whether we went to this guy or that guy. And it still is!

"The Song For You cover. Whew . . . it's hard to explain. They came up with this heart, against a big red background. I said, 'It's gonna look like a Valentine's Day card.' 'Oh no, you're wrong,' they said, 'this is hip, it's, it's camp. People will look at this and they'll say, oh yeah it's the Carpenters all right, but they're putting us on.' I said, 'They're gonna think it's a Valentine's Day card.' I mean, that's what it looks like: a bunch of syrupy love songs, all packaged up with a heart on the front.

"On top of that they put these stickers with a picture of the two of us, cheek to cheek, smiling . . . in the heart! It looked so: . . . sweet! So . . . lovey dovey!

"Then they decided they wanted to redo it, after it was released. Probably the first album that ever sold a million copies that they took back and redid the cover. They thought it would be 'improved.' It was worse. I mean . . . they're experimenting on our album cover.

"The cover for Now And Then. That was supposed to be – very original – a picture of us standing in front of the house, smiling. I said, 'No. No no.' Then it was, well what else can we do now that we're here, how about if you get in your car and drive down the street.

"Immediately someone sees the picture of us in the car and says, 'You're not smiling. You look mad.' 'No,' I said, 'I just don't smile when I drive. If I were smiling it would look like a 1952 DeSoto ad!'"

The photos and the album covers contribute to an image which is then reacted to by the media, a process which really exasperates Richard.

"This guy from Louisville, who went on and on about 'the vitamin-swallowing, milk-fed Carpenters.' You could just read between the lines, he was so up tight that we wouldn't give him an interview. 'I'll show them!' The most inane things . . . Remember, Karen? About . . . their songs are about . . . Karen falls in love with someone who's test-piloting an airplane, and the plane crashes, and . . . It was so ridiculous we kept it.

"We've narrowed the interviews we give now down to . . . practically none.

"This DJ from Toronto called me up on the air. It was different, I'll grant you that. He opens up by saying, 'What's the difference between you and Paul and Paula?' 'There were two of them. There's two of us,' I said. 'That's where it ends.' 'OK,' he says, 'what about Sonny and Cher?'"

Karen: "She's thinner."

"'All right,' he says finally. 'I know where it's at. We might as well bring it out. I've listened to the lyrics of your songs. I know that Karen's singin' 'em to you. I know they're about incest. You want to talk about this?' I couldn't believe it. I was stunned. I tried to explain, absolutely not. Imagine – I tried to explain! 'I don't even write all of those songs. They just happen to be love songs. Karen sings them. I sing and arrange. We happen to be brother and sister.'"

"I remember how you threw the phone down when that was over."

"Yeah. That was the last phone interview we ever did."

"In Toronto, when we did the oldies medley, some writer thought we were a group from the Fifties and that those were our hits! How do you deal with people who have the intelligence of an ant?"

"We get good reviews, but they're surface good. 'They were here, boy, it's nice to see an all-American group. The audience was dressed neatly. The music wasn't too loud.' They never get into why the music's good. Or bad. It's just image.

"I wouldn't mind a bad review of things that are bad."

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Song Stories

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