The Carpenters: Up From Downey

Page 5 of 7

"It got to me. I had like an anxiety thing happen to me. It was November of '72. We were out for too long. We were out for six weeks of one-nighters. We didn't have a single in release. It was in between 'Goodbye To Love' and 'Sing.' And there's always, like for the person picking the single and doing the creative thing, there's always that nagging thought: 'Will we find another single?' On top of going from city to city to city, six weeks of dingy weather, each day more rotten than the last. Business was good, crowds were good, the group was fine, but . . . Holiday Inn after Holiday Inn . . .

"It just got to me. One night – man, I just didn't know what – it just hit me.

"What happened is, a lot of little things started goin' wrong. Which doesn't mean anything. Every now and then you have a concert where a lot of little things go wrong. I got up there, I didn't like the feel of the place. Which doesn't mean anything either. We've played a lot of places just like it. It was a big domey . . . ice rink. It was freezing, and . . . and there was this rumble. The acoustics were so awful, and I hear this rumble, and . . . then there's a mistake in the music . . . then a chord fell out . . .

"I felt like I was losing control. I mean, I never felt that bad. I mean you can't describe it. You just get scared and you – don't – know – why type of thing. 'I – don't – wanna – be – here I – don't – wanna – do – this – show.'

"But you're onstage. What are you going to do? What are you going to do? I was so afraid, because I didn't know what was going to happen. I felt I was really going to lose it.

"There was just something, some part of my mind was telling me not to. 'Don't stop. You can't just walk off. You have to finish the show.' I mean, all those people there . . .

"So then by that time we were getting into the second part, into the oldies medley, things I could do without thinking much, and . . . I got control of myself. We didn't stop or anything."

Having said this much, Richard seemed to want to retreat from the episode.

"Evidently I just wasn't in the greatest frame of mind. I mean, who's to say? I can't tell all the things that led to it. Ordinarily, and ever since then, if the flute player's mike falls off or something, we roll anyway. But I just . . . I felt it was really gonna . . . get me."

Karen clutched at herself, gripped by a comic phantom. "Aah – it's got me!"

"Not funny," Richard said levelly.

"Oh. Not funny."

"I did not enjoy it."

Chastened, she said, "Well, I knew something was going on. I looked over at him and he had the weirdest expression on his face."

Richard said, "Well it wasn't a nervous breakdown. I've never had anything like that.

"Just about then that article about the Beach Boys was printed in Rolling Stone. Someone showed it to me, and I read about Brian Wilson freaking out on that airplane. And I said, gee, maybe that's what's . . . happening to me. Brian of course, being the genius that he is, could handle that.

"No, I just felt it was time to . . . pull back a little.

"But who would have thought it could get even that heavy? I mean, who knows about anxiety when you're 20, and you're doin' the things you love. Lugging big amps onto the Troubadour stage for hoot night. Having a wonderful time.

"Then you get all the things you've worked for so hard all along, and it changes. And there's lots and lots of pressure. But still . . . it's something you want to do!"

What would happen if the group took things at a slower pace?

"I don't know," he said, as if he had never given it thought. "It wouldn't affect record sales or anything. The part we'd have to cut down – which we are, bein' we cut the summer four – is the concerts. We can't cut down on recording. We only come out with one album a year anyway, so . . . That's what it would have to be.

"The way I see it, I mean, we have to cut down a little. It was getting to be too much. Now we've had the Europe thing, now we have the Japanese thing, and the summer tour, before that the April tour, and . . . yeah, May. It was too much.

"But it's what we worked for, you know. And we reall . . . It's exhausting, and it's a lotta problems, but I still . . . It's something we like to do. The whole thing is.

"But we have to cut down."

"I want to start cutting down."

When the Carpenters tour certain parts of America it would not be much of an exaggeration to say that Richard and Karen are like visiting deities. A paucity of entertainment in these areas combined with the Carpenters' huge appeal ensures almost entire towns will turn out for their concerts. Thus it was in Beckley, and Wheeling, West Virginia; in Richmond, Virginia, and in Hershey, Pennsylvania. They bring glamour to scenes of devastation, to small cities scarred by open mines and strewn with tornado debris. Their limousine glides through narrow streets suited to Dublin slums, past felled trees, railroad yards, mounds of coal, wrecked house trailers . . .

Glimpsed from the driver's seat the three figures in the rear look like a Fellini parody of Don't Look Back. Karen, in dark glasses and fox fur collar, chews gum as she gazes at the dreary town gliding by. Randee Bash, Sherwin's daughter and Richard's girlfriend, her gamin face animated or bored, hangs on Richard's arm and on his every word. Richard, projecting nervous hauteur, holds in his lap the Sony CF550 cassette player-radio which he personally carries everywhere. Richard tunes the radio to the local pop station – he imitates the morning man's nasal boss-jock tones. "Yes they've got that sound here in St. Clairsville, Ohio!"

The clackety-click of tapping on metal in time to the music: Karen's long carmine nails.

In every town they play, mention of their names brings smiles to faces young and old. "They're really special. Lotta groups been through here, but . . . they are the only ones really worth seein'." Their records are on all jukeboxes, squeezed between the country records that predominate. Muzak plays their hits, and Karen and Richard prick up their ears, comment on the arrangements. This is Carpenter country. (But then, so is Las Vegas. So is Europe, and Japan.)

They are quite gracious when asked for autographs, considering how often they are approached in restaurants, after concerts, while riding in limousines. "I'm going to act like a fan now," a driver will announce. "My other daughter would never forgive me if I got one for her sister and not for her," a woman at the Sheraton Inn will say ingratiatingly as she begs for a second signature. Approached during breakfast in Richmond, Virginia, by a rotund and particularly nervy fellow bearing five napkins to be individually inscribed, Karen blurted in disbelief, "Oh, f – !"

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