On Monday, I had the dubious pleasure of sitting in a waiting room for over an hour and having my ears afflicted by someone’s questionable choice of a 70s radio station. I used to listen to the Carpenters back in the 70s, so when they played Karen Carpenter singing “Top of the World,” I knew the song, and I knew who it was, and I knew what happened.
Such a feeling’s comin’ over me,
There is wonder in most everything I see….
I’m on the top of the world lookin’ down on creation….
The brother-sister duo of Richard and Karen Carpenter sold millions of records. This song topped the charts.
Richard was addicted to Qaaludes, and eventually took a year off for treatment. And ten years after Karen Carpenter sang, “There’s a pleasin’ sense of happiness for me,” she was dead of heart failure resulting from anorexia nervosa. In her unhappiness, she starved herself to death. Her divorce was scheduled to be finalised on the day she died. The autopsy revealed that she had poisoned herself with ipecac syrup to induce vomiting (though her family disputed this finding).
I remember hearing the news of her death, and its cause. I remember hearing a tribute to her on the radio, and hearing them play some of her biggest hits. And when they played “Top of the World,” I felt sick, and turned the radio off.
Not a cloud in the sky…..
One of the things I liked about many of the Carpenters’ songs was that the rock beat and instrumentalism wasn’t so overbearing as a lot of other music. You could sing along, and in some cases the words weren’t offensive to a Christian. What I hadn’t anticipated was that the Carpenters were like a “gateway drug” — by listening to the Carpenters, I was listening to radio stations that played other music, and developing a taste for a kind of music that held a lot of dangers. “I don’t listen to X, I just listen to the Carpenters.” But before long, I listened to X, Y, and Z, too.
That tribute to Karen Carpenter was pivotal for me, because it was a tribute to a lie. By the time the song came out in 1973, she was already unhappy about her weight, already distressed over, reportedly, her mother’s preference for her brother, and feeling the need to control something in her life. That something was her weight. I didn’t entirely change the music I listened to at that point, but things began to change. I realised that I now listened to X, Y, and Z (despite what I used to say), and that listening to “just the Carpenters” was also listening to a lie.
When you discover that even your “gateway drug” is a fraud, you see more clearly when you look at the stuff you’ve moved on to, as well. It’s all a fraud, the whole entertainment industry.
Got the sun in my eyes
And I won’t be surprised if it’s a dream….
The reality wasn’t a dream, but a nightmare. Another life was spinning out of control, already headed for a tragic end when she sang “Top of the World.” Those around her were quite happy to have her use her life pursuing fame and fortune, never thinking that her whole life was built around an empty lie, and that there might be consequences to those decisions. If you build your life on the sand, the sand might shift….
Everything I want the world to be
Is now coming true especially for me….
Money was made, fame was achieved. And if everything she wanted the world to be wasn’t coming true especially for her, she was still making money, and so was everyone else around her. She was famous. Everyone wants to be famous, after all, don’t they? If we’re famous, then we’re important, and if we’re important, then we’ll probably be famous, and that’s good for something, isn’t it?
But it was good for nothing. Entertainers sell us false philosophies, false values, false pleasures, false happiness, and they themselves are among the biggest victims. They may not believe what they say / sing / portray on the screen, but if not, they believe in the money and fame they “gain” by it. And the entertainment industry uses people until they are destroyed, and then it uses them again in emotional tributes so everyone can cry — and spend more money.
There is only one wish on my mind
When this day is through I hope that I will find
That tomorrow will be just the same for you and me….
It is disgraceful that they even play Karen Carpenter singing that song anymore. A society which really cared about the actual people involved would reject such a thing. But we don’t really care about people, we just enjoy a good emotional kick, a good cry, the feeling that we care about things. We care, but ultimately what we really care about is how we feel, and if we get a chance to stir up our emotions over someone’s death, then we can feel good about how caring we are. So we tolerate it, we even enjoy it because it stirs our emotions, and anything that stirs our emotions must be good, right?
And besides, there is money to be made, fame to be won. It would be a shame to waste a perfectly valuable superstar death by stopping the money machine….