Is there anything more comforting than the sound of Karen Carpenter’s deeply felt vocals on “White Christmas”? Her melancholy, honey-thick voice singing, “But it’s December the 24th, and I’m longing to be up north.” Makes my heart catch in my throat every time. Every time. I didn’t even grow up in the North, but I think the sentiment is universal: Longing to be somewhere nostalgic and loving.
Or how about, “Merry Christmas Darling”? Did you know that song was written in 1946 by a choir director named Frank Pooler? Karen and Richard Carpenter were in that choir and in 1970 Richard composed the music and Karen sang the ballad. More haunting? Pooler wrote the words while he was serving in WWII and missing his sweetheart terribly. Ever since learning that, I get more emotional each time I hear it. That sort of longing at Christmas is entirely different than most of us will ever understand.
I grew up with The Carpenters Christmas Portrait album, as I trust so many of you have. In fact, we were not ‘allowed’ to listen to any Christmas music until we had started with The Carpenters.
Something about Karen’s way of singing those songs makes every one of them sound like she and her brother wrote them all. She makes most other singer’s versions sound like regurgitations. Some of them are…and bad regurgitations at that. Glee’s Christmas renditions are not good. Sorry Gleekers. Their versions of Christmas classics almost make my ears grow legs and gallop off my head.
I never knew Karen Carpenter. In fact, she was dead before I was born. But she was cool. Even the nerdy, vanillaness of The Carpenters is cool. Strange, I guess there is something edgy and fresh about people simply expressing their true talent with no apologies or excuses.