Last month a Carpenter’s greatest hits compilation CD called “40 40” was released. The “40 40” stands for 40 songs, of which the first was recorded 40 years ago. I liked their music for the most part (“Close to You” being the exception.) The Carpenters played on the soundtrack of my ‘salad days.’
The best part of he Carpenter’s music was Karen Carpenter’s sad and soulful voice. It matched my teenage angst at the time. It also matched my vocal range, more alto than soprano. I remember belting out to the radio “Goodbye to Love,” like I knew what the heck romantic heartbreak was about.
The Carpenter’s music was sometimes described as “Sunshine Pop.” I thought they had a wider mood swing than just “sunny”—from “Top of he World” to “Rainy Days and Monday Always Get Me Down.”
Karen’s voice excelled on the melancholy tunes, like “Yesterday Once More.” I always wondered if somewhere deep down, Karen’s spirit knew she was fated to a short life—and that was reflected in the tone of her vocals.
I told a girlfriend my theory about Karen Carpenter’s voice. She replied, “What do you mean, ‘deep down’? Deep down where? Like in her Chamber of Ipecac?”
As much as I liked the Carpenter’s tunes, I considered Richard and Karen tragically unhip. (I would put them in the same coolness category as the Captain and Tennille—whose music stunk.) On Fresh Air last week, Terry Gross asked Richard Carpenter (who was promoting the “40 40” CD) about the perception that the Carpenter’s songs were “corny.” He admitted (although defensively) that their music was viewed that way. He blamed it partly on “We’ve Only Just Begun,” which he said became an overused clichéd wedding song. (I’m paraphrasing.)
I have my own memory of “We’ve Only Just Begun,” and it has nothing to do with weddings. It has to do with my junior year of high school. This was the theme song for our Homecoming that year. And I should know. I picked it.
Consequently, this song reminds me of two thing: a high school football game/homecoming activities AND a big fat lie that was perpetuated that night.
Let me back up. My junior year I was on the Associated Student Body Cabinet—the student government group consisting of the elected positions (President, Vice-President, etc.) and appointed positions (such as Athletic Commissioner).
Our ASB President, Taco Dave (of the upcoming blog: “Taco Dave and the Terrible Dime Incident”) appointed me Parliamentarian. (My official job was to make sure the student council meetings adhered to Roberts Rules of Order.)
This may sound hokey, but it was a good gig. First of all, very few juniors got to be on the ASB Cabinet (I was one of two), which meant I got to hang out with seniors (like Terry, Roberta, and Gretchen!). Secondly, we were all in a class called “Leadership,” which was pretty much a free for all. (I remember one guy named Dennis who spent the time playing Led Zeppelin records.) Thirdly, it meant we “ran the school” and got to do all the fun stuff.
That is how I came to organize the homecoming activities during half-time at a night football game at Bolsa Stadium.
I needed a song to be played over the P.A. system while the Homecoming Princesses and their escorts were driven around the field. I chose “We’ve Only Just Begun.”
I knew the song was kinda about love and romance:
We’ve only just begun to live,
White lace and promises
A kiss for luck and we’re on our way.
But I identified with the second verse:
Before the rising sun we fly,
So many roads to choose
We start our walking and learn to run.
Since then, images of the road and running (and dreams!) have been my favorite metaphor in rock-n-roll music. I feel a strong connection to songs like Springsteen’s “Born to Run” and “Thunder Road;” Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” and “The Road and the Sky;” and Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” These songs get to me every time I hear them.
Back to Bolsa Stadium homecoming night: I sat in the announcer’s booth. The Carpenter’s music blared. The song went over fine. Nobody in the stands (as far as I could tell) barfed at the sticky sweet lyrics.
By the time the song ended, the five Princesses (and escorts) were standing on a stage in front of the home-team stands—waiting. Big anticipation! It was time to announce who had been voted as Homecoming Queen.
This was my job—an emotional moment for me. First, I knew one of the girls was not fairly elected to be a princess. (A different girl should have been out there that night.) And second, one of the other princesses was my sister.
So who won?
Oh, I think I’ll save the ending for another blog. Stay tuned….