Friday, March 23, 2007


Song: Superstar
Artist: Sonic Youth
Album: If I Were a Carpenter

A couple years ago on a Friday night I was up at a bar on like 77th Street and York that had $2 Rolling Rock specials and a pretty popular karaoke night. Their selection was great, I sort of half-remember “performing” R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon” and my boyfriend of the time did a pretty sexy version of INXS’ “Need You Tonight.” I specifically remember this because I was pretty drunk at this point ($2 beers are as rare as affordable housing in NYC after all) and I remember seeing a 40+ Spanish woman that was grooving along to my BF’s performance. Well, she looked over at me and due to the alcohol I walked straight up to her, looked her in the eyes and said “You. Me. NOW.” She just nodded and we proceeded to grind and dance for the rest of the song. Not sure why she didn’t slap me, but it was a good memory.

But, she was not the most memorable thing of the night. After my drunken come-on with Viva La Espana, a too skinny for words woman in her 50’s slowly made her way up to the stage. She turned around and her slightly sunken-in, but pretty face and frizzy brown hair struck me. It was like I was in the presence of the ghost of Karen Carpenter. So fragile was this woman it was almost uncomfortable and before I knew it she started a meek, but ultimately powerful version of the Carpenters “Superstar.” To be honest it felt like I was in a movie, or it was some sort of other-worldly experience. Bazaar for sure… and like many a time I thought to myself, “only in New York.”

Now the Carpenters in their heyday were considered pretty dorky. Songs like “Top of the World” and “Close to You” were the essence of schmaltz. Yet, other songs had a true core of personal sadness that was at times beautiful and just a touch unbearable. Listen to “Solitaire” or “Rainy Days and Mondays” and you’ll realize that Karen’s decent into crippling, and ultimately fatal, anorexia was pretty much written on the wall… or in this case, written as hit singles.

I was too young to really know the Carpenters, and my parents fell into the category of thinking they were dorks so I had no exposure. It wasn’t until the excellent tribute album “If I Were a Carpenter” from 1994 performed by hot Alterna-acts of the time such as Matthew Sweet, American Music Club, Sheryl Crow, and Cracker that I really got to hear their songs. I loved this entire thing and it really made me realize the true power of their songwriting. (And sadness.) I’ve never been a big Sonic Youth fan, despite everyone just raving about them, but their cover of the Uber-sad “Superstar” was strange, subdued, and just quietly beautiful. I remember it popping up oddly enough in the Michael J Fox ghosts-in-New Zealand movie “The Freightners” (Directed by a pre-Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson.) It’s a beauty, and I highly recommend the entire tribute album if you are a Carpenters fan or not.


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