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A PITCHFORK MUSIC BOOK OF THE YEAR
A radical, literary and intimate insight into one of the twentieth century’s most vital vocalists.
‘Tongson serves up a number of astute observations about fantasy, projection, longing, normalcy, and aberrance.’
‘Deftly weaves memoir, history, and cultural criticism to highlight the dynamic relationship between artists and listeners.’
In the ’60s and ’70s, America’s music scene was marked by raucous excess, reflected in the tragic overdoses of young superstars such as Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. At the same time, the uplifting harmonies and sunny lyrics that propelled Karen Carpenter and her brother, Richard, to international fame belied a different sort of tragedy — the underconsumption that led to Karen’s death at age thirty-two from the effects of an eating disorder.
In Why Karen Carpenter Matters, Karen Tongson (whose parents named her after the pop icon) interweaves the story of the singer’s rise to fame in the 1960s and ‘70s with her own trans-Pacific journey between the Philippines — where imitations of American pop styles flourished — and Karen Carpenter’s home ground of Southern California. Tongson reveals why the Carpenters’ chart-topping, seemingly white-washed musical fantasies of ‘normal love’ have profound significance for her — as well as for other people of colour, LGBT+ communities, and anyone outside the mainstream culture usually associated with Karen Carpenter’s legacy.
This hybrid of memoir and biography excavates the destructive perfectionism at the root of the Carpenters’ sound, while finding the beauty in the singer’s all-too-brief life.
‘Engrossing . . . a triumphant delight.’ 4COLUMNS
‘Heartfelt . . . excellent . . . breathtaking.’ EXCLAIM!
‘Will resonate with readers who have never even heard of Carpenter.’ LITERARY HUB
MUSIC MATTERS: SHORT BOOKS ABOUT THE ARTISTS WE LOVE
— Why Solange Matters by Stephanie Phillips
— Why Marianne Faithfull Matters by Tanya Pearson
— Why Karen Carpenter Matters by Karen Tongson
[Why Karen Carpenter Matters] dives into the lived complexities of fundamental queer concepts such as ‘disidentification’ and ‘cruel optimism’ by illuminating from within the queer alliance between the author and her namesake . . . Tongson serves up a number of astute observations about fantasy, projection, longing, normalcy, and aberrance.
[Why Karen Carpenter Matters] centers those at the margins of American society, revealing how the Carpenters’ music resonated with immigrants, LGBTQ folks, and people of color who craved the idyllic normalcy that the siblings embodied . . . In this exploration of her namesake’s legacy, [Tongson] deftly weaves memoir, history, and cultural criticism to highlight the dynamic relationship between artists and listeners, all the while avoiding the militant 'yasss girl' identity politics that have come to define modern fandom.
[Tongson] packs nostalgic affection and astute critical thinking about Karen Carpenter, her namesake, into this slim volume.
Engrossing . . . An enthusiastic and persuasive Carpenters fan, Tongson is also a stellar critic with extensive knowledge of music and songcraft . . . the music writing is superb — jaunty, eloquent, and illuminating . . . a triumphant delight.
Highminded without feeling academic, Why Karen Carpenter Matters is filled with sentences that have a music of their own … Tongson's take on a misunderstood artist will resonate with readers who have never even heard of Karen Carpenter.
Heartfelt . . . Tongson deftly connects her own stories with larger narratives about the Carpenters and Karen Carpenter, for an excellent part-memoir, part-examination of the singer and her legacy . . . breathtaking . . . [a] unique take on Carpenter's importance that illuminates the beautifully transcendent connection that an audience can have with an artist.
KAREN TONGSON is the chair of gender & sexuality studies, and professor of gender & sexuality studies, English and American studies & ethnicity at the University of Southern California. She is the author of Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries, and co-editor of the Postmillennial Pop book series with Henry Jenkins at NYU Press. Her writing and cultural commentary have appeared in…Read More
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