One Sunday when I was about seven years old our family was playing a game of softball in a field on my grandparents' farm. It was a beautiful summer day and I was very excited when it was finally my turn at bat. I stuck out once, twice, three times... "Just keep throwing until he hits one" ...four, five, six... "Keep your eye on the ball"...seven, eight nine ..."You're not concentrating!" ...ten, eleven, twelve... "He can't hit. He's a sissy!" ...thirteen, fourteen, fifteen... "I don't want to play anymore" ...sixteen, seveteen... "You better go inside the house and play, Son. I think you've had enough."
Utterly humiliated and in tears I went to my aunt's house where I found my cousin Jan. To me, she was the epitome of teen-age cool -barefoot, thin as a reed in bell-bottoms with her long red hair pulled back off of her face by a blue bandanna.
"Who cares about softball anyway? Wanna listen to some music? I just got the new Carpenters album."
My Aunt Joyce and Uncle Larry had one of those stereos that as basically a big piece of furniture that took up one entire wall in their living room and always seemed to be in competition with the beat up old upright piano on the opposite wall. Today the stereo won. First there was a kind of plastic clicking sound, then a gentle thud as the record hit the felt on the turntable...
"We've Only Just Beguuun to Liiive..."
And with a gentle crack from Karen's throat we were off. That opening line full of hope and sadness was transformative, life changing. No longer was I a failed seven-year-old boy. I was inducted into the mysteries of feminine adolescent romanticism and despair and Karen Carpenter was our dorky drum-playing Avatar!
About halfway through the record Jan's boyfriend came by and it wasn't too long before he asked if we could put on some rock music. Jan rolled her eyes, dripping condescension, "This IS rock music."
"No it isn't. This is girls' music."
"Don't be ridiculous! This isn't girls' music. Chippy likes it and he's a boy. Right Chippy?"
I liked it? And I was a boy?
"Yeah! Don't be ridiculous. This isn't girls' music. Everyone likes The Carpenters. I should know -I'm a boy..."
"So many roads to choose... We start out walking and learn to run..."
Karen's voice was both reassuring and profoundly sad. She sat behind her drum kit knocking out beats and giving voice to a complex emotionality rooted in solitude, self-consciousness, and yearning.
Eventually The Carpenters became too successful and Karen was forced to come out from behind her beloved drum kit and reveal herself to a waiting, adoring, and perhaps terrifying audience. After "Close to You" she was no longer the shy, drumming tomboy from Downey, California. She was an all to frail, all too human pop star.
To me she is a Goddess, The Lotus of the Broken Drum, and I'm pretty sure she saved my life.
-Written May 26, 2007 as a program note for the first Justin Bond is Close to You show at the Zipper Factory
For Christmas this year I will be performing
Justin Bond is Close to You at Christmas, Darling
featuring The Pixie Harlots
musical direction: Lance Horne
Thursday, December 11 at 8pm
Friday, December 12 at 7:30 and 10
Saturday, December 13 at 7:30 and 10
The Abrons Arts Center
466 Grand St. New York, NY
http://www.theatermania.com | 212.352.3101