Review: Why Karen Carpenter Matters by Karen Tongson

A perfect blend memoir / autobiography and music / culture. Tongson’s Why Karen Carpenter Matters is a perfect telling of influence and community. 

In Why Karen Carpenter Matters, Karen Tongson (whose parent named her after the pop icon) interweaves the story of the tiger’s rise to fame in the 1960’s and 70’s with her own trans-Pacific journey between the Philippines – where the imitations of the American pop styles flourished – and Karen Carpenter’s home ground in Southern California. Tongson reveals why the Carpenter’s chart-topping, seemingly white washed musical fantasies of ‘normal love’ have profound significance for her – as well as other people of color, 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 Carpenter’s sound, while finding the beauty in the singer’s all-too-brief life.

“The image we have would be impossible for Mickey Mouse to maintain. We’re just… normal people.” – Karen Carpenter

About the Author

Karen Tongson is a Filipino-American cultural critic, writer and queer studies scholar. She is the author of Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries (2011), and Why Karen Carpenter Matters (2019). 

She has two books in progress: Empty Orchestra: Karaoke, Queer Performance, Queer Theory (Duke University Press) and NORMPORN: Television and the Spectacle of Normalcy (NYU Press).

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