It's a little depressing to get into what eventually happened to Karen, so I'll just relate the fascinating story of how I came to recognize the greatness of the Carpenters (even though I still think Richard may be kin to the Devil). Back in the mid-'90s, someone had the idea to put together a Carpenters tribute album...done by the "alternative" stars of the moment! Whatta concept! There were a few good moments on it--I remember liking the Shonen Knife cover of "Top of the World" and Sonic Youth's take on "Superstar" (though I've never really been a fan o' them). I think Mr. Poncho sent me a mixed tape with a Carpenters song on it at around the same time, so those two things taken together made me more hesitant to dismiss them out of hand, which I had done without really ever listening to them very much. Of course, some of their songs are sickening--there's no other word for it. But even those are fascinating in their own way.
The song that made me want to write this post is "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft". Now, I don't know how deeply Richard and Karen were into the idea of there being aliens tootling around in the heavens, and I really don't care that much. Judging by this song they must've had some sort of fascination with it. It was written by an obscure Canadian band called Klaatu, which had people thinking they were the Beatles reunited when they released their first album with minimal info on it in 1976. (The name Klaatu comes from the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, and oddly enough the character takes on the alias Carpenter at one point). From the disturbingly corny radio dj intro to 160-musician-strong orchestration to the fuzztone guitar to the long fade, it's seven appallingly great minutes of pop music. You should probably only listen to it once a year--on World Contact Day, of course.