Most of the first pop songs I recall had a novelty to them (“Puff the Magic Dragon”; “My Ding-A-Ling”) or were favorites for primary teacher productions (“If I Had a Hammer”; “Scarborough Fair”; “He Ain’t Heavy...He’s My Brother”).
But there was one album mixed in with my dad’s massive classical collection that I begged my parents to play over and over. (They didn’t trust that I’d place the record needle carefully on the vinyl. Seems I’d already built a reputation for being a klutz.) I longed to hear The Carpenters’ “Close to You”. I found the entire album enchanting and, to this day, no other voice touches my heart as profoundly as Karen Carpenter’s.
Songs like “Maybe It’s You” and “We’ve Only Just Begun” introduced me to how adults perceive love. I’d stare at the album and imagine marrying Karen. But even then I felt confused, especially when listening to “(They Long to Be) Close to You”. It was my first awareness of gender in a song. As I belted out the lyrics over and over again at home, I tried to envision this gorgeous, magnetic man, the one who attracted girls and birds, the one who made stars fall from the sky, the one with “moon dust in your hair of gold and starlight in your eyes of blue.” I knew that this was the ideal man.
While singing, I blissfully kept the male focus, likely causing my parents to have hushed talks in the bedroom. “Maybe we should buy him a Jimi Hendrix album.” Actually, they were never that hip. “Perhaps something by Perry Como.” It wouldn’t have mattered. For the next two decades, I took extra glimpses at blond-haired, blue-eyed men, sent by angels. Hal David and Burt Bacharach said so and the lovely Karen sang it. I crushed on an image that I occasionally saw on the screen, but that never came to fruition in life. Indeed, there was nothing angelic or golden about the blond blues in my life—certainly not in booger-eating Sean Millar or chewing tobacco-spitting Kelvin Bates.
No regrets though. It was a lovely fantasy. While girls dreamed of princes and living in castles, I fancied the quintessential Golden Boy, the male version of Snow White with birds aflutter around him in a forest. Maybe that explains my early affinity for hiking, too. Karen had that kind of influence on me.