Friday, July 22, 2011

Mr. Kim Blogs - Chanteuses

A friend sent me a link to a youtube clip of Keiko Touge. I had never heard of her and watched it without any expectations. As soon as she opened her mouth and started singing, nerves and emotions I had not touched in decades were immediately exposed. Teenage angst and possibilities and dreams were with me once again. The woman has perfect pitch.

More importantly, Keiko sounds 98.6% like Karen Carpenter.

When I was young, I listened to the angelic alto that was Karen Carpenter in her pre-illness prime, just a girl of 19 when she hit the charts. She had what I still to this day believe to be one of the five most incredible pop female voices of the last century. Karen was, in my mind, in the same league with Judith Durham, Rosemary Clooney, Eva Cassidy, and Ella Fitzgerald. (Yep, I said it, better than Barbra, Judy, Diana, Judy, Cass, or Jo. "My ladies" were in a class all by themselves.) And like the other four, Karen could absolutely embrace the texture and timbre needed to own a song, to make the listener sniffle in sympathy or bop along in childlike joy. I have always heard perfect pitch, even if I could not sing it. Hearing a singer claim a note just an eighth of a note flat or sharp still sends me climbing the walls. Each of these ladies could nail it. I bathe in their music each time it finds me.

The Carpenters’ music itself has been described by some, including at least one woman I have married, as insipid. As may be. God knows, I lost enough bus stop fist fights with “friends” for admitting I listened to “faggot music”. Ah, youth. All I can say is the songs helped articulate the emotions of an unpopular, gangly boy struggling to define what was important in life. For that, I am still grateful. Add to that the voice of an angel, and you have a shrine, lovingly locked away in my inner psyche. Here is an admittedly lip synched sample of her voice. Pure tone. Beautiful. I wonder to this day what she would be singing today if she had lived, whether she would have survived the transition from 30ish pop artist to adult entertainer, whether she would have left her persona and her duo act in the dust and moved on to something else, or whether she would remain as she is – a footnote in music history and an example of how bad 70's music was, for some.

So Keiko. Keiko Touge apparently has a one-track career. She plays the part of Karen Carpenter reborn. A woman of some lucky talent, she sounds a bit like The Lady herself and indulges in the comparison. Here is a sample. (Please try to ignore the awkwardness of Richard Carpenter in the clip. He is a lost soul, and perhaps the lessons of his post-Karen public life are worth a post on its own merits.) It is obvious to me in this clip that it was really important to Keiko that Richard approve of her interpretation. I hope she got the approval she wanted.

And I hope she finds her own muse so that she can own her own soul and can learn to live without Karen’s.

Listening to Keiko, then listening to other clips by both women, I felt like I was eating butter. It is such a gift to be able to touch memories and find that they still mean something. Even if they mean nothing to anyone else. The songs carry emotion, and the voices themselves are pure joy. I hope you find them to your liking.

And Donald: if you are still out there somewhere and want to resume our bus stop discussion about my musical taste, I warn you -- I have developed a wicked right hook.


  1. The melody in your words is right up there with any song, any time, and the sharing of such a personal, wondrous relationship with the music is a lovely gift.

    Also a gift is learning an impressive new facet of an old friend---locked in only the I-know-what-I-like niche, with an easily-touched teardrops-nerve when the music rises and soars or whispers those evocative notes, I so admire and envy such understanding and comprehension. And the What-Ifs haunt us all.

    Wonderful piece, Sweetpea---and you do know that Ole Donald probably blew out his eardrums with the Cheap Trick album he played day and night for weeks after that unfortunate thing with the neighbors' Weimaraner.

  2. She does have an amazing voice and an ASTOUNDING resemblance to Karen C. And even though I agree with that woman you married (hee) that the Carpenters were insipid, I concede that Karen had a wonderful, rich voice. But better than JUDY???? You hetro wackaloon, NOBODY was better than JUDY!!!

    Nice job, my Michael!

  3. Being a classical music and musical theatre kind of guy, Karen Carpenter is pretty low on my list of favorite vocalists. I like drama and surprises. Ms. Carpenter was a little too Ramada Inn bar background music to be a favorite for me. I will own that she has a rich, creamy alto with excellent pop vocal technique.

    But I think it's great that you share a passion for her that so many others obviously feel. That's what makes horse races.

    My favorite chanteuses would be early Barbra, the incredible Barbara Cook, Nancy LaMott, Cleo Laine,. Maureen McGovern, the Calloway sisters (Liz and Ann Hampton). I love Ella, but she's jazz to me and not a true chanteuse.

  4. While the blog post was about a specific area of interest, Fear Not: my musical taste is by no means centered on this narrow genre. Lounge singer voice is a fair description. Some of my other vocal interests fall into the same category - Sinatra, Eder, Sammy Davis, Billie Holliday, Pasty Cline.... yes, I can embrace a good ballad. But my musical taste is wide ranging. I listen to country music. I listen to pop (sans rap and hip hop.) I listen to opera and madrigal and fusion jazz and small intimate combos (I have some Tord Gustavsen discs I would love to share - they can make me go into a trance!) I LOVE big band and french/italian rennaisance music (big fan of the Academy of Ancient Music).

    I am also a classical music amd musical theater kind of guy, with equally skewed opinions in each area. Actually, I listen to more classical than anything else these days, and am currently exploring works of Georg Muffat and of Gabrielli I haven't focused on previously. My real passions in classical music, if I had to limit the list, would have to come down to Ravel, Debussy, and Mozart, although I would never turn down a Bach invention or a well-executed Chopin (how I hate to play Chopin, but I love to listen!). Beyond classical, I am drawn to good vocal harmonization, such as Anonymous 4, Chanticleer, and the close harmonies of the Andrew Sisters, McGuire Sisters, and the Four Aces. A good front man with a mean horn can always grab me, whether it is Marsalis, Botti, or a bugler playing taps.

    Show music is something I am particular about. But that is a topic for a full post.

    Hey, at least we never have to fight over the radio station.

  5. Nice to hear back from you. Now I know what to put on the play list when you and Kim come up for dinner! A lot of my favorites are included there in your list!

  6. Thank you for posting this. Karen has and will always will be one of my favorite female vocalists of all time. Listening to this artist Keiko who sounds almost like Karen is just mesmerizing. Keiko has a remarkable talent and I am glad she can pay tribute to Karen Carpenter, by singing her songs.

    Even though I was born in 1977 I appreciated good music and have loved the Carpenters and have admitted to it, despite being ridiculed for it. Thank you again for sharing!