Songs Written In Tribute #2 – ‘Tunic (Song For Karen)’ by Sonic Youth

Welcome back to this occasional series where I plan to write about songs written as a tribute to artists who have gone before. I will also always share something by the recipient of the tribute.

Sonic Youth were an American band I was not very familiar with, but once I discovered they had written a song about the late, great Karen Carpenter I knew it would have to be included in this series. If you know the story of how Karen lost her life to anorexia at the very young age of 32, it makes for sober listening.

Tunic (Song For Karen) by Sonic Youth:


Kim Gordon, from Sonic Youth, was a massive Carpenters fan and Tunic (Song For Karen) is a powerful homage. She imagined her happy in heaven, looking down at her brother Richard.

“I was trying to put myself into Karen’s body. It was like she had so little control over her life, just like a teenager – they have so little control over what’s happening to them, that one way they can get it is through what they eat or don’t eat. Also I think she lost her identity, it got smaller and smaller. And there have been times when I feel I’ve lost mine. When people come and ask me about being famous or whatever and I don’t feel that, it’s not me. But it makes me think about it. The music is definitely about the darker side. But I also wanted to liberate Karen into heaven.”

Karen on the left, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth on the right

As it’s a Monday, and as it’s rainy here today, there can only be one song choice from the Carpenters vast back catalogue. Rainy Days And Mondays is one of my favourite songs but you do have to be in a pretty good place, mentally, to listen it. I used to have a friend who loved nothing more than to spend an evening in a darkened room listening to melancholy music, but it’s not something I’ve ever mastered without getting a bit blue. The song was written by Paul Williams but Karen always made any song her own, and when you listen to the vocals here, well, it’s all just so sad.

Rainy Days and Mondays by the Carpenters:


I have watched a couple of documentaries in the last fortnight about suicide, one made by the family of Caroline Flack (who sadly took her own life just over a year ago) and one by Roman Kemp called Our Silent Emergency (prompted by his best friend’s suicide). The thing that struck me most was that in both cases the people who died were surrounded by people who loved them, and who would have gone out of their way to help them, but in the end it just wasn’t enough. Vile trolling on social media was most definitely a factor in Caroline’s death, but for young men, who find it hard to talk openly about their worries, silence is the biggest factor.

Looking back at the years when I watched the Carpenters on television, it was obvious something was very wrong. We didn’t know it at the time but Karen’s death was a long slow suicide, right in front of our eyes. She never lost her beautiful voice, but by the end of her life she was a hollow-eyed, shell of the girl she had been behind the drum kit. She had millions of fans who adored her, but like Caroline she struggled with life in the spotlight, and like Roman’s friend, she remained silent.

A bit of a sad one this, but as I said, I really felt the need to include it. Next time the material will hopefully be a little happier.

Sonic Youth

Tunic (Song For Karen) Lyrics
(Song by T. Moore, K. Gordon, L. Ranaldo, S. Shelly)

Dreaming, dreaming of a girl like me
Hey what are you waiting for, feeding, feeding me
I feel like I’m disappearing, getting smaller every day
But I look in the mirror, I’m bigger in every way

She said,
You aren’t never going anywhere
You aren’t never going anywhere
I ain’t never going anywhere
I ain’t never going anywhere

I’m in heaven now, I can see you Richard
Goodbye Hollywood, goodbye Downey, hello Janis
Hello Dennis, Elvis and all my brand new friends
I’m so glad you’re all here with me, until the very end

Dreaming, dreaming of how it’s supposed to be
But now this tunic’s spinning, around my arms and knees
I feel like I’m disappearing, getting smaller every day
But when I open my mouth to sing, I’m bigger in every way

She said,
You aren’t never going anywhere
You aren’t never going anywhere
I ain’t never going anywhere
I ain’t never going anywhere

Hey mom! Look I’m up here, I finally made it
I’m playing the drums again too
Don’t be sad, the band doesn’t sound half bad
And I remember mom, what you said
You said honey, you look so under-fed

Another green salad, another ice tea
There’s a tunic in the closet waiting just for me
I feel like I’m disappearing, getting smaller every day
But I look in your eyes, and I’m bigger in every way

She said,
You aren’t never going anywhere
You aren’t never going anywhere
I ain’t never going anywhere
I ain’t never going anywhere

Goodbye Richard, gotta go now
I’m finally on my own, but Dan’s got a gig
Keep the love lights glowing, little girl’s got the blues
I can still hear momma say: “honey don’t let it go to your head

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team Bacharach and David - The opening line to that song was "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

14 thoughts on “Songs Written In Tribute #2 – ‘Tunic (Song For Karen)’ by Sonic Youth”

  1. Didn’t expect to find Sonic Youth here today, but it’s always good to keep your readers on their toes. Never become predictable!

    In the back of my mind, there’s another song written about Karen Carpenter… I just can’t remember what it is. I might be imagining it.

    Hope the ankle is recovering, Alyson.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The great thing about a series is that you have to go off in search of suitable contenders, and for me, that involves finding out about songs/artists that might not have otherwise crossed my radar. Made a lot of great new discoveries in the Full-Moon series and during my short-lived American Odyssey.

      As for Sonic Youth, I think you’ve shared the Tunic song over at your place at some point as it was semi-familiar. It might not be what I would normally gravitate towards but I thought the lyrics were very clever, those of a lost little girl.

      The ankle is recovering well but my other knee isn’t! Going to take a while before I’m running marathons (but then I never did in the first place).

      Like

  2. Alyson, I’m going to comment before I’ve even read the post…..Sonic Youth……..I really didn’t see that coming.
    Ok, I’ll get on with reading the post now.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I believe Richard Carpenter does still appear (with his family) from time to time.
    His solo album (Time) released in the late 80s does have some decent songs, all arranged in the Richard Carpenter ‘style’. He has Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick on it and the backup personnel include regulars Joe Osborne and Tony Pelusa plus Herb Albert. Carpenter friend and lyricist John Bettis contributed a couple of songs.
    Thanks to Alyson for introducing me to Sonic Youth. I do appreciate their respect for Karen Carpenter, but I doubt I’ll put ‘Tunic’ in heavy rotation on my Sunday Morning brunch playlist.. I could waste a whole day just listening to Karen, with guest appearances by Rumer, Dusty and Dionne.
    Apparently, Karen’s favorite song was ‘I Need To Be In Love’ written by Richard Carpenter, the aforementioned John Bettis and Albert Hammond.

    “…So here I am with pockets full of good intentions
    But none of them will comfort me tonight
    I’m wide awake at four a.m.
    Without a friend in sight
    Hanging on a hope, but I’m alright..”

    We miss you Karen.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No I don’t think Sonic Youth will be on heavy rotation in my house either but I was really interested in the backstory to the song. You just never know who is going to be a big Karen Carpenter fan.

      I still love Karen’s voice but get really angry about what happened to her. We knew so little back in the day about anorexia but even today it’s a really hard disease to treat, so she was maybe always destined to shine brightly for a just a short time. So sad.

      Like

  4. Ah, how brilliant to see Sonic Youth on these pages! As Rol says, it keeps us on our toes and there’s an added pleasure in finding a little something unexpected.
    Seeing Rol’s comment, there’s another song that he may be thinking of which just briefly references Karen Carpenter, it’s a rather lovely number by My Morning Jacket called ‘Librarian’ which I heard for the first time only recently.
    “…There I spy you listening to the AM radio
    Karen of the carpenters, singing in the rain
    Another lovely victim of the mirror’s evil way
    It’s not like you’re not trying, with a pencil in your hair
    To defy the beauty the good lord put in there”

    As ever, lots to think about in your post. So much needless tragedy in people’s lives and so desperate for everyone involved.
    Also must just say, there’s just something about the Carpenters which transcends others in their genre too, if that makes sense!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gosh I’m going to have to start being a bit less predictable – It seems to have gone down well.

      Yes, that’s perhaps the song Rol was thinking of – All these lyrics that were written much later on, from the perspective of what we now know happened, just make it all the more tragic. In our defence, no-one knew much at all about anorexia back in the 1970s and looking back I now think there were a fair few girls in my school who probably had the illness, but we just thought they were really skinny. Beggars belief.

      I agree that the Carpenters can’t be lumped in with others to the easy-listening, Adult Contemporary camp, they transcend all that. Yet she died at only 32. What a legacy.

      Like

  5. I remember when the IF I WERE A CARPENTER tribute album came out in the early 90s. It had all the hottest, hippest indie acts at the time recording cover versions of Carpenters songs. Sonic Youth did “Superstar.” Cracker did “Rainy Days and Mondays.” Etc. I liked many of the acts on the album. I like the Carpenters. I WANTED to like the album, but for some reason it never worked for me.

    The trajectory of Karen’s life is absolutely tragic. I like to hope that we’ve figured more of these things out nowadays, and that it couldn’t happen again. I sincerely hope that is the case, but I think in today’s social media world, there is even more “body pressure” on people.

    Like

    1. I remember that album being shared on some of the other blogs and of course it has a very distinctive cartoon of them on the cover. As I love Karen’s voice so much I don’t think it would work for me either but good on them for making it. It took me ages to admit to being a fan of the Carpenters around here but they seem to have transcended their image into a different kind of “coolness” and get respect from everyone.

      Yes, it was tragic what happened to her – You would think we have learnt lessons from the past but history keeps repeating itself, especially for those in the public eye. After watching those two docs on suicide it was clear that there was nothing the family or friends could have done to stop it happening so a long way still to go. Same with anorexia, such a difficult thing to conquer – so sad.

      Like

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