Saturday, November 17, 2012

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: Sing

One must distinguish between naïve and deliberate Camp. Pure Camp is always naive... Considered a little less strictly, Camp is either completely naive or else wholly conscious.
- Susan Sontag, "Notes on Camp"

The oddness of the setting; the surprise of first hearing the voice; the subtle wrongness of the vowels.  This is Miss Keiko Toge, Japan's foremost impersonator, vocally at least, of Miss Karen Carpenter.  She sings (at times, at least, says another Youtube, "with Richard's blessing"*) the late superstar's hits with a serene enthusiasm that hints that she understands not a syllable of the lyrics and nothing of the context of the singer's life.

I started today thinking of posting an actual Carpenters video, but I soon discovered what Sontag already knew: "Camp and tragedy are antitheses."  In person, Karen Carpenter's tragedy is still too near, too fresh; our knowledge of her dysfunction, of the unnerving family dynamic, of the falseness of the plastic smiles, all drain even the most over-the-top 'seventies clips of their potential camp value.  Someday, perhaps, or perhaps even now for someone younger, less aware of the time and backstory.  In the meantime, at least, we have Keiko, or for that matter Todd Haynes's Superstar (available on YouTube, despite years of Richard Carpenter's trying to suppress it), which mediates between the story and our experience of it by re-enacting it with fashion dolls.

One tragedy of Karen Carpenter - beyond her own sad story - is that it was only really after her death that many people discovered that she wasn't, in one way or another, a kind of pop-culture joke.  The voice is real, however buried in her brother's overproduction it sometimes is, and it still speaks.  Even in Keiko's awkward approximation, if you listen just right - it's yesterday once more.

* Their meeting is creepy in the extreme.


  1. That was creepy in the extreme - from the vocal tones of the dearly departed emerging from the Japanese medium, to the swaying shadowy figures in the background. Should have played this at Hallowe'en... Jx