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At The End Of The World, Another 'Road' To Trudge

In an apocalyptic-movie age, The Road is the doomiest. A close translation of Cormac McCarthy's novel, the film tracks a father and son as they fight to survive in an ash-gray world haunted by death and global destruction. Critic David Edelstein says that its depiction of unbearable extremity, John Hillcoat's film achieves a kind of sublimity.

05:48

Other segments from the episode on November 25, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 25, 2009: Interview with Richard Carpenter; Review of the film "The Road."

Transcript

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“40/40” Celebrates The Carpenters’ 1969 Debut

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. If you were alive in the '70s, you probably
know a lot of the Carpenters' records. They were played so much, they were part
of the pop soundtrack of the decade. Songs like "Close to You," "We've Only
Just Begun," "Rainy Days and Mondays," "Superstar," "Goodbye to Love" and
"Yesterday Once More."

My guest, Richard Carpenter, was half of the duo. The other half was his
sister, Karen Carpenter. Karen was the lead singer and drummer. Richard chose
the songs, co-wrote some of the songs, did the arrangements and sang backup
vocals. Karen died in 1983 from complications of anorexia.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Carpenters signing with A&M
Records, the label that was co-founded by Herb Alpert. To mark the 40th
anniversary, a Carpenters collection has been released featuring 40 of their
songs. It's called "40/40." Let's start with "Rainy Days and Mondays," which
was written by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams.

(Soundbite of song, "Rainy Days and Mondays")

Ms. KAREN CARPENTER (Singer): (Singing) Talkin' to myself and feeling old,
sometimes I'd like to quit, nothing ever seems to fit, hangin' around, nothing
to do but frown, rainy days and Mondays always get me down. What I've got they
used to call the blues. Nothin' is really wrong, feelin' like I don't belong,
walkin' around, some kind of lonely clown, rainy days and Mondays always get me
down.

GROSS: Richard Carpenter, welcome to FRESH AIR. Let's start with your first big
hit, which is "Close to You," which was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal
David. You had just been signed to A&M Records, the record label that Herb
Alpert co-founded. And then, like, not long after you were signed, he, if I got
the story right, he gave you this song, and what happened?

Mr. RICHARD CARPENTER (Musician): We'd signed in April of '69, and we had a
single released in October of that year that was doing fairly well. It was a
ballad version, my take on "Ticket to Ride."

GROSS: The Beatles song.

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, and during this time, Herb Alpert brought a lead sheet of
a rather obscure Bacharach-David song called "They Long to be Close to You."
And I looked at the lead sheet. I say, a lead sheet, for those who may not
know, is just the melody, the chord changes and the lyric. There's no intro, no
outro, no arrangement. It's for – to have something to look at so they get to
know the song and do their own arrangement.

So when I saw the end of – on the lead sheet of in your eyes of blue, the
melody, I got exactly what Herb was talking about, the (unintelligible) on the
piano, but that's it. They wanted me to just, as I said, arrange it the way I
felt it should go.

GROSS: The opening piano part that you play on "Close to You" has become kind
of like an official part of the melody. So how did you come up with that?

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, what it is is it's mostly the end. As I was putting the
chart together, it would have ended…

Mr. CARPENTER: (Singing) Just like me, they long to be close to you.

Mr. CARPENTER: And that was – I mean, it had a little more of an ending, but to
me, that didn't – that wasn't enough. So I pictured a hook or a tag that would
be a four-part harmony, overdubbed and…

Mr. CARPENTER: (Singing) Close to you.

Mr. CARPENTER: And then again…

Mr. CARPENTER: (Singing) Close to you.

Mr. CARPENTER: And that became, I think, one of the selling points, if you
will, of that record. I mean, it had a lot going for it, but that ending
certainly was one of them.

GROSS: One more question about "Close to You." There's that trumpet break in
the middle.

Mr. CARPENTER: Right.

GROSS: And that's almost like a signature of Burt Bacharach arrangements. And
the trumpeter sounds just like the trumpeter Bacharach used in his recordings
from the '60s, which always kind of sounded a little like Herb Alpert.

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, keeping it all in the family.

GROSS: Did you do that intentionally?

Mr. CARPENTER: I did that intentionally. When I went in to work on the
arrangement, took his lead sheet with me, it was like, WWB-do, you know, what
would Bacharach do?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: And so I kept that in mind while I was arranging it, but even
that was a little bit of a tip of the hat, well, not only to Burt with, say,
the little tag on the end of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," that really
has nothing much to do with what preceded it, but it's really magical.

So when I got through the first chorus of "Close to You," I felt it should
modulate, and I pictured the trumpets. And yeah, it's Bacharach-esque, but I
wanted a little, it's called a doit(ph) on the trumpet.

GROSS: A what?

Mr. CARPENTER: Doit or – I can't call it – it looks like doit when you mark it
into the chart, D-O-I-T. It's just slang for – it's a little bend, and anyone
who's familiar with the record will know when the trumpets - and it's all one
fellow, by the way, named Chuck Finley(ph). He's one of the – is one of the top
players in town, and then I had him triple it. So there are three of him
overdubbed, playing in unison. But I wanted (humming) that.

But it was difficult to get because I say originally, we had, for the
sweetening, the orchestra and all that, three trumpets, and they were all top-
notch players. But when it came to that little doit, each one interpreted it
differently. So it was a little bit of a train wreck every time they played it.
So ultimately, of course, as I said, it needed to be done three times but by
the same trumpeter.

GROSS: Okay, so the doits would synch up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of humming)

GROSS: All right, so…

Mr. CARPENTER: But little things like that mean a lot. You know, little things
mean a lot, as the old song goes, and they do.

GROSS: Okay, so let's hear "Close to You" by the Carpenters. My guest is
Richard Carpenter.

Mr. CARPENTER: Doit and all.

(Soundbite of song, "Close to You")

Ms. CARPENTER: (Singing) Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near?
Just like me, they long to be close to you. Why do stars fall down from the sky
every time you walk by? Just like me, they long to be close to you. On the day
that you were born, the angels got together and decided to create a dream come
true. So they sprinkled moon dust in your hair and gold and starlight in your
eyes of blue. That is why all the girls in town follow you all around. Just
like me, they long to be close to you.

GROSS: Okay, so there's the trumpet solo with the doit that…

Mr. CARPENTER: Doit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Richard Carpenter was describing. Let's skip ahead to the end of the
track and get to the harmonies that you were describing.

(Soundbite of song, "Close to You")

Mr. and Ms. CARPENTER: (Singing) Close to you. Close to you.

GROSS: That's the signature harmonies at the end of "Close to You." Richard
Carpenter, is that your voice and Karen Carpenter's voice overdubbed many
times?

Mr. CARPENTER: Yes, Terry, it’s a four-part harmony, and it's tripled. So
obviously, it's 12 vocal parts, 12 voices.

GROSS: So you're obviously a big fan of overdubbing.

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah.

GROSS: Part of it sounds like it was practical, but aesthetically, what did you
like about overdubbing?

Mr. CARPENTER: Oh, aesthetically - it's not even practical. I mean, I know what
you're saying, but it's the sound. It's just something that caught my ear when
I was right around three years old and hear Les Paul and Mary Ford. That was
overdubbed. Mary Ford's – well, of course, the guitars were, too, but the
vocals, talking about on "Tiger Rag" and "How High the Moon."

And even as a little boy, of course, my ears were always attuned to melody and
arrangements and music in general and records. Because Patti Page was
overdubbing at the time, as well, say with "With My Eyes Open, I'm Dreaming" or
"Tennessee Waltz," but her harmonies were one voice per harmony, where Mary
Ford's were at least two for the same part, if not more. And see, as a kid, I
heard the difference even then because it's the overdubbed sound in addition to
what's being overdubbed that got to me.

And of course, I had no idea, along with just about the rest of the world, how
it was done. I remember asking my mom, how does she do it, and how does Mary
Ford do it? And it reminded of what I later learned, the old joke about how do
you get to Carnegie Hall, and she said – I said how does she do it? Mom said -
because mom didn't know. She said, well, she practices.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: And I would go around the house, trying to get my voice to – no
kidding. So when I later found out how to do it…

GROSS: You thought that you could create two voices at the same time and sing a
harmony with yourself?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: Well, you know, I was a little kid. It's my mom, you know, the
world's authority on just about everything. So I said, years later, when I
learned how it was done, Karen and I took right to it because, well, obviously,
we’re - among other things, we were born to do that.

GROSS: My guest is Richard Carpenter. The Carpenters 40th-anniversary anthology
is called "40/40." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Richard Carpenter, and there's a
new Carpenters collection, commemorating the 40th anniversary of their signing
to A&M Records, where they had their first hit, "Close to You." The new
collection is called "40/40," 40 tracks on the 40th anniversary. Now, you were
born in '46, 1946?

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, October of '46.

GROSS: So you're growing up just kind of on the cusp of, like, the Perry Como
pop era and the Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry rock ‘n’ roll era. So…

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, it was a marvelous time.

GROSS: You got both.

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, most people my age, who weren't so into radio and records
and songs and all that didn't really listen until – I mean, born around the
time I was, until the rock 'n' roll thing started to come to the surface, you
know, '55, '6 especially, '7 and on. See, I was different in that between my
father's record collection, which was quite eclectic, and listening to the
radio, I grew up with all this stuff. You know, I was listening – I remember
the first record I wanted, that I pestered my parents for, was "Mule Train."

GROSS: Frankie Laine. Is that Frankie Laine?

Mr. CARPENTER: Frankie Laine, and when I look back – I still have it. They
bought it. It was my first record in a 78, and I looked at the charts years
later. Well, that was late '49, which would have meant I’d just turned three
years old.

GROSS: Didn't that actually have whips on it?

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah. But you see, that caught my…

GROSS: Of course.

Mr. CARPENTER: I was listening to the radio at three years old. That's what I
mean. So I grew up with Guy Mitchell and Patti Page and Les Paul and Mary Ford,
Jo Stafford, Perry Como, a lot of terrific records, along with the burgeoning
RB, you know, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.

GROSS: And did you like that?

Mr. CARPENTER: I liked it both. That's what I mean. I liked all of it. It was a
magic time because, say, in '56 alone, you could have – and it was – one bumped
the other out of number one. Through the years I've lost the chronology, but
both on RCA, one was "Hot Diggity" by Perry Como. The other was "Heartbreak
Hotel" by Elvis. And one was number one, the other was two and bumped the one.
I can't remember whether Elvis bumped out Perry, or Perry bumped out Elvis, but
that shows you how much of a variety there was on Top 40 radio at the time, and
I think it was absolutely terrific.

GROSS: So, wait. Now, when you started performing with your sister, Karen
Carpenter, you were doing jazz before you were, you know, doing pop. And give
us a sense of the material that you were doing as teenagers.

Mr. CARPENTER: Well, it was light jazz because, really, I'm not a born jazzer
by any stretch of the imagination. But I just liked jazz, well, and Karen was a
drummer and had met a fellow in college named Wes Jacobs(ph), who played bass
and actually was a tuba major. And we put together a trio and ended up in the
finals of the Hollywood Bowl battle of the bands in 1966, June of '66.

GROSS: Your sister Karen played drums and sang. Were people surprised when you
started performing to see a female drummer, particularly a female drummer who
also sang?

Mr. CARPENTER: Well, yeah, back then, female drummers were not quite as – there
weren't quite as many as there are now. So it was really…

GROSS: That's an understatement.

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, I imagine it is an understatement. And yeah, well, she
sang, as well. Karen, she was gifted, and so she could not only sing
beautifully while playing the drums, I say, she did it all. So that's four
things going on just with the drums, you know, the – both feet and both hands,
and then on top of it, she was singing. And she could do the drum fills while
she was singing ballads, and it wouldn’t affect her voice whatsoever.

GROSS: Did she really want to sing or did you have to kind of push her in that
direction?

Mr. CARPENTER: Well, Karen – well, at first, I'd say she was – well, she was
always interested in drumming, I mean, from the time she first developed an
interest. It never really waned, her interest. But of course, her voice was
still coming into its own at this time. But yeah, I had to, to answer your
question, I had to push her.

She always – she loved music. I say we lived in New Haven. We were born in New
Haven, and homes back there, I'm sure you know if you're not from there even,
from the Midwest and the East, they had basements. And dad had set up the music
and the records and the sound and all in the basement. So I'd go down and
listen a lot, and Karen would come down and listen to whatever I was listening
to. But she had an innate feel for all this stuff, as well. But yeah, at first
I had to coax her.

GROSS: So let's hear another track that's featured on this new collection. And
I thought we'd hear "Goodbye to Love," which you co-wrote with your songwriting
partner, John Bettis.

Mr. CARPENTER: That's right.

GROSS: Talk a little bit about how this song came together. You wrote the
melody, he wrote the lyrics.

Mr. CARPENTER: Yes, that's right. Well, speaking of Bing Crosby, I was watching
one of his films. It was called "Rhythm on the River," and in it, he played a
ghost songwriter to the famous songwriter whose name I can't remember, but the
actor who portrayed him was Basil Rathbone. And in the plot, the songwriter's
most famous tune was called "Goodbye to Love," and you never heard a "Goodbye
to Love" in this movie. They just referred to it. It was like his "Stardust,"
you know, and well, I thought, oh, a good name for a song. And I say I pictured
the opening lines and the opening lyrics. So I wrote the…

Mr. CARPENTER: (Singing) I'll say goodbye to love. No one ever cares, I should
live or die.

Mr. CARPENTER: Well, and then I wrote the rest of melody, and John finished the
lyric, and that's what came to be.

GROSS: As a composer and arranger, you pull out all the stops on this. There's
strings, harp, tambourine, overdubbed harmonies. So anything else you want to
say that we should listen for before we hear it?

Mr. CARPENTER: No, not really. It's a very tricky melody, and Karen, again, her
phrasing in the early parts especially sounded like she had three lungs' full,
one breath…

GROSS: It is a tricky melody. Did you know that when you were writing it?

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, it's chromatic. Oh, sure.

GROSS: Like, what's going on there?

Mr. CARPENTER: I didn't say I am going to write a tricky melody. It's just what
I heard. I say when I watched the movie, and "Goodbye to Love" got planted in
my head, that's what I heard was…

Mr. CARPENTER: (Singing) I'll say goodbye to love. No one cared if I should
live or die.

Mr. CARPENTER: That's not exactly in tune, but yeah, it's just what came out. I
guess it's my years of listening to Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky and any number
of other types of music. I think it's all, a little bit of everything in there.

GROSS: Well, it's a really great melody. So let's hear "Goodbye to Love" this
is the Carpenters.

(Soundbite of song, "Goodbye to Love")

Ms. CARPENTER: (Singing) I'll say goodbye to love. No one ever cared if I
should live or die. Time and time again, the chance for love has passed me by,
and all I know of love is how to live without it. I just can't seem to find it.

So I've made my mind up. I must live my life alone, and though it's not the
easy way, I guess I've always known I'd say goodbye to love. There are no
tomorrows for this heart of mine. Surely time will lose these bitter memories,
and I'll find that there is someone to believe in and to live for, something I
could live for. All the years of useless searching finally reached an end.
Loneliness and empty days will be my only friend. From this day love is
forgotten, I'll go on as best I can.

GROSS: Richard Carpenter will be back in the second half of the show. The new
40th-anniversary Carpenters anthology featuring 40 of their tracks is called
"40/40." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Richard Carpenter. With his
sister, Karen, he formed the duo The Carpenters. Karen died in 1983 of
complications from anorexia. Karen sang and played drums, Richard chose the
songs, co-wrote some of them, did the arrangements, played piano and sang
harmony.

They had big hits in the 70's like: "Close to You," "Rainy Days and Mondays,"
"We’ve Only Just Begun," "Goodbye to Love," "Yesterday Once More," and
"Superstar." This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Carpenters signing
with A&M Records. To mark the occasion, a Carpenters collection featuring 40 of
their recordings has been released called "40/40."

Before you were signed to A&M Records where you had your first hit, "Close to
You," you were signed with RCA Records where you had nothing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: Well...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: They kind of got rid of you pretty quickly. Didn’t they just like buy
out your contract?

Mr. CARPENTER: Well, yeah, yeah. But let me explain. I understand why they did
it, you know, getting back to the battle of the bands at the Hollywood Bowl. It
was a big deal back then. It was many years at this - it was sponsored by the
LA Parks and Recreation Department. It was a big deal and they had - well, I
mean it was sold out every year, they had name judges. So record labels - I
didn’t know this at the time - but would send out A&R men to keep their ears
open for any new talent.

So at the end - I say Karen and I, the trio, we won. We won several things. So
we're walking out and a fellow comes up, wants to know if we'd be interested in
recording. The long and short of it is his name was Neely Plumb - P-l-u-m-b,
and I knew that name anyway because again, as I said, I looked for credits,
song writer credits, producers, all that stuff on records that I’d buy.

The soundtrack to "Bye Bye Birdie" from '63 on RCA and Neely produced that.
‘Loved The Sons of the Pioneers and I had their "Cool Water" LP, I believe from
'59 and he had produced that. I knew his name. And he wanted to know, as I
said, if we were interested in recording. What I could say? Oh no?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: What he was picturing, because I said, the one piece featured
Wes on tuba and he thought maybe, rock tuba.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: So, again, long story short, we - they signed us. We were signed
because Neely was the head of A&R West Coast RCA. He assigned us a producer of
whom they just hired name Rick Gerard. And so we met with him and two of the
acts that he - just been assigned, having come on board with RCA were the
Richard Carpenter Trio and Jefferson Airplane.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: But I love the story of how you’re signed and then they realize well,
you’re not going to make it in the age of like psychedelic music, and then
Jefferson Airplane, you know, you’re not right for the label and what they're
putting out. So then you end up with was it with your bass player getting a job
at Disney's Main Street USA? Oh this is with John Bettis, your song co-writer.

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: So you get a job at Disney's Main Street USA at a place called Coke
Corner and I've seen a picture of you playing there.

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah.

GROSS: And you were both wearing, you know, like the old trad Dixieland kind of
restaurant costume of...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...of like the brimmed hat...

Mr. CARPENTER: Well, yeah.

GROSS: ...and the garter on your arm.

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah. It's a - yeah...

GROSS: Very corny.

Mr. CARPENTER: ...it's a straw hat and it's...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CARPENTER: Well, it's really not corny because, as you know, especially if
you’ve ever worked there, you're part of a cast.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. CARPENTER: And you’re supposed to, well, be true to the period you’re
representing. So Main Street USA was - well, it's now turn of last century, but
at the time it was turn of the century America - and so all the people who work
at the shops and all, they're dressed in period-correct garb.

And if you picture, say, your quintessential or stereotypical barbershop
quartet, that's what it was. You know, it was a brocaded vest, long sleeves,
garter in the arm, a straw hat, and you were supposed to play pieces that
existed at this point in time.

GROSS: Which was what? What was your repertoire there?

Mr. CARPENTER: Well, on "The Sidewalks of New York" and "By the Light of the
Silvery Moon," and a lot of sing-able old songs like that. We didn’t do what we
were supposed to and people would come in - I mean we'd do a lot of that and
there were cards with lyrics to these songs on the table so if people wanted to
sing along. It was very much the way Shakey's Pizza parlor...

GROSS: That's exactly what I was thinking of.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah. That's - and I don’t know which one was the chicken and
which was the egg, whether it was Shakey's or Disney, but that's what it was
like. And...

GROSS: Shakey's was like a sing-a-long pizza parlor where there'd be like, you
know, old fashioned songs that...

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CARPENTER: Banjo and piano and oh yeah. But see, what we did, which we
certainly shouldn’t have, was answer requests from all the folks who would come
in for newer songs - like "Somewhere My Love" was pretty new at the time and
"Yesterday." And well, this was what turned out to be when we played there the
Summer of Love 1967. So "Light My Fire" was one of the big ones and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: ...kids would come in saying can you play "Light My Fire?" I'd
say sure. But...

GROSS: This is great. You’re playing "Light My Fire" in the straw hat and the
brocaded vase...

Mr. CARPENTER: That's the thing...

GROSS: ...vest and the garter belt and the garter around your arm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: And of course...

(Soundbite of clearing voice)

Mr. CARPENTER: ...we weren't I understand, those songs didn’t exist then. See,
we were supposed to do what we were told is what we were supposed to do and we
didn’t. So it's a wonder we stayed there as long as we did before we were shown
the door.

GROSS: My guest is Richard Carpenter. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest Richard Carpenter and there's a new
Carpenters collection called "40/40," 40 tracks on the 40th anniversary of the
Carpenters signing to A&M Records.

Some people thought of the Carpenters as just kind of like, old fashion pop or
even corny pop. And then you get somebody coming along like the band Sonic
Youth, which takes a song that the Carpenters made famous "Superstar," puts a
totally different spin on it, musically, and I wonder what you thought of that?

Mr. CARPENTER: Well, I have to speak to this corny thing.

GROSS: Yeah, do. Do. Do.

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah. It's traditional American pop...

GROSS: And, can I make a confession to you?

Mr. CARPENTER: ...is what it is and...

GROSS: Okay.

Mr. CARPENTER: ...you know they're ignoramuses who say that. Okay?

GROSS: Okay, I'm going to make a confession to you here, okay? I used to think
that you guys were really corny, and it took me a while to really like hear
what was so good about, you know, the melodies, the arrangements, her singing.
I mean, so it took me around to come around. I’ll confess. But, so do you know
the Sonic Youth version which was also referred to in the movie "Juno?"

Mr. CARPENTER: Yes I do.

GROSS: What'd you think of it?

Mr. CARPENTER: I don’t like it.

GROSS: Why don’t you like it?

Mr. CARPENTER: Why would I like it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CARPENTER: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: At least when it comes to something like this, I will say I
don’t care for it but I don’t understand it. So, I'm not going to say it's good
or it's bad. I'm just going to say I don’t care for it.

GROSS: Should we play a little bit of it so our listeners can hear what we're
talking about?

Mr. CARPENTER: Oh sure, lets.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I see you’re really enthusiastic. Okay. Just give me the liberty to do
this so what we're talking about makes some sense to listeners. And Sonic Youth
is a kind of like Indie noise band.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: See, the - oh, dear.

GROSS: So here's - in fact, why won't we just play them both back-to-back so we
get to hear you too. So here's the Carpenters and Sonic Youth doing
"Superstar."

(Soundbite of song, "Superstar")

THE CARPENTERS (Musical Group): (Singing) Long ago and oh so far away I fell in
love with you before the second show. Your guitar, it sounds so sweet and
clear. But you're not really here. It's just the radio. Don't you remember you
told me you loved me baby? You said you'd be coming back this way again, baby.
Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh, baby, I love you I really do.

(Soundbite of song, "Superstar")

Mr. THURSTON MOORE (Musician, Sonic Youth): (Singing) Loneliness is a such a
sad affair. And I can hardly wait to be with you again. What to say to make you
come again. Come back to me again. And play your sad guitar. Don't you remember
you told me you loved me baby? You said you'd be coming back this way again,
baby. Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh, baby, I love you I really do. Don't you
remember you told me you loved me baby?

GROSS: That's the Carpenters and the Sonic Youth take on "Superstar." My guest
is Richard Carpenter and there's 40 Carpenters tracks on a new anthology which
is called "40/40" released on the 40th anniversary of their signing to A&M
Records.

There's some tracks on this - there's a bunch of tracks on this anthology that
I didn’t know existed, and one of them that I'd especially like to play is call
"Now." And this was recorded late in your sister's life, in around 1982 and you
did a mix after she died in '83. It's a really beautiful recording and maybe
you could talk a little bit about this recording, why you chose to do it?

Mr. CARPENTER: Oh yeah, it's a - "Now" is a piece by Roger Nichols, a melody
writer who wrote "We’ve Only Just Begun," "Rainy and Mondays," "I Won't Last a
Day Without You" among others, and it's a piece we did in April of 1982. It's
what's called a work lead, a lead that the singer would put on as the tracking
musicians - in this case, the bass and drummer - the bass and then the drummer
could hear how it - rather than just look at a chart with chord changes and
all, you could hear how the melody goes. And then it would be replaced with a
master lead at - well, at a future date. But Karen sang these things so well
that, you know - the scratch lead works just dandy.

So originally, it was just a bass, piano and drums accompaniment and Karen's
lead, and then in the coming months I finished the chart and mixed it. And
yeah, it's a really pretty song and Karen sings it. Well, she sings it
beautifully.

GROSS: And she does. So let's hear it. This is "Now" and it's featured on the
new Carpenters anthology "40/40."

(Soundbite of song, "Now")

THE CARPENTERS: (Singing) Now, now when it rains I don't feel cold. Now that I
have your hand to hold the wind might blow through me but I don't care. There's
no harm in thunder if you are there. And now, now when we touch my feelings
fly. Now when I'm smiling I know why. You light up my world like the morning
sun. You're so deep within me we're almost one. And now all the fears that I
had start to fade. I was always afraid love might forget me. Love might let me
down. Then look who I found.

GROSS: That’s The Carpenters and it’s featured on the new Carpenters anthology,
“40/40.” My guest is Richard Carpenter. Do you think your sister Karen realized
what a good voice she had or do you think because it was such a natural thing
for her, that she just took it for granted and didn’t understand what a gift
she had?

Mr. CARPENTER: I’ve have been asked that, plenty, and I’ve thought about it,
plenty. Karen, at once, could realize that she could do just about anything
vocally. And when it came to recording, as far as punching in or anything, she
just knew, both of us knew, we can do that. So, to me, Karen, at once, both
knew just what an instrument she possessed and a gift, at the same time, I
don’t really know. I tend to think - no. It’s very hard – it’s hard for me to
answer, I’ll tell you, Terry.

GROSS: I can understand that.

Mr. CARPENTER: And, you know, being human we do tend to take things for
granted. So, I honestly can’t answer that one. I’ve tried.

GROSS: All right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: I mean, I’ve tried before - not quite certain.

GROSS: One of your really famous recordings we’ve only just begun - countless
people have marched down the isle to that. The song - from the story I’ve read,
the story…

Mr. CARPENTER: For good or ill.

GROSS: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: The song was originally - at least the melody was going up to be a
jingle for a bank advertising campaign in California. So…

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, it was a lyric, it was a lyric, too. It - we’ve only just
begun. It was…

GROSS: That was the lyric the bank ad?

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, yeah. It was…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: Yeah, it’s a very effective ad. It was a soft sell. It was for
the Crocker Bank. It was written by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams,
specifically for this campaign. And, yeah, it showed a young couple. It was all
- it was filmed and had that gauzy look to it and you saw the rice being
thrown, and then they drive off into the evening. And as they’re driving into
the sunset – big sun - into the sunset, the Chyron came up and I can’t remember
whether a voiceover or whether it just the Chyron, but you’ve only just begun,
let us help you get there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: Crocker.

GROSS: It’s great.

Mr. CARPENTER: The Crocker Bank. I mean, it’s very effective commercial and I
heard that a couple of times and I’m saying well, I knew them well as by
Nichols and Williams because I recognize Paul’s voice. And I thought, if the
song is a whole song, because I said, you don’t hear the whole thing on the
commercial, I think, done the right way. It’s a hit.

GROSS: So, you suggested recording it.

Mr. CARPENTER: And boy was I right about that. Oh, yeah.

GROSS: Wow.

Mr. CARPENTER: That’s my idea. That’s what I say, you know, that’s…

GROSS: You can recognize a hit.

Mr. CARPENTER: One of my talents is - at least used to be - recognizing a
diamond in the rough, as it were. And, boy, and it became the wedding song of a
generation, my goodness.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARPENTER: It worked very well for our harmonies as well as Karen’s lead.
And it was a nice combination of more - softer pop at times and then a little
more edge to it and rhythm in the bridge. I had brass stabs and the vocals
going on. And I like the together - when I first heard the demo - bridge ends
with together. And right then in there, ‘for I got it to the piano, I thought
second time we’re going to sing together, and then go up and together. I mean,
it’s an arranger’s dream - that song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Thank you so much for coming on FRESH AIR. Really appreciate it. Thank
you, Richard Carpenter.

Mr. CARPENTER: Oh, sure, Terry, thank you.

GROSS: Richard Carpenter was one half of The Carpenters with his sister, Karen.
A CD collection was recently released featuring 40 tracks commemorating the
40th anniversary of The Carpenter signing on A&M Records. It’s called, “40/40.”

(Soundbite of song, “We’ve Only Just Begun”)

Ms. CARPENTER: (Singing) We’ve only just begun to live, white lace and
promises. A kiss for luck and we’re on our way. And yes, we’ve just begun.
Before the rising sun we fly, so many roads to choose. We start our walking and
learn to run. And yes, we’ve just begun. Sharing horizons that are…

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR.
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At The End Of The World, Another ‘Road’ To Trudge

TERRY GROSS, host:

The 76-year-old writer, Cormac McCarthy, is often sighted as one of the best
living American novelists. His 1992 novel, “All the Pretty Horses,” won a
National Book Award and Joel Ethan Coen made “No Country For Old Man,” into an
Oscar winning film. His post-apocalyptic novel “The Road,” won a Pulitzer Prize
and was one of the down beat Oprah’s Book Club selections. “The Road,” has been
adapted into a new film, starring Viggo Mortensen.

Film critic David Edelstein has a review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: In an era rich in doomsday movies, “The Road” is the doomiest.
It’s closely based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy who has grown more and more
apocalyptic in his old age. He doesn’t explain me origin of the blinding light
we see in flashback, that heralds the dying of the planet and the end of
civilization. Nukes? A meteor? Project on it, what you will. But he makes it
clear he thinks human society will unravel quickly. The road of “The Road,” is
paved with cannibals looking to capture and consume their fellow humans.

But that road is also a metaphor for the blind instinct to survive. A father,
called only The Man, has one goal: to keep his starving son, The Boy, alive —
both eating and uneaten. Director John Hillcoat made his debut with the cruel,
brutal Australian Western “The Proposition,” and if anything, he’s too in sync
with McCarthy. There’s no relief from the bleakness. Viggo Mortensen plays The
Man - bearded, smudged, greasy-haired. He exhorts his son to keep what he calls
the fire inside and that’s what we see in his unblinking eyes as his body
wastes away.

There was once a mother, The Woman, played by Charlize Theron. We see her in
The Man’s dreams. But she gave up early on her family, only the father goes on.
He says, in voice-over, the child is my warrant. If he is not the word of God,
then God never spoke. His impulse might have as much to do with Darwin, with
the evolutionary imperative to keep the species going, but it amounts to the
same thing. When the Man and Boy meet up with The Old Man, played by a barely
recognizable Robert Duvall, the two share a rare philosophical moment over
their meager meal.

(Soundbite of movie, “The Road”)

Mr. ROBERT DUVALL (Actor): (As Old Man) I knew this was coming, this was
something like a warning. Yeah, some people call it a con – I always believed
in it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUVALL: (As Old Man) The last man left alive.

Mr. VIGGO MORTENSEN (Actor): (As The Man) How would you know that – that you
were the last man alive?

Mr. DUVALL: (As Old Man) (unintelligible)I just know it, just view(ph) it.

Mr. MORTENSEN: (As The Man) God would know.

Mr. DUVALL: (As Old Man) God would know what? God would know what? If there’s a
God up there he would have turned it back on us by now. Whoever made humanity
will find no humanity here. No sir.

EDELSTEIN: What a tough, wily actor Duvall is. His Old Man is nearly blind and
enfeebled. When we first see him, he appears senile. Then Duvall gives us
glimmers of his caginess. This is a survival mechanism, too, affecting frailty
to keep from being attacked. For an instant, it seems possible The Man and Boy
will adopt him as a surrogate Gramps. But The Man sees him only as a drain on
their food. As much as The Man fights for his son, their points of view do
conflict.

The Boy never knew the brotherhood-of-man era, yet he pleads — in a whiny voice
that hasn’t broken — to share their food and trembles with grief when his
fiercely single-minded father remains unswayed by humanist pleas. The Man
doesn’t bully him, though. Maybe part of him wants to keep The Boy a boy. Are
we the good guys? his son asks, over and over, like a question chanted in
prayer. Yes, says his father.

But when he punishes and humiliates an inept, rather pathetic thief — played by
Michael Kenneth Williams, who was Omar on “The Wire,” it’s hard to know who’s
good. I know people who’ve seen “The Road,” and think highly of it but wonder,
why did they make that book into a movie? It’s so hard to sit through. Part of
me agrees — not because it’s a downer, but because it’s so unrelieved that it
verges on monotony. At times, I found myself asking, what is the point? But I
also thought of critic Kenneth Tynan’s review of “Titus Andronicus.”

It is our English heresy to think of poetry as a gentle way of saying gentle
things, he wrote. Titus reminds us it is also a harsh way of saying harsh
things. The film of “The Road,” achieves a kind of sublimity — sublime, not in
the sense of noble but most extreme. Horrific as Mortensen looks, he has a
primal, haggard beauty, an indelible image of man in extremis.

GROSS: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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