Sunday, April 15, 2012

Karen Carpenter was a "Downey Girl" (A song written by Dave Alvin)

The song “Downey Girl” is an ode to Karen Carpenter, written and performed by Dave Alvin. The song is tender and simple. The emotion with which Alvin conveys the song is honest and soulful. Best of all, the melody stays with you and grows on you as you hum it’s refrain. I think this is a song Karen Carpenter would have liked had she been around to hear it.

Dave Alvin (2009)

 One of the most compelling parts of the song is the dobro played by steel guitar master Greg Leisz. This made me think of the Carpenters song “Two Sides”, which contains some excellent steel guitar work by Jay Dee Maness.

“Downey Girl” was released in 2009 on the album “Dave Alvin and The Guilty Women”. With this album, the Downey, CA born Alvin reached back to the experiences of his youth to for inspiration in writing these songs. In the song “Nana and Jimi”, Alvin writes about how his mom dropped him off at a Jimi Hendrix concert when he was 12 years old.

Dave Alvin got his start in music in 1979 when he and his older brother Phil formed the band The Blasters. They performed a unique blend of roots rock, alternative country, rockabilly, blues and punk rock. Alvin left the Blasters in 1986 to pursue a solo career and also worked with punk band X on their “See How We Are” album. He also recorded with The Knitters, The Flesheaters and The Gun Club.

In the lyrics for “Downey Girl”, Dave Alvin mentions that Karen had the “voice of an Angel”. One of the most emotive parts of the song is when Dave sings, “No one in our whole town, knew anything was wrong,” this obviously is a direct reference to Karen’s battle with anorexia. In the song Dave sings, “Well I never liked her music”, which echoes a sentiment that was shared by many during the 70’s. In their heyday it was uncool to admit you liked Carpenters, even though their records sold millions around the world. Near the end of the song Dave sings, “And I can feel a little pride, when people say her name”, with this line Dave Alvin sums up his tribute to the girl with the golden voice almost in the same way one would look upon the amber waves of golden grain.

Downey Girl (lyrics written by Dave Alvin)
There was once a young girl
Lived in my hometown
She became a star the whole world round

With the Voice of an Angel
Singin’ sweet suburban songs
No one in our whole town knew anything was wrong
She was a Downey Girl
She was a Downey Girl

Well I never liked her music
I never saw her hangin’ round
And I never said nothin’ when people put her down.

Now that I’m older
I can understand her pain
And I can feel a little pride
When people say her name
Cuz she was a Downey Girl
Cuz she was a Downey Girl

Now I’m on the highway
A thousand years from my hometown
Missing friends and family who are no longer around
Then I hear her sing
On the car radio
A sweet suburban song from a long time ago
And I think about her sadness
And I think about her pain
And for a few sweet minutes
I’m back home again
She was a Downey Girl
She was a Downey Girl

 Karen Carpenter with date at the Downey High School Prom (she was a Downey Girl)