Monday, October 15, 2012

Randy Schmidt: An Interview with a SuperFan

Randy Schmidt has had three books published (to date) relating to the music of Carpenters. His first book, "Yesterday Once More: Memories of the Carpenters and their Music" was a compilation of newspaper, magazine and book reviews and articles all put into one book. This collection was publisheded in 2000 and was a huge delight to all Carpenters fans. Eleven years later Schmidt released his prized work "Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter". Schmidt compiled data and interviews from Karen's friends and associates and wrote a compelling story attempting to tell the real story of Karen Carpenter. "Little Girl Blue" was a big success. Because of this success Schmidt decided to expand his first release "Yesterday Once More: Memories of the Carpenters and their Music" by adding several more articles to it. This new expanded issue is titled, "Yesterday Once More: The Carpenters Reader".

This interview gives us a nice insight into the workings of his books as well as an introduction into the person that Randy Schmidt is.

RH = Rick Henry, RS = Randy Schmidt

RH: In composing, compiling, editing and authoring these books have you ever felt like you were in any way entering the life of Karen Carpenter or maybe becoming part of Karen's soul?
RS: The Yesterday Once More book (YOM for short) was lots of research and digging and permission seeking, so it was not nearly the emotional journey of Little Girl Blue (LGB for short). For that project, there was something really special about the stories shared with me by Karen’s friends. Getting to know them and to witness the love they have for her nearly thirty years after she passed just goes to show what a special person Karen was. Karen was such a private person, though, so I don’t know that I felt I ever got to a soul level with her story. She didn’t let anyone get that close. Even Karen’s closest confidants were lied to and deceived, with no ill intent, of course, in her continued attempts to convince them she was okay. On some level, I feel she desired attention, but then she also just wanted to be left alone with her illness. I think she lived much of her life inside her head.
RH: "Little Girl Blue" was a touching tribute to Karen. A lot of it was very emotional and somewhat revealing to Karen's inner being. Did you ever become over emotional while working on this book?
RS: I certainly did get emotional from time to time. Imagine sitting in Frenda’s living room and hearing all this for the first time! I was numb with emotion that day. Witnessing Mike Curb, Olivia, Terry Ellis, and others choked up over “what might have been…” Those moments were so touching and at the same time I couldn’t believe I was on the receiving end of these deeply personal feelings. There were so many revelations in LGB and luckily for me they came sporadically. The tidbits of information were released by various interviewees over time, so I had time to digest the contents little by little. I was caught off guard by the emotional response of readers, but I guess I shouldn’t have been. It was the combination of all those tidbits that combined for an overwhelming amount of information. I realize now that sitting down and reading the book in a few hours or even over a few days often results in a truly heart-wrenching experience.
RH: What motivated you to write "Little Girl Blue"? Why did you see a need for this book?
RS: I’m reminded of a comment Karen would often make regarding her singing voice: “It just sorta happened!” After Yesterday Once More was published in 2000, I got the idea to do a children’s book about the Carpenters. I hoped to focus on their early musical influences, their experimentation with various instruments, attempts to get a record deal, and so on. The first person I interviewed was Debbie Cuticello, one of Karen’s childhood friends from New Haven. That children’s book project never really took shape, but the interview with Debbie proved to be the first of many I would do over the following years. The project took on many different shapes—from children’s book to a career retrospective to an oral history of the Carpenters’ music and recording sessions. But there came a time when I began to see a pattern in all of the research I’d been doing and especially in the responses of those I was interviewing. The common thread was Karen. And I am sure Richard struggles with this on a daily basis, but all I kept hearing was “Karen, Karen, Karen.” No joke. I don’t remember exactly what made the decision for me, but the focus shifted from the duo to just Karen, specifically. Of course you can’t tell her story without his and vice versa, but I began to realize that, even though she was one-half of a duo, Karen was important enough as an individual to warrant her own book. When considering a book proposal, one of the things publishers want to know is “what’s different” about this book. What sets this book apart from others on the same subject? There had never really been a KAREN Carpenter biography. I had so many unanswered questions after reading Ray Coleman’s book and seeing and hearing other accounts, so I knew other fans probably felt the same way. Richard wasn’t talking, so we weren’t going to get more of the story there. I had been secretly hoping Paul Grein would write the Carpenters bio that I wanted to read, but I finally took matters into my own hands, I guess you could say. I remember having dinner with Chris Tassin one night in early 2008 and telling him some of my thoughts and ideas. We went to a bookstore afterward and looked through lots of celebrity bios. I think it was that night that I knew it was going to happen. I left there ready to find a publisher for the project. 
RH: What was your most unusual or maybe funny experience during the process of collecting information/ conducting interviews to write "Little Girl Blue"?
RS: One that comes to mind is not necessarily funny, but it was certainly unusual. And frustrating for sure. I started trying to contact the Carpenters’ manager Sherwin Bash as early as 2002, I’d say. I sent an email here, left a phone message there, and the answer was always the same: “No!” And it wasn’t just “no,” at one point it was more of a “Hell, No!” He was not very kind or personable. At one point I was in contact with his daughter Randy Bash, but she wouldn’t talk and said her father didn’t want to either. I consider myself to be very tenacious, but I am not one to keep pushing to the point of making someone mad. I finally gave up. I’d discovered a nice interview Sherwin did with UK music writer John Tobler in 1990, so I ended up licensing that from him for Little Girl Blue. It wasn’t original to the project, but at least Bash’s thoughts and opinions would be included in some manner. Fast forward to 2010: A letter arrives at my home from Sherwin Bash saying, in so many words, “Why would you write a book about Karen Carpenter and not interview ME!?” I was dumbstruck. I responded, reminding him that he’d said “no” on numerous occasions, to which he replied saying I should have asked one MORE time! It was hilarious, in a way, but terribly frustrating. I responded again saying that I, of course, regret not having gone back to him again and told him I hoped he would consider granting an interview to help correct or append future editions of the book. His reply was “Too late!”
RH: What made you decide to expand upon "Yesterday Once More: Memories of the Carpenters and their Music" and release "Yesterday Once More; The Carpenters Reader" ?
RS: The original edition was much loved, but never received the distribution and attention I thought it deserved. After LGB was released and did so well, people started asking about YOM. I only had a few copies in my collection, Amazon sellers were pricing it over $100 since it was considered to be “rare,” but I wanted people to be able to find copies. I considered self-publishing the second edition, but first decided to send out book proposals to a few publishers I thought might give it a chance. As a last resort I took it to Chicago Review Press and basically explained the renewed interest in the book and that I planned to self-publish, but wanted to know if they’d have any interest. I’ve been told that LGB is their bestselling title to date, so I guess they figured that there might be enough residual interest from that book to carry another Carpenters title. I think they did a beautiful job with the new cover, layout, and everything else. They are a class act publisher. They really encouraged me to return to the roots of a lot of these articles, too, when we discovered a lot of the articles had been heavily edited and even shortened for the first edition, some with and some without my knowledge. It makes me really happy to know they’ve all been restored for this edition. I was also able to get rid of a few pieces that didn’t work well in the first printing and add a number of new pieces to this edition.
RH: Are there any plans for anymore books?
RS: There’s only one more Carpenters related book on my horizon, I guess you could say. That children’s book idea that started it all has finally developed into something pretty special. I hope to find a publisher that agrees, because I think it would be well received and something that would find a home in school libraries around the country. That manuscript is finished and just waiting for a chance. The success of LGB has opened up many other opportunities for other books, too. I am mostly into biographies and creative nonfiction at this point. My current project is tentatively called Through These Portals: Beryl Wallace and Earl Carroll’s Hollywood, and is the story of a beautiful showgirl, her impresario boss/lover, and their fascinating lives leading up to the couple’s tragic demise in a 1948 plane crash. It will be an illustrated history with 175-200 photos. A lot of people know of the legendary Earl Carroll Theatre on Sunset in Hollywood. It’s since been the Moulin Rouge, the Aquarius Theatre, and others, and it’s now known as Nickelodeon on Sunset where they tape shows like iCarly and Victorious. It’s a pretty fascinating and previously untold chapter of Hollywood history and I am so grateful to be working with members of the families of both Beryl and Earl.

RH: What was the first song you that really caught your attention?

RS: I’d have to say “Rainy Days and Mondays,” only because it was the opening title for the CBS TV movie The Karen Carpenter Story. I was 13 when I watched it and fell in love with Karen’s voice at first listen. I know there were some Carpenters songs buried deep inside somewhere, but that was the first time it really clicked. Instant connection. The “cry” in her voice appealed to me and there was a sense of longing that even a teenage kid could detect with ease. I felt from that moment that she was singing only for me. Little did I know that she had that effect on nearly every Carpenters fan!

RH: Which five Carpenters songs are your "desert island" songs?

RS: In no particular order, I’d have to say:

Superstar, Only Yesterday, Road Ode, I Can’t Make Music, Now

RH: If you could choose one Carpenters album which would you say is the closest to perfect?

RS: A Song for You, with Lovelines running a close second (though made up of various outtakes, it’s a really cohesive album).
RH: I ask every fan I interview about Karen's solo album. I feel it's one of the most important albums in the entire output of Carpenters/Carpenters related music.
Had the album been released in 1980 do you think it would have changed the way people viewed Karen Carpenter? 

RS: I think it might have given her a bit more edge than she’d had in the past. I do NOT think it would have done anything to tarnish her image or reputation.

RH: Do you think her solo album may have helped or hindered sales of subsequent Carpenters albums?

RS: If anything it would have helped. By 1980, the Carpenters’ albums were not selling like they did even five years earlier. It would have surely garnered more attention and sales than
Passage and Made in America. It would have at least had people talking.

RH: Do you think the album would have changed Karen's course of life in anyway? If so how?

RS: I have said this before, but I firmly believe that Karen’s whirlwind romance with Tom Burris was a rebound from the disappointment and eventual shelving of the solo album. Had she been releasing and promoting an album in the spring of 1980, she would not have had time to devote to that relationship. In that manner, I do feel it would have changed the course of her life in a very big way. Also, I wish she’d stood up to Richard and the folks at A&M. Herb Alpert never liked their A Kind of Hush album, but it wasn’t stopped. There wasn’t pressure to go back and redo everything. It was terribly crushing for Karen to have this album—her most personal, creative product ever—deemed unworthy of release. Her friends told me she never fully trusted Richard after that. Their relationship was damaged and you can sense the tension in the interviews they did together for Made in America.

RH: Lastly is there any one of two... maybe three Carpenters tunes which hold a special memory for you?

RS: “Don’t Be Afraid” was one of my first favorite Carpenters songs and I remember singing it as a solo at a junior high choir concert. I sure hope no recordings exist! Other than that, I think “Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again” gets to me because I remember hearing that for the first time in a record store in 1994, I believe. I ran across the Interpretations CD by accident. I didn’t even know it was out. I took the CD to the listening station and was moved to tears. I am not much of a crier, but another one that really hit me hard was “And When He Smiles.” It was another “surprise” song that I didn’t know even existed until I was face to face with it. The youthful spirit of innocence in Karen’s voice and the looks of optimism on her face in the BBC footage were chilling. 
Carpenters - Interpretations

RH: In ten words or less tell me, who are you?
RS: Dad of two, partner of one, and creative music lover

RH: What makes you happier than anything else in life? 

RS: Seeing my daughters happy and smiling and enjoying life. They love music, too, so I love to see them enjoying music of all genres. They both have beautiful singing voices, too.

RH: How old are your girls? Do they sing any Carpenters tunes?
RS: The girls are 13 and 8. They have been surrounded by Carpenters tunes since birth, of course, and sing along just about any time I play their songs, but they have their own tastes in music. My eight year old loves "Top of the World" and "If I Had You."

RH: Outside of your family is there an elder person in your life that you really look up to?

RS: Frank Pooler is one of my idols. He’s become a bit of a mentor. I only wish we lived in closer proximity to one another so I could really spend time learning from him and absorb some of that creativity and energy. He’s such a kindhearted man and I really admire the relationships he maintains with his former students. It says a lot about him as a person and educator. There’s something, too, about the bond between singers and their conductor. It’s a very intimate, emotional thing to make music with others and when you work with someone like Frank, I imagine you can’t help but fall under his spell.

RH: In which way is Frank Pooler a mentor to you?
RS: It's completely unofficial, of course, but we've sat down at length and discussed music education, choral singing, and so on. He recommends various books and passes along links to songs and recordings he thinks I might enjoy. He's really like a music educator idol for me and he's willing to share anything and everything, the greatest being his knowledge. He's such a fascinating man!

RH: Care to share any embarrassing or humorous happenings in your life?
RS: Where do I begin!? During a trip to Los Angeles I went hunting for the Brady Bunch house. I finally found it but as I turned the corner I was so fascinated I wasn’t paying close attention and ran the car up onto the sidewalk. It blew out a tire on the rental car!

RH: What would you say are the 3 biggest achievements in your life?

RS: 1. Being the father of two beautiful girls
       2. Authoring Little Girl Blue and seeing it go above and beyond my wildest dreams
       3. Figuring out that I don’t have to be who I thought everybody else wanted me to be. It’s ok being me!

RH: Who or what has/have played the biggest role(s) in the shaping of your achieving of goals?

RS: My grandma Margie was a huge influence on my love for music during my formative years. I miss her so much and wish she  could have stuck around long enough to see all this. She would have thrilled.

RH: One thing I really appreciate about you is your sense of outspokenness. I haven't met you personally, but you seem comfortable at intelligently speaking up for what you believe, what you like and what you do. What drives this attribute of your personality?

RS: I came to a point in my life around the age of 30 where I had to stop living the life I’d been prescribed and start living the life I was always meant to live. I’ve always been such a people pleaser, so it used to really upset me to think I’d hurt or disappointed someone. But as it turns out, most people appreciate honesty and authenticity more than they do facades.

RH: Randy, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview. I also thank you very much for the three books you have released so far. All three of them have been valuable additions to my library.
RS: Thank you! It’s such a pleasure to visit with you. What a great discussion!

 Chris Tassin and Randy Schmidt
Click here to read the Chris Tassin Interview

  CJ, Debbie Cuticello, Randy Schmidt, Carol DeFellippo,
 Frank Bonito (l to r)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this interview, Rick Henry, and your book, Little Girl Blue, Randy Schmidt. I've read it three times and it seems like a book I'll go on reading over and over just for pleasure. I enjoy especially the insights into Karen from her friends Frenda (Leffler) Franklin and Karen Ramone, such faithful and insightful friends who were there for her over and over again. I get a warm feeling that Karen had support and love in her worst moments when there was nobody else.