There's something very shiny about Richard Carpenter. Even at 39, he looks like a freshly refinished table top, unscratched, with a slightly unreal luster.
It's been 2 1/2 years since the other half of the act, his sister Karen, an anorexic, died of an apparent heart attack. Richard Carpenter is ready to resurface. He recently went on a publicity blitz, flying to five cities in five days, accompanied by his bride of one year, Mary, and a representative of A & M records, to promote a new double-record collection of the Carpenters' greatest hits, called "Yesterday Once More."
There is also a 55-minute, $29.95 videocassette of Karen and Richard on the market, a four-record boxed set marketed only in Japan, and a Christmas album reissued yearly, not to mention the CBS movie that is being written, and may be produced, on her life story. It would almost seem that Karen Carpenter lives, preserved forever in vinyl and the balance sheets, the music industry's version of immortality. This posthumous productivity might seem unseemly to some, but Richard Carpenter is prepared for that suggestion.
"First off, I'm one half of the act," he said. "If I were a third party it might be different. Karen and I are public figures. We got into this business because we loved making music. And if an act happens to hit, in a sense you belong to the public. We sold over 80 million records throughout the world, and there are going to be people who want a new product, or a reissue . . . The same thing was done with John Lennon and Elvis. Karen would have wanted this done."
The movie, which is the least definite project, he said, was not initiated by him. Manager "Jerry Weintraub called me and said he had heard a lot of talk from different people about making a movie and he was worried that if it were made without our blessing it wouldn't be accurate. The idea hadn't even crossed my mind."
"The Carpenters' Story," as it is conceived, would be a docudrama. "I don't want it to be two hours of everything is hunky-dory, and never even touch on anorexia," he said. "But I don't want it to be a Disease of the Week film either. And I don't want it to be two hours of Karen battling . . . I want it to be the ups and the downs."
At the time of Karen's death, Richard was involved in preproduction work for what would have been their 14th album in a 13-year recording career. Karen was 32, had been briefly married, and was caught in what her brother calls "that insidious disorder," anorexia nervosa, a form of compulsive dieting.
"In its way it's like alcoholism," he said. "Family and friends of the alcoholic can see it written all over them, and say, 'Don't you see what you're doing to yourself?' and the alcoholic says, 'Me? I can stop any time I want, there's nothing wrong with me.' "
Choosing an actress to play Karen will be difficult, Carpenter said, although "she never got that thin." At any rate, a writer has been hired and once the script is complete they'll decide whether to go through with it.
It was Karen's clear voice that was the mainstay of the act, but it was Richard's arrangements and production knowhow that gave them a unique sound. That sound had a beat, but it was soft; it was rock, but without the flash and frenzy of hard rock. "Here are these neatly dressed kids, a polite-seeming brother and sister team, materializing like a weird hallucination in the midst of acid rock," wrote one critic.
For whatever reason, since their first hit -- "Close to You" in 1970 -- their records have sold steadily. And whatever their ups and downs may have been personally through the years, their image remained wholesome; Richard was the guide, and Karen the light.
Now he has decided to go solo. "I had to sit down and think out what I really wanted to do and in what order," he said. "Produce another act? Stick to writing? Play the piano? As much as I like doing all of that, I enjoy making records more than anything. There's something about doing one's own product that just can't be matched."
He played the piano at Constitution Hall last February with the Air Force orchestra, one of his few public performances since his sister's death. But he does not approach his solo career with trepidation. It won't be that different, he said, just that when it comes time to sing the lead, "it'll be like oh, this is for me.
"I'm going to enjoy myself making records . But it won't be the same as working with Karen. It can't be."