References to a woman named Karen wind their way through The National’s catalogue, most notably in Alligator. She shows up in “Karen” (obviously), but also “City Middle” (“Karen, take me to the nearest famous city middle / where they hang the lights”) and “Looking for Astronauts” (“You know you have a permanent piece / of my medium-sized American heart”), a song whose title is a phrase she uttered.
The woman in question is Carin Besser, lead singer Matt Berninger’s then girlfriend, now wife. The former The New Yorker fiction editor contributed lyrics to “Brainy, “Ada,” and “Gospel” on 2007′s Boxer, but two years prior, she was serving as an inspiration rather than a named co-conspirator. (While she doesn’t make an appearance in the liner notes until the band’s fourth studio album, she deserves credit for influencing her future husband sooner. The poet’s appreciation for words prompted Beringer’s lyrical improvement — better vocabulary, stronger imagery, deeper metaphors — between Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers and Alligator.)
Like so many modern couples, the pair broke up, reunited, and repeated the process before finally figuring out they should be together. Today, they live a near perfect existence. They are filled with love or whatever you call it. They drink wine with their friends while enjoying singalongs in dungeons in the south of France. Now, their young child inspires songs (High Violet‘s “Afraid of Everybody.”).
The only difference between us and them is a couple hundred thousand people purchased their story. But basically, they seem like a happy, fulfilled couple. Still, do you think Carin ever turns to her husband, smiles and says, “Hey Matt, you spelled my name wrong. Fuck you. And make me a drink.”