The mysterious true story of Connie Converse—a mid-century New York City songwriter, singer, and composer whose haunting music never found broad recognition—and one writer’s quest to understand her life.
This is the mesmerizing story of an enigmatic life. When musician and New Yorker contributor Howard Fishman first heard Connie Converse’s voice on a recording, he was convinced she could not be real. Her recordings were too good not to know, and too out of place for the 1950s to make sense—a singer who seemed to bridge the gap between traditional Americana (country, blues, folk, jazz, and gospel), the Great American Songbook, and the singer-songwriter movement that exploded a decade later with Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.
And then there was the bizarre legend about Connie Converse that had become the prevailing narrative of her life: that in 1974, at the age of fifty, she simply drove off one day and was never heard from again. Could this have been true? Who was Connie Converse, really?
Supported by a dozen years of research, travel to everywhere she lived, and hundreds of extensive interviews, Fishman approaches Converse’s story as both a fan and a journalist, and expertly weaves a narrative of her life and music, and of how it has come to speak to him as both an artist and a person. Ultimately, he places her in the canon as a significant outsider artist, a missing link between a now old-fashioned kind of American music and the reflective, complex, arresting music that transformed the 1960s and music forever.
But this is also a story of deeply secretive New England traditions, of a woman who fiercely strove for independence and success when the odds were against her; a story that includes suicide, mental illness, statistics, siblings, oil paintings, acoustic guitars, cross-country road trips, 1950s Greenwich Village, an America marching into the Cold War, questions about sexuality, and visionary, forward thinking about race, class, and conflict. It’s a story and subject that is by turn hopeful, inspiring, melancholy, and chilling.
“The marvel of this book is that it doesn’t require that you be a fan of Connie Converse’s music to appreciate it. It stands alone as a mystery, an investigation, a portrait, and a poignant story of drifting and dreaming. Fishman artfully draws the reader into his obsession and quest to understand this enigmatic artist and her work.”—Susan Orlean, New York Times bestselling author of The Orchid Thief and The Library Book
“Packed with detective-level details about a Renaissance woman whose work passed through this world all but unnoticed”—The Boston Globe
"To Anyone Who Ever Asks brings a new and original freshness to its account of the New York folk scene and all that happened after. This is not the sepia-tinted folk narrative, but a story where very complex characters turn out to be the greatest makers of art. Howard Fishman's work is powerful, moving, challenging, a must for all who care about the period and its songs."—Rick Moody, author of The Long Accomplishment
Howard Fishman is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker, where he has published essays on music, film, theater, literature, and culture. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, The Telegraph, the Washington Post, Artforum, the San Francisco Chronicle, Mojo, the Village Voice, Jazziz, and Salmagundi. Fishman’s play, "A Star Has Burnt My Eye," was a New York Times "Critic’s Pick." As a performing songwriter and bandleader, he has toured internationally for more than two decades, and has released eleven albums to date. He is based in Brooklyn, New York.
Larry Blumenfeld writes regularly about music and culture for the Wall Street Journal. His work during the past 25 years has appeared in the Village Voice, the New York Times, Salon and Daily Beast. His reporting often focuses on connections between the arts and social justice; as a critic, he specializes in jazz and Afro-Latin music. He was the 2019 Jeanette K. Watson Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Humanities at Syracuse University, and has received the Jazz Journalists Association’s Helen Dance-Robert Palmer Award for Writing, an Open Society Institute Katrina Media Fellowship and a National Arts Journalism Fellow at Columbia University. He programs and hosts “Jazz and Social Justice,” at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem; is editorial director for Chamber Music America; and curates the Wells Fargo Jazz Series of Spoleto Festival USA and the Deer Isle Jazz Festival in Stonington, Maine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Nadine Smith is a writer, DJ, and native Texan currently based in New York. Her work has appeared in publications including Pitchfork, Texas Monthly, The Fader, the Los Angeles Times, The Ringer, High Snobiety, & more.
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