To Anyone Who Ever Asks: The Life, Music, and Mystery of Connie Converse (Hardcover)

To Anyone Who Ever Asks: The Life, Music, and Mystery of Connie Converse By Howard Fishman Cover Image
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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.

About the Author

Howard Fishman is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker, where he has published essays on music, film, theater, literature, travel, and culture. His bylines have also appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, The Telegraph, Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, Artforum, San Francisco Chronicle, Mojo, The Village Voice, Jazziz, and Salmagundi. His play, A Star Has Burnt My Eye, was a New York Times “Critics Pick.” As a performing songwriter and bandleader, Fishman has toured internationally as a headlining artist for over two decades. He has released eleven albums to date, and is the producer of the album Connie's Piano Songs: The Art Songs of Elizabeth "Connie" Converse. He is based in Brooklyn, NY.

Praise For…

A NEW YORKER Best Book We Read This Week

Publishers Weekly Summer Reads 2023 staff pick

“‘To Anyone’ is the grandly researched portrait of a talent who didn’t get her due…a rich paean to [Converse’s music], and to the profound connections that art can form between individuals, even decades apart.”—The Washington Post

“Gripping and searching… Mr. Fishman’s thoughtful and deeply researched book provides a far bolder jolt than any cover version can provide. It may yet help find for Converse what the author proposes—a place at ‘the table of great American artists and thinkers.’”—The Wall Street Journal

“Deeply researched and absorbing… Fishman's book will resonate with Converse devotees and introduce others to this fascinating and overlooked artist.” Booklist, *starred review*

“Fishman debuts with a rich biography of Elizabeth “Connie” Converse… Fishman’s research is nothing short of remarkable… Fishman succeeds wildly in uncovering the anguish and beauty in Converse’s bewildering story. This should earn Converse some new fans.”—Publishers Weekly

“[Fishman’s] enthusiasm and diligence is infectious… Through the obsession of such dedicated fans as Fishman, Connie Converse will find a larger audience.” —Kirkus

“Musician, culture writer, and playwright Fishman’s extraordinary trek through the life and works of Connie Converse is a laudable endeavor… the author constructs an emotional narrative.” Library Journal

“Converse’s story is a natural fit for our cultural moment of reclamation and long-delayed rectification...The closest we’re ever likely to come to the cypher behind those beautiful, heartsick songs.” The New Republic

“Packed with detective-level details about a Renaissance woman whose work passed through this world all but unnoticed”—The Boston Globe

“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

“The mystery of American composer Connie Converse’s disappearance in 1974 is ongoing, and she may be lost forever. But her spectacular work has been rescued and elevated to a marvelous level by Howard Fishman. Her music belongs to an America that barely knows it exists.” —William Kennedy, Pulitzer-prize winning author of Ironweed

“Connie Converse’s songs are a revelation, finely wrought, wry, as beautiful as they are weird. I’m so grateful this enigmatic writer and her catalog are being explored and celebrated, in this book and beyond.”—Anaïs Mitchell, Tony- and Grammy-winning creator of Hadestown, and author, Working on a Song

“A great achievement. The portrait of a singular person making her way through the world...It carried me along like a meandering stream that was sometimes a roaring river.”—Greil Marcus, author of Mystery Train

“Fishman’s passion for his subject is contagious, his sense of mission inspiring.”—AirMail

“A mammoth achievement”—Richard Klin, The Millions

“Written with the detail of a journalist, the passion of a fan, and the ear of a musician.”—Alison Stewart, WNYC's "All Of It"

“Endlessly fascinating.”—Joe Donahue, WAMC’s The Roundtable

“Essayist and musician Fishman has long been fascinated with Converse, the singer-songwriter who was briefly active in the 1950s New York music scene and disappeared without a trace in 1974. In this biography, he seeks to know the enigmatic Converse, who is now a cult favorite among music aficionados.”—Orange County Register

Product Details
ISBN: 9780593187364
ISBN-10: 0593187369
Publisher: Dutton
Publication Date: May 2nd, 2023
Pages: 576
Language: English