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To Anyone Who Ever Asks: The Life, Music, and Mystery of Connie Converse (Hardcover)
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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.
A NEW YORKER Best Book We Read This Week
One of Chicago Tribune’s "52 Books for Summer 2023"
Featured in the Guardian's "Summer Reading: 50 Brilliant Books to Discover"
Publishers Weekly Summer Reads 2023 Staff Pick
Featured in The Boston Globe's "Best New Books for Summer 2023"
“‘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
“Packed with detective-level details about a Renaissance woman whose work passed through this world all but unnoticed”—The Boston Globe
“So powerful…A totemic accomplishment and indispensable guide…written with Robert Caro–esque thoroughness. The exhaustive care with which Fishman approaches his subject is itself hypnotic, even devastating.”—Los Angeles Review of Books
“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
“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
"Carried me along like a meandering stream that was sometimes a roaring river. A great achievement."—Greil Marcus, author of Mystery Train
"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
"Magnificent—the best detective story you can possibly imagine, a soaring tribute to the human spirit, and an astonishing act of recovery. Will touch the minds and hearts of countless people."—Cass R. Sunstein, bestselling author and Robert Walmsley University Professor, Harvard University
"Terrifically engaging...a passionate and heroic quest in search of lost time."—Tim Page, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music Criticism and Professor Emeritus of Musicology at the University of Southern California
“It takes a great journalist to find the stories behind the mysteries we carry. Howard Fishman has done that with his superb examination of Connie Converse ...in To Anyone Who Ever Asks.”—Ken Burns
"Captivating...Can't recommend Howard Fishman's book strongly enough to those who like literary mysteries and are inspired by the crusade to make art against all odds."—Gregory Maguire, the author of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
“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
“Fishman’s passion for his subject is contagious, his sense of mission inspiring.”—AirMail
“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
"[Converse] was a talented polymath unheard of in her time, but in Howard Fishman’s capable hands and lyrical prose, the woman and her work are finally knowable. Her story is incredible, and so is this book.” —Meaghan O’Brien via Boston.com