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

Dutton. May 2023. 560p. ISBN 9780593187364. $30. BIOG
Musician, culture writer, and playwright Fishman’s (A Star Has Burnt My Eye) extraordinary trek through the life and works of Connie Converse is a laudable endeavor. Born in 1924, Converse, a prodigiously talented singer/songwriter who dropped out of Mount Holyoke College after two years, spent formative time in 1950s Greenwich Village and Harlem, and then disappeared just after Nixon’s resignation in 1974. With unfettered access to Converse’s family members, friends, and colleagues and the artist’s own notebooks and audio recordings, the author constructs an emotional narrative with a bit of sensationalism thrown in. The book also has valuable space devoted to the meaning of her lyrics and the sounds she created as a kind of predecessor of both Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan, though she lacked their lasting renown. Interesting side excursions, such as why people feel a need to pigeonhole performers of certain types of music and assessments of the political and social milieu, are useful, as are the appendices of her texts and the copious footnotes.
VERDICT Although its length is daunting, this tome is welcome. It’s an interesting foray into Converse’s glimmer of fame and sad subsequent neglect.
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