Monday 11 May 2009

How sad, how lovely

Take an hour to listen to this hour long documentary about Connie Converse. Listen to the songs, and her voice. There's an uncanny quality in her. Her songs go on journeys into yearning, into the uncanny.

This is an incredible story. Connie Converse wrote songs on her guitar and sang them in the mid fifties: songs of such intimacy, wit, hip, poignancy and unconventionality that would not be really heard at all in the mainstream until Joni Mitchell came along, and that was just a totally different epoch later. Say what you like about Bob Dylan, intimacy was not his strong suit. This woman was writing these songs before any of these people showed up. Before the Beatles showed up, for Christ's sake. Before Elvis showed up. Before rocknroll showed up. Long before the lone human singing her own songs on a guitar showed up.

It's an hour long radio show, and there are also photographs of Connie from around the time the recordings were made, in Greenwich village in 1954. These songs have just emerged for the first time, a couple of months ago.

Connie Converse left New York, dispirited at lack of record industry interest in her songs, in 1960, right when Bob Dylan was arriving in town. She moved to some city beginning with M: somewhere she never really felt right in, though she had by the sound of it a very close supportive group of family and friends around her. One day in 1974, she packed up her volkswagen, dispatched a bunch of farewell letters, and headed off. She has not been heard of since.

She would be 85 now. I so much want to call out to her, to tell her that people are listening, that we love her songs, that there will be so many people who will listen to and love her songs now. That she was living out of time and place, that people care about her story. That I care about her story.

Connie Converse! I care about your story. I love your songs. You matter. You absolutely matter.

Connie Converse website
on myspace


  1. Oh, Lucy, now I am thinking of the dog story in Lynda Barry's "One! Hundred! Demons!"

    Dang. So glad it has a happy ending.

  2. Dammit. Damn this slippery new computer and its slippery ways. Not only do I hate repeating myself, but I most especially hate repeating myself in senseless contexts.

  3. Lucy, thank you very much for introducing me to Connie Converse. Throughout the documentary I kept thinking how sad was her story, how lovely was her music, and what a great pity it is that success and happiness kept eluding her. Whatever became of her in the end, her legacy is now surely greater than she supposed when it all seemed to be going against her.

  4. Wait a minute, I forgot about this comment. Please tell the dog story in Lynda Barry's One! Hundred! Demons!, Sheila...

  5. You're super welcome, Stan. I am so delighted that her story is affecting people as deeply as it affected me. I think it is marvellous that it found its way into the hands of David Garland and the team that made the wnyc documentary. They really produced a tremendously sensitive and beautiful show, one of the most affecting shows I have heard on npr, and that is really saying something. Those npr people, they know how to pull a story together.

    Every stage of this story seems to me to be a coming together of people though, rather than a tale of success thwarted. I mean, she was recorded by Gene Deitch, and picked up for some tv show, a woman who was a popular folk singer at the time played a whole set of her songs. I think people who really heard her stuff knew what they were listening to.

    And the radio show was very careful to point out how much people in her community cared about her; the support of her brother seemed to me to be almost miraculous, the respect he showed her in not pursuing her to the end of whatever she needed to do. At so many stages this story is so heartening, aswell as heartbreaking. It is essentially a tale of human kindheartedness, human loneliness, but also of lone human feelings that demand to be expressed and heard, regardless of the obstacles.

    And in that context, it's important to talk about the huge job done by the Lau derette people who unearthed the archive from the filing cabinet after over 50 years of being locked away, and turned it into a record, and released her story to the people who could hear and understand it. So much of this story is miraculous. It is so marvellous, so heartening, so wonderful, so sad. So lovely.

  6. So true! It is a very human story in all its sorrowful, sweet, mystifying and heartening aspects. And yes, her brother's attitude was remarkable: loyal and brave and fiercely difficult. Kudos to everyone involved in tracing her path (until it disappeared), producing the show, and bringing her story and music to a wider audience.

    Maybe I should repeat these comments on clusterflock, or you'll end up having diverging conversations about it...