How Sad, How Lovely: The Story of Connie Converse
As I sit on the winding porch of my new, temporary roots of Northern Michigan, I smoke the last of my obnoxious, organic cigarettes (I promise I am quitting soon, but these are trying times and my anxiety needs a vice). I listen to the earnest sound of Connie Converse singing “in between two tall mountains, there’s a place they call Lonesome” fused with sounds of birds each tweeting their own songs they wrote.
Connie Converse has been noted as one of the very first singer-songwriters. Born to God-fearing, Baptists in New Hampshire, Converse entered the world through the eyes of moral rigidity. Her family regarded her as a “genius” and she excelled academically. After attending Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts for two years, she fled to New York City.
Much of Converse’s life is fleeing from one place to another. New York was buzzing with beatniks and poets and Converse was living in Greenwich Village, the heart of it all. Contrary to her religious upbringing, Converse began drinking and smoking heavily. In her Greenwich Village apartment, she wrote poetry and intimate, folk songs all prior to the boom of Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell. Her music was modern in its poeticism but referenced the language and culture she had been immersed in her whole life.
In 1954, Converse recorded a small collection of songs in her friend, Gene Dietch’s kitchen. Gene attempted to help get her career started but it fell flat. In 1961, Converse moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan and fell into a deep depression. In the 1970’s, she wrote letters to those close to her and drove off in her Volkswagen, never to be seen again.
There are suspicions as to where Connie disappeared to. In We Lived Alone: The Connie Converse Documentary, letters to her family stated, “Let me go. Let me be if I can. Let me not be if I can’t. Human society fascinates me & awes me & fills me with grief & joy; I just can’t find my place to plug into it.” Family members noted that she was possibly gay, which in connection to her religious upbringing, could have caused her disappearance. Her brother believes that she potentially committed suicide after leaving. To this day, her fate remains unknown.
In 2009, a small New York label discovered her music. Connie had left the copyrights of all of her songs in the hands of her brother. Six years later, her music was released on vinyl and went on to be covered and appreciated by many artists. Her music is slowly but surely digging a place for itself above-ground. Nearly 70 years later, her homemade melodies charm audiences around the world. If you’re in a sentimental mood, I recommend listening to the track “Trouble” (available on Spotify) and letting yourself get a lil’ misty.
Written by Elaine Pugsley