How Sad, How Lovely

How Sad, How Lovely

by Connie ConverseConnie Converse


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The strange story of American folksinger Connie Converse is almost as enthralling as the haunting, mystical music she left behind and quite nearly was lost to obscurity for all time. She left college in 1949 to pursue a career in music in New York City. Apart from a single TV appearance in 1954, she mostly toiled fruitlessly for the better part of a decade and then moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan in the early '60s, setting music aside as anything but a hobby, playing songs for friends occasionally at parties. In 1974, amid a severe bout of depression, she left a few goodbye notes and drove off into the ether, never to be heard from again. In 2009, extensive exploration of an archive of loosely documented home recordings and rare sessions resulted in How Sad, How Lovely, a collection that would serve to introduce most listeners to Connie Converse's songs, which had been sitting unloved and dormant for the better part of 50 years. While she may have had some contemporaries in the budding folk revival scene of the late '50s and early '60s, there's something alarmingly unique about these spare tunes. While there are similarities in the storytelling air of these songs to those of Peggy Seeger or Barbara Dane, Converse's lyrics are always playful, spacy, and even somewhat psychedelic long before LSD had even been developed chemically. "Man in the Sky" is a great example of this, offering a fantastical interplanetary love story that gets trippy years before turning on and dropping out were in vogue. Her songs also give a prototypical feminist stance, with undercurrents of untethered sexuality, fierce independence, and in the case of "The Clover Saloon," hilarious lyrics about throwing bottles at insulting men. The sweetness of solitary existence and the strange experiences that grow out of isolation are common themes, looked at curiously in songs like "We Lived Alone" and the gorgeous "One by One." The songs are mostly rough demo quality, many recorded in a friend's kitchen and complete with mistakes and chitchat before and after the songs. Though not exactly categorical bedfellows, there are similarities between the haunting, otherworldly feel of How Sad, How Lovely and the long-buried tapes that surfaced decades after they were made by both Sibylle Baier and Molly Drake, mother of Nick. Like these artists, Connie Converse made songs far too vulnerable and odd to be accepted in her time. Years after her disappearance, the world was getting closer to being ready for these songs, warm and delicate as an intimate secret shared between close friends, while at the same time sounding quietly bold and powerful.

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