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May 7, 2024 9 mins

Some individuals are curious for what they manage to do over long periods of time, while others make an impact after one brief moment of genius.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Aaron Manke's Cabinet of Curiosities, a production of
iHeartRadio and Grimm and Mild. Our world is full of
the unexplainable, and if history is an open book, all
of these amazing tales right there on display, just waiting
for us to explore. Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities.

(00:36):
We often use the term ahead of their time to
describe people who made great breakthroughs in arts or science.
Leonardo da Vinci was ahead of his time, as was
Galileo Galilei. They're people whose contributions to our world will
always be celebrated, but those are the lucky ones. Sometimes
being ahead of your time means no one will understand
you until long after you're gone. In January two thousand

(01:00):
and four, music historian David Garland aired a special episode
of his New York radio show Spinning on Air. He
was interviewing Gene Deeci, a former denizen of Greenwich Village.
In the nineteen sixties, Gene spent a lot of time
making amateur recordings of up and coming folk and rock musicians.
During the show, Gene played an old tape that he'd

(01:20):
made of a friend of his in the nineteen fifties
an aspiring folk singer songwriter named Connie Converse. The music
was startlingly modern, sounding like a singer songwriter, but coming
from years before that style was popular. It paired acoustic
guitar with Connie's witty, poetic lyrics. The songs were often
tinged with a melancholy minor. It sounded like something Bob

(01:43):
Dylan or Joni Mitchell would record, just several years before
either of them had started writing music. Listeners were hooked,
but they walked away from the broadcast with more questions
than answers. As Gene explained, the woman who made those
haunting songs couldn't be reached for comment, as she had
been missing for thirty years. Connie Converse was born Elizabeth

(02:04):
Converse on August third of nineteen twenty four in Laconia,
New Hampshire. She grew up in a religious household with
a minister father, but early on began to lean towards
a more bohemian lifestyle. In nineteen forty five, when she
was twenty one years old, she dropped out of college
to move to New York City. There, she started smoking
and drinking, writing songs, and going by the name Connie.

(02:26):
She was an intensely private person and didn't perform at
the coffee shops and speakeasies in Greenwich Village, but she
did do small concerts at parties and in friends living rooms,
and gained a fan base among musicians there, like future
folk star Pete Seeger, and Connie knew that she didn't
fit the mold of what record companies were looking for.
She wrote to her brother about going to auditions and

(02:48):
sending in demo recordings to executives, always receiving the same
inevitable reply. Her music was lovely, but not commercial. The
closest Connie ever came to breaking through was a single
TV appearance on a CBS morning show in nineteen fifty four.
She performed for Walter Cronkite, but still couldn't get a
record executive to call her back. After years of rejection,

(03:11):
she finally decided to give up on her dream of
a music career, and in nineteen sixty one, she moved
in with her brother in ann Arbor, Michigan. Once there,
she quickly found work as an editor for a scholarly
journal on conflict resolution. She threw herself into anti war
activism and life at the university, but it must have
been difficult to see the explosion of music just like

(03:31):
hers in New York right after she left the city.
For example, Bob Dylan moved to New York the same
year she left. Two years later, he had a massive
singer songwriter full kit with his nineteen sixty three album
The Freewheel In Bob Dylan. Connie worked in ann Arbor
for the next decade or so. Her music from her
time in New York relegated to tapes that her brother

(03:52):
kept in storage. She grew increasingly frustrated with her life there, though,
and incredibly depressed. By nineteen seventy four, she decided to leave.
She left a bundle of letters telling her friends and
family she was starting a new life, piled all of
her possessions into her Volkswagen Beetle, and drove off into
the sunset. Now, whether Connie truly did move somewhere else,

(04:13):
or had an accident or ended her own life, Connie's
family couldn't tell. Though her brother hired private investigators, he
heard no word from Connie for the next thirty years,
not until Gene Deach played her unreleased Kitchen recordings on
the radio. In the years since, it seems Connie has
finally found her audience. After that two thousand and four
radio broadcast, two audio engineers approached Gene Deach and were

(04:37):
able to release an album of Connie's songs in two
thousand and nine, and in twenty twenty three, a brand
new album was released called Music's It was an album
Connie recorded and arranged herself back in nineteen fifty six.
Plenty of artists never see success in their own time,
but luckily for Connie, it seems her music is finally

(04:57):
getting a long awaited reprise. Who doesn't love a good
hot shower to kick off the day, or maybe you're

(05:17):
an evening bather. Either way, taking a few minutes to
relax and clean our bodies is more than just good hygiene.
Research shows that beyond keeping our skin and hair clean
from dirt and germs, regular bathing promotes exfoliation, leads to
improved sleep, and even has mental health benefits. It's just
about the most basic form of self care we practice,
and we treat it like a sacred ritual. Studies show

(05:40):
that sixty six percent of Americans bathe once a day.
That's technically more than what's recommended two or three times
a week is ideal, but we can't seem to get enough.
At least most of us can't. There are always exceptions,
like one man from southern Iran who didn't bathe for
over six decades, earning himself a tie of the world's

(06:01):
dirtiest man. The locals call him a moo Hadjie. A
moo is a far Sea word for uncle, but it's
often used as an affectionate term for elderly men, sort
of like old Timer. No one in his village knew
Uncle Hadjee's full name or what happened to his family.
He was an old nomad who lived on the edge
of town. He had refused to bathe for years, and

(06:22):
was always caked in so much dirt and soot that
he was almost indistinguishable from the rocky landscape. When asked
why he became a drifter, he would only say that
he had gone through some emotional setbacks when he was younger.
It seems that when he was in his early twenties,
he developed a crippling fear of soap and water. He
stopped bathing entirely and embraced celibacy and a nomadic lifestyle,

(06:44):
and while never washing was his most defining characteristic, it
was only the start of his unhygienic behavior. He liked
to eat rotting porcupines, scraped off the road, and smoked
animal dung from a pipe. When his hair or beard
got too long, he burned it over a fire rather
than cutting it. When it got cold, he donned an
old military helmet instead of a coat. He did have

(07:08):
one healthy habit, though, while he avoided letting it touch
his skin, he drank over five liters of water every day. Still,
it's not ideal that he collected that water in a
rusty oil tin. Now. Despite choosing to live in isolation,
by most accounts, Uncle Hajie had a joyful, friendly disposition.
The local community tried their best to take care of him,

(07:28):
which led to frustrations when he refused to change his ways.
He grew irritated whenever people pressured him to stop eating
rotten food or drinking filthy water. He did let the
villagers build him a cinder block house to live in,
but he still preferred to sleep outside in a shallow
hole that he had dug in the ground. At one point,
a group of young men even captured him and tried

(07:49):
to force him to shower, but he narrowly managed to escape.
It's tempting to judge someone like Uncle Hadjie, mostly because
of how irrational and uncomfortable his lifestyle scenes. Modern science
tells us that poor hygiene can lead to all kinds
of unwonted conditions, from diarrhea and lice to blindness, and
it's not just dangerous. Failing to adhere to social expectations

(08:11):
of cleanliness risks driving people away, alienating them from their neighbors.
Some psychologists think that what he suffered from was alblutophobia,
the irrational fear of bathing and water. Like many anxiety disorders,
coming in contact with the subject of the phobia can
cause intense, elevated heartbeat, difficulty breathing, and panic attacks. With

(08:32):
that in mind, it makes more sense why he might
have avoided soap and water for as long as he did.
But even if most people would consider his lifestyle irrational,
it's hard to argue that it worked for him. In
twenty twenty two, he finally relented by taking a bath
for the first time in roughly sixty five years. Only
a few months later, he passed away at the extremely

(08:52):
ripe old age of ninety four. I'm not saying that
makes him right, but it does make you wonder. It
might even get you to forego that daily sholler, maybe
just this once. I hope you've enjoyed today's guided tour
of the Cabinet of Curiosities. Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts,

(09:13):
or learn more about the show by visiting Curiosities podcast
dot com. The show was created by me Aaron Mankey
in partnership with how Stuff Works. I make another award
winning show called Lore, which is a podcast, book series,
and television show, and you can learn all about it
over at the Worldoflore dot com. And until next time,

(09:35):
stay curious.

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