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June 8, 2010

Book Notes - Mishna Wolff ("I'm Down")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Mishna Wolff's memoir I'm Down tells the fascinating story of a young white girl growing up in a predominantly black neighborhood. As much about race as poverty, this coming of age tale honestly portrays Wolff's attempts to fit in through the innocent eyes of youth in a book filled with both humor and sadness.

Entertainment Weekly wrote of the book:

"All of Wolff's experiences funnel into this buoyant memoir, which is rich in detail but never feels overembellished. Memories about the struggle to fit in can seem like pleas for pity, but Wolff doesn't go there — she explains everything as simply a matter of fact, which is endearing. Down certainly has 
 serious thoughts on its mind (Wolff actually grew up quite poor and hungry), but the 
 tone manages to be light and triumphant 
 because of the hilarious child-goggles Wolff wears while spinning her tales."

In her own words, here is Mishna Wolff's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir, I'm Down:

Music brought me closer to people I wanted to hang out with when race or class was a divider. Even in my own mixed race family tensions were sometimes subdued over a Janet Jackson chorus. Now that I'm an adult, I don't have to hide my Yo MTV Raps friends from my 120 Minutes friends. And a Peter Murphy t-shirt won't get my ass kicked at most public parks (though maybe it should). But these are the songs still linger on my hard drive reminding me of the times the music understood (no, the song "I'm Down" is not included).

"Here and Now" by Luther Vandross

My father and his second wife (i.e. not my mom) walked down the aisle to this song. By the way, the song is five minutes twenty-three seconds long and it took about a minute thirty to get down the aisle. Which left four long minutes for a hall full of guests to wonder whether it was okay to sit back down. Perhaps that's why I love Luther Vandross with all my heart and not one shred of irony.

"Close to Me by the Cure"

This song basically sums up the internal itchy feeling that started for me around twelve and was supposed to end at 18. One of the symptoms is the belief that someone supremely better that yourself will one day come save you by grabbing you from your wretchedness and elevating you to their level. Or maybe that's all love songs. Either way I like trumpet solos.

"You Send Me" by Sam Cooke

My Dad used to sing this song to me. The lilt in Sam Cooke's voice is not to be attempted by amateurs. But my dad sang it loud and with total disregard to tune or rhythm and I respected that.

"I'm Looking For a New Love Baby" by Jody Watley

This was my stepmother's favorite jam. When she sang it, she particularly liked to annunciate the lyrics "… And now you're like the rest, unworthy of my best. Hasta la vista. Baby." A caution to my father of how he was just a hairsbreadth away from winding up like "everybody else."

"Rockit" by Herbie Hancock

This was like the coolest song I had ever heard and I felt at times that this was Herbie's world—he just lets us all take up space in it. That being said this video scared the shit out of me. Nightmares, peeing my pants. The full nine.

"Is She Weird" by The Pixies

This was an anthem for me and my Caucasianite school friends. Is she weird? Is she white? Is she promised to the night? Somehow we managed to glaze over the line: And her head has no room. Oops.

"River Deep Mountain High" by Tina Turner

I remember at the age of six or so being told that James Brown was the King of Soul and that Aretha was the Queen. I also remember it being a rather serious talk and wondering if everyone really felt that way. And while I love Aretha and have no argument with her claim I always wondered who had to pick between her and Tina Turner and if they ever second-guess their decision. Anyways, I love this song. Her voice. The Wall of Sound. Incredible.

"This Christmas" by Donny Hathaway

This song was always playing. All through my childhood and my neighborhood. Everywhere I went, all winter long, Donny Hathaway. And it's my favorite R&B X-mas song.

"Why Do You Have to Be a Heartbreaker" by Dionne Warwick

My sister and I always watched Solid Gold reruns and I when I grew up I desperately wanted to be a Solid Gold Dancer—long after it was respectable. I especially loved the host of Solid Gold Dionne Warwick and I'd love to put one of the Burt Bacharach songs on my playlist like "That Look of Love" or "Alfie" or her version of "Always Something There to Remind Me" which annihilates the Naked Eyes version. But "Heartbreaker" was the song that I remember singing out loud. And it's a great song that, by the way, practically teaches you how to be co-dependent.

"Push It" by Salt n' Pepa

My sister and her seven year old song and dance duo the Sweet Beats jammed to this one. They also wrote their own songs… Oh yes.

"I Want to be Adored" by The Stone Roses

My friend Mayja introduced me to this band when I was around eleven. She said, "Have you heard the Stone Roses?"

"I don't know, what do they sing?"

She said, "I Want to Be Adored."

And I said, "What's a dord?"

And she said "No! Adored!"

"Right. A dord. What is a dord?" And the rest plays out like a teensy hipster "Who's on First."

"Just Don't Bite It" by NWA

Ahhh, I can still hear my mom saying, "Turn that shit down!"

"For the Love of You" by The Isley Brothers

This reminds me of my dad dancing at parties. Old people parties with old people music. I swore I would never dance past the age of 25. And yet, not only do I dance, I went to see the Isley Brothers five years ago and if you have the opportunity, I highly suggest it. Spoiler alert: Ernie Isley plays the guitar with his tongue. And though it may have been sexier thirty years ago you really can't put an age that sort of thing.

"Paint a Vulgar Picture" by the Smiths

Because in the midst of class collisions, racial tension and skin problems in my bedroom in my ugly old house I danced my legs down to the knees.

Mishna Wolff and I'm Down links:

the author's website

The Brain Lair review
Creative Loafing Charlotte review
Desperado Penguin review
Elle review
Entertainment Weekly review
Esmerelda's Book Thing review
Examiner review
Fernham review
Find Your Next Book Here review
Georgia Straight review
Let Poverty Breed Literacy review
Marnes and Noble review
Oprah review
Philadelphia City Paper review
Publishers Weekly review
School Library Journal review
VBPL Recommends review
Washington Post review
Words Make Sentences review
YA Books and More review

The Book Design Review interview with the book's cover designer

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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