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July 5, 2013

Book Notes - Michelle Tea "Mermaid In Chelsea Creek"

Mermaid In Chelsea Creek

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

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Michelle Tea's Mermaid In Chelsea Creek is one of the best YA novels I have read in years. Tea deftly blends fantastic elements with the gritty and harsh world of its heroine (reinforced by Jason Polan's simple yet dark black-and-white illustrations), creating the first book in a trilogy I will be recommending to middle grade, young adult, and even adult readers.

Daniel Handler wrote of the book:

"The novel has everything terrific about Michelle Tea, with the grit and the wit and the girls in trouble loving each other fierce and true, and then it has all the juice of a terrific fantasy novel, with the magic and the creatures and the otherworldly sense of something lurking underneath each artifact of our ordinary lives."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.


In her own words, here is Michelle Tea's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, Mermaid In Chelsea Creek:


My book Mermaid in Chelsea Creek is about a young girl being raised by a single mom in a shitty town and discovers that she has a secret magical destiny to save the world from the sorry and despair that creates evil. She learns of her destiny when a cranky Polish mermaid visits her in the city creek, which is narrow and polluted. She is taught magic from the witchy old woman at the corner store – who turns out to be her Aunt – and she also learns that the root of all evil in the world is her grandmother Kishka, who runs the City Dump. After getting busted playing the Pass-Out Game (yeah, that one), her punishment is to spend her summer vacation there. Lots of other stuff happens, too. Here are some songs about it.


(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea – Elvis Costello

Chelsea, Massachusetts is a real place, and it's my hometown. It's a pretty rough place to have been from, and when I got a little older and started listening to alternative music I was shocked to learn that someone had written a song about not wanting to come to my city! Of course he's talking about some other Chelsea that it actually wouldn't be so bad to have to do – Chelsea, New York or Chelsea, London. But this song made me feel so understood, even after I knew it wasn't about my Chelsea I felt like the music gods had sent it to me.


Down by the Water – PJ Harvey

I feel like Syrena the mermaid is sort of PJ Harvey-esque. She doesn't giver a fuck and she's dark-haired and pale and inappropriate. The tone of this song is right, and how so much of Sophie's learning happens at the creek bed, a place she goes into at the end of the story.


Dirty Water – The Standells

It's almost too cliché, and I heard this song on the radio so much growing up in Boston that I've come to hate it, but how could I not use it? The book centers around a heavily polluted creek that runs straight off the Boston Harbor, the literal dirty water of the song. I mean, the water is so gross they wrote a song about it. This too made me feel validated.


Old World – The Modern Lovers

The prophecy that Sophie has come to fulfill is rooted in old world superstitions and folk tales and indigenous magics that were carried to portside towns like Chelsea by immigrants. I believe there are mysteries and magics rooted to different places, and that those magics can become lost through diaspora. I love in this song when Jonathon Richman says 'I want to keep my place in the old world / Keep my place in the arcane.' It's like he understands there's a magic tradition there, too. Also The Modern Lovers are the number one best Boston band ever.


Garbage Man – Hole

This is in honor of the City Dump, run by evil Kishka. 'It's all darkness up inside her'. Totally! Maybe not the insides Courtney was imagining, but they work well for this purpose and also this is just one of the best songs ever. It makes me want to ruin my life.


Trash – New York Dolls

So many great songs about garbage! It's because Trash is rock n roll! Another paean to the City Dump, where Sophie is banished, leaving her bestie to chase boys at the beach while she dodges her mean granny and learns about magic from an androgynous glass-recycler named Angel.


Yes I am a Witch – Yoko Ono

One should reference and listen to and of course obey Yoko Ono whenever one has the opportunity. This is the best name of anything, so much so that I would like a tattoo of it please. In this song the Witches are coming to save the depressed repressed suppressed people, and that's exactly the kind of witch Sophie is! 'It's gonna change, sweetie legs'


Red Right Hand – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

I was trying to think of a song about evil incarnate, which is what Kishka is. And this song kept returning to my mind. It's a make incarnation of evil, the devil, but Kishka is actually a genderless shapeshifter, so it works. 'You're one microscopic cog in his catastrophic plan' is pretty right on – this big force of evil feeds off all the little evils, the spites and hates and depressions of humanity. It's also just such a great song, with the tolling bells and whatnot.


Lillybelle – Geraldine Fibbers

I know this is about drugz, not passing yourself out, but playing the Pass-Out game is arguably the very first gateway drug, so the dreamy hallucinogenic lyrics and the dreamy string instruments feel like a good soundtrack to that experience, as does the shouty chorus full of warning.


Magic – Olivia Newton John

Duh. Everything I learned about life I learned from the lyrics of pop songs, which I took very seriously, very literally, at a very early age. 'Have to believe we are magic!' I'm not not going to listen to Olivia Newton-John, circa 1980, the height of her own magical powers, being all supernatural and pretty in Xanadu and so nice and helpful with that 'I'll be guiding you.' I do believe we are magic! And Sophie has lots of guides in this book, and she'll have even more as the series continues. It's all about magical people helping one another.


Michelle Tea and Mermaid In Chelsea Creek links:

the author's blog
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book
video trailer for the book

East Bay Express review
Lambda Literary review
Newsday review
Publishers Weekly review
San Francisco Bay Guardian review

BuzzFeed interview with the author
Fanzine interview with the author
Fresno Famous interview with the author
KALW interview with the author
Los Angeles Times interview with the author
MissionLocal interview with the author
San Francisco Magazine interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
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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