September 19, 2013
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.
Kate Manning's My Notorious Life is a bold yet compassionate novel based loosely on the life of Madame X, a 19th century infamous midwife.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Manning paints a vivid portrait of this daring yet deeply compassionate woman who is willing to flout convention and defy the law in the name of women’s reproductive rights."
My Notorious Life is a novel about a scrappy impoverished girl, Axie Muldoon. She's the child of Irish immigrants, alone and "scranning" for pennies on the streets of 1860's New York, singing ‘Bantry Boy' while she works. She grows up to become an infamous character, standing up to authority, always in the headlines, in trouble with the law. Why? Because she's trained as a midwife, and helps pregnant women in distress. She gets rich this way, though she pays a price, and has a hard time trusting anyone, especially men who say "trust me."
This playlist is made up of songs about rebellion, fierceness and longing.
1. "Whiskey in the Jar," Grateful Dead, Thin Lizzy, Metallica, Dubliners
Writing this book, I listened to a lot of Irish music. "Whiskey in the Jar" is an old, old song, dating back as far as the 1700's. It's the tune that Axie sings to herself as she's carted off to a cell in the Tombs. Mush-a ring dum-a-do, dum-a-da, Whack for the daddy-o! There's whiskey in the jar-o! go the lyrics. It's a song about rebellion, and it was right for Axie because singing it is a way for her to thumb her nose—or as she'd say "cock a snook"--at authority. I like the rockin' Thin Lizzy and Metallica versions and the Dubliners original, too, but the pensive Jerry Garcia take is moving and sticks in the mind.
2. "Three Babies," Sinead O'Connor
This song really gets at me. The lyrics, Each of these....My.....Three Babies I....Was Not Willing to Leave... have haunted me since I first heard them in the 90's. O'Connor's an Irish musician, and her uncanny phrasing here, along with the dark minor strains of the melody, capture an aspect of Irish melancholy that moves me strongly. The song also has a quality of desperate, fierce love that I believe all mothers feel. Certain passages of My Notorious Life, are my version of channeling these same things: longing and loss and some ineffable timelessness about motherhood. As O'Connor sings it: The face on you, the smell of you, will always be with me.
3. "Immigrant Song," by Led Zeppelin
I live in a family of drummers. My husband, son, and oldest daughter are fierce on a drum kit. The youngest girl and I, we're... jealous, sort of, but mostly, we stand around, tapping feet while they jam, fingers in our ears. With two drum kits in the house, it's loud. Everyone is going deaf. We like to blast James Brown or Chinese Man or ChumbaWumba or the Stones. No question that Led Zeppelin has been a steady presence for years in car and kitchen. But while I think of Led Zep as "boy music" I've been forced to fall in love, and picked this particular song for its wild guitar, and its homage to immigrants—though I confess I've never understood most of the lyrics. Lyrics are not the point here. Rock n' roll is.
4. "Ode to My Family" the Cranberries.
Another Irish band. Their great album, "No Need to Argue" (which includes the wonderful "Zombie"), is one I played often during the years of writing My Notorious Life. Dolores O'Riordan's haunting refrain on this song-- Do you see me? Do you like me? Do you notice? Does anyone care? could be the theme song of the main character, Axie, as a child, and the woman she becomes. My mother, my mother, she hold me, seems a tribute to the mamas who save their children every day, everywhere, as long as they live, and thereafter. My own included.
5. "Wuthering Heights," Kate Bush
This Kate would put that Kate tops on any list of musical influences. Her quirky, unmatchable voice, her dazzling lyrics and compositions have me drop-jawed with admiration. "Wuthering Heights," of course, is about the last scene in the Bronte novel, when the ghost of Kathy is begging Heathcliff to let her come in out of the rain. Such swoops of ghostly longing and regret and love here, so literary.
6. "The Pocket Knife," PJ Harvey
Polly Jean was my main musician while writing this novel. Her voice, her lyrics, her sheer ability to rock, to sing a ballad or a lullabye—leave me swooning. It was hard to choose just one song of hers. "Pocket Knife" it is, because it's about the price of marriage and motherhood. Please don't make my wedding dress, she sings. You can't make me be a wife. There's a defiance here, but also a poignant sense of options closing that feels true. Mummy put your needle down. How did you feel when you were young? ‘Cuz I feel like I've just been born, even though I'm getting on.
7. "Dog Days Are Over," Florence and the Machine
From the first phrase of this song, Happiness hit her, like a train on a track... you're infected with the good feeling Florence Welch is describing. This song hit me exactly around the time that Sarah Burnes, literary agent par excellence, sold My Notorious Life to Scribner Books, and then to Bloomsbury in the UK. After I'd worked for seven years, writing away in a shoe closet, truly believing the book would never be published, let alone so well, happiness did hit me like a train, for sure. The "Dog Days Are Over" swept me up and remains a favorite chorus on good days. Of course, Dog Days come again, so, the song's refrain is a bit sobering: You better run. Run fast for your mother. Run fast for your father. Run for your children, for your sisters and brothers...
8. "Tears Dry on Their Own," Amy Winehouse
Winehouse's story is too sad. But tragic as it is, her funky voice, her sass, and her songs about love and loss have a timeless grip on me. The heartbreak of lovelorn women is right here in her lyrics, I shouldn't play myself again. I should just be my own best friend, not f*ck myself in the head with stupid men. The song is a good lesson in its way, because the singer's trying to teach herself to be self-reliant, hard as that is.
Kate Manning and My Notorious Life links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
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Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
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Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
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Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists