is mostly set in Texas during the first years of the most recent recession, when the cast of characters — an eclectic group of college friends now in their 30s — are coming to the realization that, in a world of shrinking resources, a good education is no longer enough to ensure an escape from one's origins. This playlist is chronological, not necessarily from release date but rather from when the songs become important in the characters' lives.
1. "Papa Noel" by Brenda Lee (1958)
This is one of the songs on the curated cassette tape entitled, "Larry Blevins' Christmas Bluegrass Jamboree" that Flannery and Molly's father plays on car trips to Dallas in the novel's flashbacks. Despite the fact that West Texas is not "on the bayou," Flannery always loved this song because it reflected what Christmas was like in the mostly snowless South.
2. "Cannonball" by the Breeders (1993)
The Breeders' show in Lubbock was Flannery's first concert when she was in high school. This band's songs walked the line between catchy and indie while also demonstrating how women musicians didn't have to show skin to be popular. Flannery loved them for that.
3. "Song to Woody" by Bob Dylan (1962)
Before he was famous, Bob Dylan visited his idol Woody Guthrie in the hospital as the Dust Bowl Troubadour wasted away from Huntington's Disease, the same genetic disease that killed the mother of sisters Flannery and Molly in Migratory Animals. Dylan played his guitar and sang for Guthrie — who could no longer speak but who handed Dylan a card that said, "I ain't dead yet" — and also wrote this song, one of only two originals on his 1962 debut album: "Here's to the hearts and the hands of the men / That come with the dust and are gone with the wind."
4. "When You Sleep" by My Bloody Valentine (1991)
The novel mentions how, after Flan's mother died, Santiago played MBV during his graveyard shift at the college radio station because these sonic outliers were her favorite "sad band." In this playlist, they also epitomize the angsty, shoegazer thread in these characters' musical history.
5. "Eisbaer (Radio Mix)" by Groovezone (1997)
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This electronica track comes from the clubs and raves of my characters' college days as they experimented with drug-fueled nights of dancing and the occasional field trip (such as the flashback in the novel where they end up at a monster truck rally on acid). The character of Molly always thought the lyrics said "Ice Bear" and so turned a white stuffed animal into her party mascot.
6. "If He Tries Anything" by Ani DiFranco (1994)
There's something wonderfully earnest about DiFranco's music (and her decision to only produce albums under her own label, Righteous Babe Records). This song epitomizes the friendship between the characters of Alyce and Flannery, as well as the confidence of young women raised under second-wave feminism and told that they could have it all: "we do all the things / they say we can't do… we got rings of dirt / around our necks / we talk like auctioneers / and we bounce like checks..."
7. "Me Gustas Tu" by Manu Chao (2001)
This song was also popular when the gang was in college and, with its references to cities all over the world and lyrics sung in multiple languages, speaks to their sense of trying to become cosmopolitan and international. Not in the sense of jet-setters, but rather of smart kids, some from immigrant families, who have traveled widely as adults in search of that illusive thing called "home."
8. "Water No Get Enemy" by Fela Kuti (1975)
Fela is probably the most famous Nigerian Afrobeat musician. In this song, Fela sings in Nigerian Pidgin about the power of water ("Nothing without water") as a metaphor for black power and how you don't fight water "unless you wan die." My character Flannery lives in Nigeria with her fiancé Kunle when the novel begins. They are scientists witnessing the desertification of the Sahel, farmlands withering into dust, facing the problem of water in a more literal way. I imagine this song as a sort of Nigerian rain dance.
9. "Faulkner Street" by Hayes Carll (2008)
Early on in Migratory Animals, Molly is listening to Hayes Carll on ear buds and tells a colleague that he "is the only musician under forty who can pull off a rose-embroidered western shirt." Carll's music is an excellent example of the Americana sound that resonates in Austin, Texas, in a way that the slick, conservative sounds coming out of Nashville no longer do. He also sings with nostalgia about becoming an adult, something that my characters very much understand: "The porch is just a memory and the record player's broke / them hills have gone to house and Jimmy's gone to smoke."
10. "Reno Dakota" by the Magnetic Fields (1999)
I consider this to be almost a theme song for the character of Santiago, an architect who faces his heartbreak with classic GenXer irony. He, like most architects, also considers the Pantone book to be his most precious possession, so this Stephin Merritt lyric would surely resonate: "It's making me blue / Pantone 292."
11. "Twelve Bar Blues" by Toni Price (1993)
With her long gray hair and smoky voice, Toni Price has long been a staple of the Austin music scene. In the novel, the character Molly stops by the Continental Club for Price's weekly gig, dubbed the "hippie hour."
12. "In the Backseat" by Arcade Fire (2004)
During the present tense of the novel, Arcade Fire was rising in popularity with their first album, Funeral. This is an unusual song from that album — pared down, Chassagne singing alone. To me, it's about being afraid of taking over the controls of adult life, of preferring to be passive in the backseat. This echoes the fears of a number of characters in the novel, especially Alyce, who is paralyzed by depression when the novel begins.