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“One of the things I loved most about writing Panic was that the fictional town of Carp became, in a way, a secondary character. Carp is small, and it’s poor; it’s a place where opportunities come rarely, if ever, and change comes not at all. Most of all, it’s a place that inspires dreams of escape.
I’ve assembled this playlist with Carp—and the places like it, filled with people who dream of getting out—in mind.”
–– Lauren Oliver
“Blowin’ Smoke” by Kacey Musgraves: I love the way this song focuses on a very specific moment in the day of a small-town waitress. The waitresses talk about their plans to get out, to live a better life, but in the end all they’re doing is “blowing smoke.” The song paints a great picture of these characters with both humor and pathos.
“Spaceship” Feat. GLC and Consequence by Kanye West (WARNING: Lots of F-bombs): An angry, biting perspective from someone working long days at an insipid job for very little money.
“A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke: Some of the most powerful lyrics in music history, sung by one of the most powerful voices. “I was born by a river in a little tent, and just like that river I’ve been running ever since.” ALL THE FEELS!
“Poor Man” by Old Crow Medicine Show: This haunting song is part ballad, part lullaby. The singer laments the seeming futility of being a poor farmer, but nonetheless makes sure to tell his “honey” that “things are gonna get better.”
“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen: OBVIOUSLY I had to include a Bruce Springsteen song! Springsteen has so many songs that could have made the list, but this one is a classic! “Baby this town rips the bones from your back, it’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap. We gotta get out while we’re young. “Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run.” Take me with you, Boss!
“The Long Way Around” by Dixie Chicks: In places like Carp, life can seem limited: nothing changes and nothing ever will. This song shows that there are other options, other paths you can take, even if you have to be “taking the long way” to get there. This is the story of someone who made it out.
“Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman: No matter how many times I hear it, this song breaks my heart. Tracy Chapman tells the story of a person who believes she’s going to make it away from her insular and impoverished life, only to find herself trapped in the same cycle she thought she was escaping. In the chorus, she reminisces about the brief time in which it seemed as though everything was going to get better. It hurts in the most beautiful way. Confession: this was my all-time most-played song in high school.
“Merry Go ’Round” by Kacey Musgraves: I know, this is the second song I’ve included from Kacey Musgraves, but hey—if ain’t broke, don’t fix it. “Merry Go ’Round” is the perfect metaphor for the systematic cycles of poverty, alcoholism, and drug abuse that ensnares people in places like Carp. “Just like dust, we settle in this town.”