What songs relate to a scene or character in Cormac McCarthy's The Road?

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As I thought of the man and the boy pushing their shopping cart through a post-apocalyptic landscape that seems to reflect the aftermath of a nuclear war (though we are never sure what exactly happened), the song that immediately popped to mind was "99 Luftballoons" by the German group Nena. It came out in 1984, when the Reagan administration was upping Cold War pressures and all-out nuclear war was a possibility.

The lyrics open with "you and I," which seems to describe the relationship between the man and the boy, who come across as innocents in a savage environment, just as does the image of red balloons against the backdrop of war. Red and balloons together paint a picture of childhood, a time of innocence. But war robs everyone, including children, of a safe, benign world in which to grow and flourish. In the song, war imagery contrasts with—and yet perversely mirrors—the childlike imagery:

Panic bells, it's red alert
There's something here from somewhere else
The war machine springs to life
Opens up one eager eye

The war machine opening up "one eager eye" makes us think of a curious child waking up in the morning—but this is a machine with an eye for destruction, not creation or play. Likewise in the novel, innocent images, like seeing a baby, become perverse, as babies are cannibalized by hungry people.

Both the song and the novel remind us of how beautiful the world we have now is, despite all its problems, and yet how easily this can be overturned, leaving us on a road to nowhere.

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In deciding what songs to include in your soundtrack assignment, you might want to go first to artists whom you like and then think about which of their songs would work with the message and feel of the novel. If you choose songs you know and like, you will be able to write better justifications of why you chose them.

If I was doing this assignment, I might start by brainstorming a list of themes. Then I'd think if the lyrics or tone of any of my favorite songs align with those themes. Some themes from The Road include:

  • Familial love, the bond between parents and children
  • The will to survive
  • The motivation of hope despite enormous odds
  • Solitude and isolation

I played around on Google and saw that, about two years ago, Jay Z posted a "songs for survival" playlist to Tidal. I've embedded the link below. It contains both fairly recent hits and solid classics, many of which could work for the novel's themes, including the will to survive, as well as loss and the presence of hope.

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McCarthy's The Road is a postapocalyptic nightmare. It's a visceral tale about a boy and his father trying to get to the coast in hopes of some improvement to their lives. Every person that they meet or see along the way is a potential threat that could rob them, kill them, or even eat them. The entire world set forth by the author is a dark, cold, and gray world devoid of almost all hope.

"It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" by R.E.M. springs to mind as a good song choice because of the repeated "It's the end of the world as we know it;" however, I think the song just feels too happy to work really well for this book.

The song "The Sounds of Silence" would work great. I would use the more recent cover done by Disturbed. The lyric line that mentions bad dreams would tie in well with The Man at many points in the story.

Finally, if the soundtrack doesn't have to have lyrics, then I would go with "O Fortuna" and "Adagio for Strings." Both songs have a great mixture of sadness and intensity that applies wonderfully to this book.

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Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is a post-apocalyptic novel which follows a father and son during their journey for survival. Here are a list of songs and the reasons why each relate to a scene or a character in the text. 

Metalica's "The Unnamed Feeling"- Given that no one in the text is named, the "unnamed" aspect of the song is important. The song tells of the feelings (unnamed) which a person feels when he or she is close to losing control. Given the trials and tribulations the father faces, one can understandably see where he may feel his continuous struggles are a lost cause. 

There are numerous songs about post-apocalyptic life. Here are three: 

"As the World Falls Down"- David Bowie

"Beginning of the End"- Rob Zombie

"Doomsday Clock"- Smashing Pumpkins 

Mark Willis' "Wish You Were Here" is a country song about a wife who loses her husband in a plane crash. While it is the wife who dies (prior to the beginning of the novel), the song still illustrates the desire of one spouse to be around even after death. 

There are numerous songs about war (especially nuclear war, which came about as a result of Hiroshima). Here are a couple suggestions which could be tied to the novel: 

"Wooden Ships" by Crosby, Stills, and Nash

"A Hard Rains Gonna Fall" by Bob Dylan

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