Tracy Chapman Essay, Research Paper
In Nineteen Eighty-eight Tracy Chapman released her self titled debut
album that retraced echoes of racial difference throughout time. When released,
Tracy’s first hit album sold vastly worldwide affecting millions of people’s firm
beliefs on racism is just one year. In Nineteen Eighty-nine she sold ten million
albums and won herself three Grammy’s. Tracy had herself off to a great start, but
the best had just begun for this black vocalist. On her self titled album, she had
several hits of which one led to some diligent listeners forever touched. Tracy
was one of the first African American vocalists to show expression and feelings on
a controversial level about race and power in a turmoiled country suffering from
the aftershocks of segregation among blacks and whites. One song, Fast Car, on
her debut album led to the embarkment of who Tracy Chapman the singer was, is
and quite possibly who she may become. This song, Fast Car is one of her most
sensitive songs to gloat my ears. Hearing her sing and express herself on such an
inner personal level emphasizes Tracy’s strength and determination. The beat
sets a rhythm that you will hum for days.
In the song Fast Car, Tracy literally relates her life to this fast car, hence the
title. Many people don’t associate the title of the song and the interpretation while
listening to the song. In my interpretation the song is the story of Tracy’s life and
the travesties that she overcomes. The song is a progression over several years in
her life. Fast Car takes us through three stages in her life. There is no repetitive
chorus in this song either which I find rather interesting because her chorus is the
progression of her life.
Tracy begins her award winning inspirational song and the first stage in her
life by singing:
“You got a Fast Car; I want a ticket to anywhere; Maybe we can make a
deal: Maybe together we can get somewhere”.
This beginning chorus states literally that Tracy wants to leave her life and she
will leave it with anyone who is willing to go with her. It could very well be one of
the saddest lines in the song, showing a deep and unsung depression. This line
personally I feel relates to many peoples lives, how they want to escape the one
thing they know in hopes of better. Imagine how many people can relate with
Tracy in those few phrases. The next verse in the song elaborates Tracy’s
optimism towards her past and her future. She sings with eloquence:
“Anyplace is better; Started from zero got nothing to lose; Maybe we’ll
make something; But me myself I have nothing to prove”.
Tracy sings about hating her life, and how she would like to state it over. I believe
she’s stating how she has never known any better but she holds hope for the
future. She doesn’t think it will take much to change her repetitive life. Tracy’s
second chorus begins with:
“You got a fast car and I got a plant o get us out of here; Been working
down at the convenience store; Managed to save just a little bit of money;
We don’t have to drive that far, just cross the border and into the city. You
and I can both get jobs and finally see what it means to be living”.
In this verse I believe she says that she is making the best of her situation. Maybe
that means living life as it has always been. Although Tracy lives with he
agonizing patience of her better tomorrow. Everyone has their dreams and hopes.
Tracy may not be as materialistic as others but she is more in touch with her
personal side which gives the song great meaning. Tracy expands on her drama
in the third chorus but only by elaborating more on her previous verse. In this
verse, Tracy brings up a fairly painful event in her life. This verse also decodes a
lot of the reason behind her actions and emotions Tracy has dealt with. She
“You see my old man’s got a problem. He lives with the bottle and that’s the
way it is. He say his body too old for working, I say it’s too young to look like
this. My mama went off and left him; She wanted more from life than he
could give: I said somebody’s got to take care of him; So I quit school and
that’s what I did.”
She has indicated that her Dad has a raging alcohol problem, but he lives in
denial. Tracy got wrapped up and forced to take care of her Dad and his
problems. She gave up so much of her future for the love of her dad. Also implied
in this verse is that her parents are divorced. She never mentions her family life
again, and leaves the listeners wondering whatever happened to her dad and her
mom and their influence. She voids out more of the obvious later on in the song.
The neglectfulness would be quite relevant to the depths of Tracy’s thoughts.
Having to raise herself then her dad voiced many sensitive and sorrowful lyrics.
Tracy now begins the second stage in her song progression. Tracy
and her “significant other” need to escape this new life they live together. She
“You got a fast car; But is it fast enough so we can fly away? We gotta make a decision; We leave tonight or live and die this way?”
Take notice how she has now changed her chorus into plural form from “You gotta
fast car” to “We gotta fast car”. Tracy in the next verse gets what she had hoped
for. She was now leaving her sad life, and driving her ” Fast Car” out with all her
hopes and dreams within sight. She uses such descriptions in this verse to paint a
very vivid image relating her dreams to the current reality. Tracy expresses
feelings of security, safety and accomplishment in her life. She sings:
“I remember we were driving, driving in your car’ The speed so fast I felt
like I was drunk; City lights stay out before us; And your arm felt nice
wrapped around my shoulder; And I had a feeling that I belonged; And I
had a feeling I would be someone, be someone, be someone”.
In the fourth verse it is also the third and final stage. Tracy sings:
“You got a fast car, and we for cruising ro entertain ourselves; You still ain’t
got a job; And I work in the market place as a checkout girl; I know things
will get better; You’ll find work and I’ll get promoted; We ?ll move out of the
shelter, Buy a big house and live in the Suburbs”.
She sings about how she has begun her new life and how she is trying to make it
once again, but always holding her won for better. In this verse Tracy’s significant
other begins to neglect her, but she feels confident he will turn around soon. She
believes the two of them will move themselves up the ladders to a better life still.
In the next verse Tracy’s conveys how her life hasn’t improved much because her
“boyfriend” ignores her and he mistreats the apparent children I was led to
believe they have. He has turned into what she was escaping from her younger
life, ( her Dad). He also now became dependent on alcohol, and she turned on
him to make out the decision which is more important himself or his family? Tracy
“You got a fast car; And I got a job that pays all our bills; You stay out
drinking late at the bar; See more of your friends than you do your own kids;
I always hoped for better; Thought maybe you and me would find it; I got no
plans I ain’t going nowhere; So take your fast car and keep on driving”.
Now escaping her better life, the fifth and final chorus verse I finds truly unique
when she turns her “fast car” into this fast car that he is driving out of her life by
neglection and alcohol. She sings:
“You got a fast car; But is it fast enough so we can fly way? You gotta make a
decision; Leave tonight or live and die this way”.
She sings how he better leave quickly or he will be letting himself die with
himself as his only friend and companion.
This song is a very strong display of the, depression, hope, faith, and
overcoming in Tracy’s life. She wanted to run away from the burdens in her life.
When she finally gets enough courage to leave her burdens such as, her father’s
life, low money and little support, she takes the first escape that comes along and
ends up on another emotional roller coaster. She soon finds the strings to her
memories about her dad inside her “boyfriend”. Tracy surely doesn’t want her
children to suffer through anything that Tracy did, so that explains why Tracy had
such a strong will in this song. This song Fast Car is commonly known but many
people fail to realize why Tracy sang this song. She makes listeners feel the true
value of what they have, and how to make the best of what you have. That would
lead to why Tracy’s is definitely one of a kind, how she places such a reality on a
very inner personal experience.