Tracy Chapman's song played last night at the local dive while I was finishing my first drink, waiting for the bartender to provide me with the number for a cab to go to another bar, where people I knew were at, already more drunk than me. The cabbie drove her car fast while I dozed off.

 


This song was a top ten hit on the music charts of seven different countries in 1988. In 1989 Chapman won three Grammy Awards: one for being the Best New Artist, one for Best Female Pop Vocalist Performance of this song and one for the Best Contemporary Folk Recording for her eponymous record. In that same year Fast Car was nominated for two other Grammys and her debut was nominated for Album of the Year. The album was produced by David Kershenbaum who also won a Grammy for his work.

Fast Car succeeds on so many levels due to the simplicity of its arrangement and the universal themes which its lyrics evoke: longing, poverty, alcoholism, memory, improvement, personal autonomy and escape. Chapman herself escaped the poverty of her upbringing in Ohio to study at Tufts University. She wrote this song in 1986 while supporting herself as a Boston bike messenger and would perform it while busking in Harvard Square. The song may be played with just an acoustic guitar although the original studio version has steel guitar, electric, acoustic, bass, percussion and drums.

There are many other bands and artists who have made covers of this song; my favorite is by Xiu Xiu. There are even a few remixes floating around out there online; I listened to half of one and couldn't take it—this coming from someone who typically digs a good remix. Some things just should not be tweaked. Although there seems to be a a scratch dj who goes by the name DJ Quixotic who can recreate the intro to this song by manipulating a tone record. Said scratching seems to not be online (sadly) and is only done at live performances.

In April of this year, Chapman's original version reemerged on the UK top ten after being performed by contestant Michael Collings on the television show Britain's Got Talent. An earlier cover by Kristian Lenitou also hit the British charts after the one by Collings was released. I must admit that I was somewhat dubious at the prospect of a song about trying to escape the vicious cycle of poverty being performed by an I.T. engineer wearing khakis for a cheesy contest show but Collings has a great voice and does the song the justice it deserves.

 


I had a car, once. It was not a fast one but I used it to escape (in and out of trouble) until I took my eyes off the road. Even though the damage was all exterior, it was still totalled.

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