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Blue Sky

The Miracle of "Fast Car" Then and Now: Everyday Magic, Day 1092



By 1990, my Tracy Chapman cassette tape was played into such oblivion (and so repeatedly tangled in the car tape deck) that I had to buy a new copy. After all, I had played this 1988 tape thousands of times, especially for long drives. Since the unwritten rule for Kansans is to head west to the Rockies for sweet relief in the swelter of summer, there were a lot of long drives over the years singing my heart out to "Fast Car" and all her other glorious, painful, and true-to-the-bone songs.


All those long drives came into resurrected focus when I watched the video of Chapman and Lucas Combs singing "Fast Car" at the Grammys. The way her face lit up as soon as the roar of the crowd encompassed her, how Combs mouthed the words she was singing on occasion, and when he bowed to her at the end moved me enough to rewatch that video a dozen times. But what really grabbed my heart and set me sobbing was Jelly Roll and Michael Trotter Jr. at the 4:24 minute mark in the video, especially Trotter, his whole face ecstatic, pointing both hands at his heart as he sang along with "I had a feeling that I belonged."


I felt that same way when driving through sun bleached stretches of short-grass prairie toward the Rockies in the early 1990s with friends or the husband. It always seemed to be late afternoon and100 degrees, and we were often wind-blasted because the a.c. would inevitably be broken while soaring across Kansas and then eastern Colorado. I was a young adult landed in a loving community where I finally felt like I belonged to a place, people, and purpose for the long haul. The palpable joy of that knowing echoed through all those road trips and always that song.


Tracy Chapman's whole first album rode side-car with me those trips and years, whether I was analyzing every note, word, and nuance of the heartbreaking "Behind the Wall" with a friend or belting out "Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution" after fueling the car with gas and myself with iced coffee at the Oasis of the Plains truck stop. While others drove, I would listen to "For my Lover" while writing a new love poem. Or we would talk up a storm about what "If Not Now" could mean for us later.


There's something about Chapman's shining and deep river of a voice, not to mention her stunning lyrics and music, that make each song a place to inhabit, especially "Fast Car," from the first guitar chord that tells us,"here we are again, on the road that goes on forever." When she breaks and rises into "Speed so fast, I felt like drunk," although we're breathtakingly sober, the possibilities of the life yet to be shine. No city lights lay before us but stretches, curves, and hard-won expansions of green-brown-tan land undulating toward higher altitudes and clearer attitudes.


Such revelations were our bread and butter over 30 years ago and actually still today. We didn't and still don't know where our stories, even when abandonment and insecurity line our old pockets, are leading us, but surely well beyond what we imagine. She gives us the gift of feeling we could be someone who is very much exactly who we really are. No wonder so many people of such diverse stories were singing along, feeling not just that we belong but we belong together.


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