Nearly 30 Years Later, Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ Is Still Painfully Relevant

An anthropology student at Tufts University spent her time busking at the local street performance stomping ground of Harvard Square. Eventually, she was noticed by a fellow student, and he was so impressed by her that he brought her to his father’s attention. Why does this matter? His father just happened to be music producer Charles Koppelman, and the student? None other than the now-famous and revered Tracy Chapman.

Image via Flickr
Image via Flickr

Chapman was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1964, and at a young age, she moved with her family to Connecticut, and later attended Tufts University where she studied anthropology and African studies. In 1987, following her happenstance with Charles Koppelman, Tracy signed with Elektra Records and released her eponymous debut album the following year.

Image via Flickr

From her album’s single, ?Fast Car,? Tracy would become a global sensation. She became most exposed by her performances at Nelson Mandela’s 70th Tribute Concert, where she performed ?Fast Car? in front a large crowd, and was broadcasted to roughly 600 Million watching the vastly televised event. Tracy would go on to receive immense praise, and won the ?Best Female Pop Vocal Performance? for ?Fast Car? at the 1989 Grammy Awards.? The song also made its way onto Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs f All time, coming in at #167.

The ballad is a gloomy reflection on the struggle of living with poverty. Chapman’s voice is one of the most recognizable in the business because of her ?rich timbre, bluesy flexibility, and deeply honest presentation,? according to vocal arts teacher Joanna Cazden.

Image via Flickr

This adds to the haunting nature of ?Fast Car,? where the audience is engrossed in the musings of a young individual struggling to make a better life for themselves, their family, and their relationship.

Lyrical lines like,

?I been working at the convenience store/Managed to save just a little bit of money?

?See my old man’s got a problem/He live with the bottle that’s the way it is”
“I said somebody’s got to take care of him/So I quit school and that’s what I did?

?I know things will get better/You’ll find work and I’ll get promoted/We’ll move out of the shelter/Buy a bigger house and live in the suburbs?

speak volumes to the hideous circumstances that exist within the cycle of poverty in America.

When Chapman released her song in 1988, the poverty rate in America was at a startling 17.1%. According to some of the most recent data (September 2014), the current poverty rate is somewhere around 14.5% with 45 million Americans living below the poverty line.

Image via Flickr
Image via Flickr

Heartbreakingly, the conditions are not much better than they were at the time of the song’s release, and millions of American’s still live a similar life to the one Chapman depicts in her song. In thirty years? time, her words still resonate with so many.

Click the video below to watch a young and gorgeously new-to-fame Tracy perform ?Fast Car? live in 1988 at Nelson Mandela’s 70th Tribute Concert.

K.C. Cashman, a student at Hofstra University, studies English and American Literature, Writing Studies, and Religion. K.C. was born and raised on Long Island, New York and continues to live there with her family. She aspires to be a published author, professor of literature and writing, and an administrator of higher education and policies.