The Magnificent Resurgence of "Fast Car"

Episode Transcript

Julia Landauer 0:04 Hello, everybody, and welcome back to another episode of if I'm honest with Julia Landauer, Happy Valentine's Day to those who celebrate. We don't really celebrate on the day, quite frankly, I just don't like being with that many people who are out and about, specifically on that day. And so we went to dinner last night on Tuesday, which was delightful. But if I'm honest, I feel like my favorite Valentine's Day celebrations were when I was a kid, like pre dating, pre boyfriends maybe had crushes, I don't know. But my parents would put together little baskets of chocolates and heart shaped candies and sweethearts for me and my siblings. So that was kind of the most fun. But anyway, hope you had a good night. And if you didn't celebrate, I hope you also had a good night. The Grammys happened the other week, and I didn't watch them, but I was scrolling through X and Instagram to see the performances and to see the outfits and most importantly, to discover what the Taylor Swift reveal would be. We all thought it was gonna be reputation Taylor's version. But alas, we got a whole new album, so very excited about that. But then as I was scrolling, I also saw the full performance of Fast Car by Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs. And let me tell you, I was entranced. I love the song and I'll get into that in a bit. But it felt so familiar and comfortable. And I couldn't help but feel as I was watching it, that I was so lucky to be able to see Tracy Chapman specifically perform it live and onstage in this day. So that was really, really special. And obviously it exploded it Tracy Chapman's debut album, went to the top of the charts, fast car went to the top of the charts and iTunes, her music video went to the top of the charts. I mean, it was really incredible. And it was such a moving experience for so many people. And that was so clear. And so I wanted to talk about it. I have been so moved by the resurgence of fast car over the last year and it's been such an interesting multi dimensional set of feelings that I've had towards it. And I feel like many of us have a very personal relationship with fast car that has transcended time and transcends generations. It is so relevant to so many people it is poignant and sad and hopeful. And it encapsulates such a common struggle. And I think that that really touches on so many people and Tracy Chapman's stage presence and her stillness and just the way she performs is is so impactful. And I was first introduced to fast car by my parents, they have the vinyl version. And some of my earliest memories are the robust sound of Tracy Chapman's powerful, but gentle voice blasting through these big standing stereos with the slight scratch on it from the vinyl, and we would just swing to it on the on the foyer, a floor that we had, and it became a staple song of my teenage years. Every time I listened to it, I had this visceral reaction that made me feel hopeful. It made me feel sad. It made me feel melancholy and made me feel romantic all at the same time. And in my angsty teen years I had very emotionally charged share the lyrics from the song on my Facebook page is my facebook status. Do you remember remember when we did that when we would share these really emotional lyrics and hope that someone in our circle saw them and knew the backstory of them? So anyway, I really remember sharing: "You got a fast car / is it fast enough so we can fly away" hoping that my crush saw it? I don't know if my crush ever saw it. But at one point, I did know that my crush liked the song, a different crush, and I would imagine us during the chorus when she's singing "I remember we were driving / driving in your car / speed so fast I felt like I was drunk / City Lights lay out before us / and your arm felt nice wrapped around my shoulder" and I just imagined my crush putting his arm around my shoulder. Oh, it was it was a lot teen years were so emotionally charged. I loved it. Anyway, I love the song. It was really important to me and I continue to get chills every time I listen to it and music is so beautiful and delicate and dramatic. And I love the acoustic performances and I love strings in general and and the lyrics are evocative of the gravity of a common struggle and I don't know what it's like to try to get out of the cycle of poverty specifically, but in singing this story, Tracy Chapman conveys the monumental effort and the steadfastness needed to overcome that kind of struggle. And I think that journey is something that many people really late too in some capacity or another, with the song in general, there is a calmness and there's a pragmatism, which we saw in the Grammy performance as well. And it adds to the gravity of the song in my opinion. It was so so cool to hear Tracy Chapman's voice and to hear just how rich and warm and stunning it continues to be, even as she's approaching her 60s, I mean, it's it's really incredible for some background on fast car before we get into the resurgence, so it was originally released on April 6 of 1988. And it was received well, it had good good public acknowledgement. But she then performed it kind of unexpectedly at Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday celebration, which really brought it international attention. And it got nominated at the Grammys that year for Record of the Year Song of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. And she won the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. It reached a high of six on the billboard 100. And it was a top 10 song in the US. So it had a lot of acclaim when it came out. And, but then I think it kind of faded a little bit and didn't have that ongoing recognition. I think a lot of people continue to love the song. But out in public, it wasn't as recognized. So then in April of 2023, country singer Luke Combs released a version of Fast Car on his album. And if I'm honest, when I first heard that Luke Combs had covered it, before I actually listened to his version of the song. I had really mixed feelings, because I was really worried that his version would be an adulterated version of the song. Knowing how personally connected I always felt to that song, and how impactful it was for so many people. I was offended that someone would try to cover it like how could you do any justice to this song because Tracy Chapman's original version is so perfect. Like, how could anyone try to do anything with it? Especially country and I love country music, but it didn't feel like the right genre to even attempt to do this. But wow, I was completely wrong. Luke Combs did such a beautiful job covering fast car. Like he didn't try to remix it. I did some reading, and I learned that he really intentionally kept almost all of the original elements. He honored it and he created this beautiful cover. And that was in part because he has idolized Tracy Chaplin since he was a child. You know, she was such an important figure in his musical development, and he wanted to respect her work. So for example, there's a line that says, "I work in the market as a checkout girl," he didn't change that lyric at all. The only lyric I think he did change was at the end, she says, you've got a fast car, you she says you've got to make a decision leave tonight or live and die this way. And he changed it to still got to make a decision. So a slight difference to the meaning. But overall, he kept it true to what it was. Back to the Grammy performance, something magical happened on that stage between Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs. She seemed to be exuding this appreciation and humility and almost a disbelief that she was at the center of this major cultural moment. And he looked like he revered her he had admiration and giddiness beaming from his face and his body language. And it was an incredible five minutes and 17 seconds to experience and to witness. And I thought that Luke Combs was particularly gracious in that performance, focusing the attention on her because it was his song. That's why they were there. And so it was just really, really beautiful. And I love that Tracy Chapman is getting this rebirth for fast car. I love that she is literally cashing in. I've read that she owns the writers and publishers rights. And so she gets a large part of the royalties which have been reported to be over half a million dollars. So that is amazing. And I love the fast car went to the top of the iTunes charts after the Grammys. And she had said when she got nominated, "I never expected to find myself on the country charts. But I'm honored to be there. I'm happy for Luke and his success and grateful that new fans have found and embraced fast car." And it was pretty monumental because with this nomination, she became the first black woman in history to reach number one on the Billboard country chart as the sole songwriter. First time in history. I mean, it's 2023 that is wild. And I don't think that we can ignore that specific dynamic that's at play, which is that she is a black woman whose work is getting this notoriety now in this moment because of white man bringing it back to life. And I've thought about this undertone since it was released that sometimes, and far too often, the work of people in underrepresented groups isn't recognized properly until a white man declares it valuable. It happens a lot. I do think it's changing, but it is very real that underrepresented groups don't get recognized for their thoughts and achievements as much. And so it's tricky, and there is this undertone. But I do believe in this case that Luke Combs has masterfully walked the tightrope of paying homage to an artist that he idolizes, respecting the art as it was originally created, and giving a lot of glory to Tracy Chapman, and I think that that has to be applauded. Watching the Grammy performance, we see his incredible admiration for her. We see the honor that he feels sharing that stage with her. It was so wholesome, it was so beautiful. And I think that it was particularly powerful right now, because the state of the world is a mess. And there's a lot of negativity. And there's so much heaviness, and there are so many divides between so many people. I saw an X post from Franklin Leonard. And I think this encapsulates a huge part of why this performance was so moving, and so emotional. And so major. He said, "Yes, the Tracy Chapman / Luke Combs performance mattered because it was a connection across suppose it divides. But it also mattered because Combs embodied unbridled joy, admiration and respect for Chapman, something we see FAR too rarely when these sorts of bridges are celebrated." It was such a beautiful performance to see, I am so happy for Tracy Chapman and for Luke Combs and for the awareness that so many people have for her now, if they didn't already. And I'm really grateful that culturally we got to come together around this really magical performance and moment, and that so many people got to feel seen, and that hopefully it brings us all a little bit closer together. Everyone that is our show, I hope that you will go watch the five minute and 17 second performance of Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs at the Grammys. It was truly incredible. If you liked this episode, I hope that you'll share it with someone who might enjoy it as well. Please go ahead and rate review subscribe to the podcast. As always, thank you for letting me be honest with you and I look forward to seeing you next week.