The Struggles and Hope Behind Tracy’s Fast Car

Chapman released a song in 1988 whose melody and lyrics resonated deeply with its listeners. A song about a woman trying to escape her ill-fated surroundings. A woman who doesn’t care where to drive to, as long as it’s far from home.

Tracy Chapman performing in Cologne, Germany, Theater am Tanzbrunnen
Tracy Chapman performing in Cologne, Germany, Theater am Tanzbrunnen. Photo by Brill/ullstein bild via Getty Images

But who is this heart-breaking tale about? And is the song meant to depress or inspire you? In all honesty, Chapman couldn’t quite figure it out herself as she was writing it. In general, she feels songwriting is “a very mysterious process… It’s something I don’t feel like I really control.”

A Desperate Need to Escape

Tracy wrote the song one late evening in 1986. As she lay on the couch with her dog, the lyrics naturally came to her: “At the time that I wrote the song, I actually didn’t really know who I was writing about.” She explained. But today, she admits her parents were the ones who inspired it all.

Singer Tracy Chapman During Amnesty International Concert At Paris
Photo by Raphael GAILLARDE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

“My mother didn’t have a high school diploma, and my father was a few years older. It was hard for him to create the kind of life that he dreamed of… With the education that he had…. With the opportunities that were available to him… In a sense, I think they came together thinking that together they would have a better chance of making it.”

What Fans Have to Say

Most fans agree that the song has some pretty dark and depressing overtones to it. But one listener stresses that it’s actually a positive song and one that provides great hope: “Throughout the song, in almost every verse, there is a theme of hope. A theme that suggests things can get better. It’s easy to see the hopelessness and despair, but the narrator of the song comes off as being strong-willed.”

Amnesty International Charity Concert, Paris, France - 1998, Tracy Chapman
Photo by Brian Rasic/Getty Images

We’re glad some fans feel empowered by the song. Even though it tells the tale of a struggling woman, you can hear the optimism and the belief that there IS a better world out there to discover. All you need is a fast car and a strong will.

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