It’s been a week and I still can’t get the song out of my head. The lyrics are on replay whenever I’ve had a few moments to just be – whether it’s waiting on the platform for the subway or stepping out of the shower in the morning.
Fast Car. Tracy Chapman’s distinctive voice. The kind of voice that I don’t just hear, but I feel viscerally in a way that not every artist has the ability to make me feel. The kind of voice that transports me to another place and time where her lyrics were the soundtrack for a particular scene I was living in the movie that is my life.
1988. That was the year the song soared to #1 on the charts and suddenly everyone knew who Tracy Chapman was. Taylor Swift had not been born. Ronald Reagan was in his last term as President, the Internet was not yet open for business, the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union were just starting to dissolve, and apparently, the first testimony that climate change might be a real problem happened in Congress.
But none of that was what came to mind when I heard Tracy Chapman sing with Luke Combs whose cover of Fast Car has shed new light on this song and was the reason they were on stage at the Grammy’s last Sunday.
She was barely through the first verse and in my mind I am driving with good friends in a Saab convertible, the top down on one of those perfect July evenings when you think the summer will never end. It’s Joe’s car and he’s steering us on the dark and windy back roads from Philadelphia through Delaware to the summer house we all shared in Rhehoboth Beach. Joe has the volume button of the car’s cassette player turned up so loud none of us can hear each other as we sing along.
We’re all young. Just starting our careers. We know how lucky we are to be where we are. It’s not just the weekend ahead, but the world that looks so bright and shiny.
Cellphones were just starting to become a part of our lives but we were decades away from the time when they would rule them and included a camera to capture every moment to share on Instagram. We were present. We were in the moment. We weren’t obsessed with getting the perfect angle in the perfect light for a photo to prove to everyone how much joy we were experiencing. We were just feeling it.
Would I remember it all as vividly if we had asked someone in the bar we often stopped in to use the bathroom to come outside and take a picture of us all sitting in the car? Would seeing that photo elicit the same feelings I’ve been feeling all week – of nostalgia and of joy? Of missing my friend Joe who died far too young in 2012.
I doubt it. I’m not convinced that would have made this memory any more viscerally clear than listening to the magic of Tracy Chapman’s lyrics. There’s no picture to prove otherwise. There is no need for one.