I was thinking, this morning, as the lyrics “You got a fast car / I want a ticket to anywhere / Maybe we make a deal / Maybe together we can get somewhere…” cycled in my head, that this song on Tracy Chapman’s eponymous first album was released in the 90’s, during the height of the Lilith Fair movement. But I looked it up and it was actually a product of the 80’s. 1988. Goes to show how consumed my sleeping brain is to the music of that decade. Even the songs that had no impact on me at the time come back to hound me.
I never had any strong feelings one way or the other about Tracy Chapman. I found this song pleasant enough; I could pick up on a yearning in her vocal delivery, a longing in the strumming of the chords. She reminded me of Joan Armatrading, who I came to appreciate around that same time, along with Joni Mitchell (way late to the game on both). Joan and Joni were my gateway female singer-songwriters to later artists like Suzanne Vega and Aimee Mann, who I connected with more naturally, finding their quirky, awkward personalities oddly charming. Maybe it was an issue of accessibility. I felt I understood, lyrically, what Vega and Mann (sounds like a buddy-cop TV show) were getting at. Issues of loneliness and heartbreak. Mitchell and Armatrading wrote about pain and emptiness too, but their words required a bit more attention to pick up on the layers. I don’t want to say more poetic, because Suzanne Vega may be the most accomplished poet of the bunch, so I’m guessing maybe it is a generational thing. Armatrading and Mitchell came to their artistry in the 60’s, Vega and Mann in the 70’s and 80’s. Even as I write this, the argument not fully realized, my mind wanders (wonders) to how true it is that we tend to relate more to artists closer to our generation. Our collective cultural memories more aligned or something like that.
The argument against this idea is Tracy Chapman. She is 50, Aimee Mann is 54 and Suzanne Vega is 55. So Tracy Chapman is closer to my age than either Aimee Mann or Suzanne Vega. Yet, her music, to me, feels more connected to the 60’s and early 70’s than either Vega or Mann. It could simply be that Mann and Vega have stayed around longer in the musical landscape – at least my musical landscape – and so didn’t get stuck in the 80’s, where they first appeared. And the evolution of their sound can be tracked in their oeuvre. Tracy Chapman, though still releasing new music every few years, still evokes that sensitive singer songwriter vibe that hasn’t aged along with me. It’s less a critique and more of an amazement that a song that mattered/matters so little to me became an ear worm.
I am thinking that this song popped in my head because it was angry with me. You see, just a couple weeks ago, my podcast co-host, Colin Sjostedt, and I recorded an episode with Cars as the subject matter. We played excerpts of songs about cars, about the highway, about racing, as well as clips from TV shows and movies where cars were featured. We stayed away from the obvious choices for the most part, except where the obvious really did have a strong impact on us. The other song that I didn’t get a chance to include in the podcast was Rush’s Red Barchetta. I try to put a reference to Rush in every post if I can so there it is.
Cartoons like Speed Racer were a regular part of my early childhood; I’d watch the show religiously every Saturday morning. I may be jumbling together memories from different years, but in my head I would watch Speed Racer and then right after, Popeye & Friends would air and I’d plop in front of the 13″ TV in the living room and watch all two hours of the morning kids’ show. It was hosted by Tom Hatton, who would introduce each Popeye episode, often drawing images of Popeye’s round face and corncob pipe on an easel. And I loved the Smokey and Bandit movies and even Cannonball Run. Colin discussed his love for Night Rider, Gary Numan and of course the band who may have inspired the subject matter, The Cars.
Come check it the podcast and let me know what songs about cars are your favorites.