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English 2750: Poetry and Song

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“Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman (Saadiya Mutawakil)

Recently in class we have been discussing the relationship between innocence and experience and why authors, such as William Blake, choose to couple the two subjects in their work. In this song, “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman, the two subjects are interwoven into a realistic yet harsh story that further examines their relationship.

Fast Car” was written by Folk singer Tracy Chapman and released off of her self-titled debut album in 1988. Going 6x platinum that year, the album reached #1 on the US billboard charts and won Chapman 3 Grammy Awards. Her first single, “Fast Car,” reached # 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 list, catapulting Tracy Chapman to fame.

The song starts with a proposition from a girl to a boy, asking for his help in escaping from her life. The speaker continues to propose what can become of their lives together shall the boy take the proposal. Here, we are able to hear the girl’s hope and enthusiasm as she fantasizes about the future saying “ you and I can both get jobs/buy a big house and live in the suburbs . . .” We can, as a result, easily pick up on the girl’s naivety and innocence based on the way she fantasizes about the future, using so much hope and enthusiasm to do so. What makes the song so sad and emotional is the fact that in its five minutes, we listen as the girl loses this innocence that she had at the beginning of the song. As she experiences life in the city, she picks up a job and her boyfriend begins to drink. She realizes by the end of the story that her dreams are no longer possible saying, “Thought maybe together you and me would find it /I got no plans I ain’t going nowhere.” She has gained the experience that she lacked at the beginning of the song, which opened her eyes to the realities of her current predicament but lost her innocence along the way.

Chapman does a great job of balancing the necessity for experience that this girl obtains with the sadness that comes with her loss of innocence. The slow melody of the song coupled with only a few instruments adds to the idea that what this girl experiences, although sad, should not be over-dramatized because the loss of innocence is inevitable for everyone. The girl’s final predicament is rather sad but the underlying message of the song, relating life experience to a loss of innocence is far too common. The song is not set to inform us of someone else’s situation but to allow for us to reflect on our own loss of innocence.

“And I had a feeling that I belonged
And I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone”

October 29, 2010 | category: Uncategorized

4 Responses to “ “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman (Saadiya Mutawakil) ”

The link between Blake’s innocence and experience poems and Chapman’s “Fast Car” is an interesting one; both writers demonstrate the longevity of the struggle of losing innocence. The transition from childhood to adulthood is often portrayed in literature as a shift from hopeful youth to apathetic adult, as it is in this song. Although the shift in age and mental capacity is a static event, the scarring effects of losing one’s innocence seem to persist for many individuals well beyond the event itself. Chapman’s song reflects this, as the girl featured transitions from believing in her dreams to accepting a constant state of inability. Perhaps the song should be looked at as an example of what not to do; although your expectations may not always be fulfilled, you should not give up on your hope for the future.

It’s interesting that in looking at both this song and Blake’s poems of Experience (especially compared to his poems of Innocence) we are quick to denote “experience” as something negative, more about the loss of innocence than the gain of anything else. In real life, as well as in many of the other poems we have been looking at, the progression of life is seen as something to be accepted and maybe even celebrated. Experience is often correlated with knowledge, respect, and wisdom. This song and these poems really emphasize experience as kind of a jaded phase of life, fading away from the bright, vibrant, happy era that is youth. I think it’s important that both of these conflicting perspectives are introduced into literature and life in general so as to give the audience both a sense of hope for the future and a reminder to enjoy the early years of life as well.

Tracy Chapman relates that the girl’s loss of innocence results from a desire to escape. The title of the song encompasses this idea of escape. The girl states that she is willing to risk everything because she has nothing for an opportunity in the “fast car” that will show her what it means to live. She is dependent on the “fast car” to set her free, as it will allow her to leave everything behind her. Chapman strategically links this concept of freedom with a trip in a “fast car” because of the feeling brought about by riding in a speeding car. Naturally one experiences a sense of euphoria because of the recklessness of the activity. The young girl wishes to feel this limitlessness and she only experiences it in the “fast car”. In that moment the girl feels as if she can change her nothingness into something; she can be “someone”. The “someone” she strives to become changes her in a way that her innocence is lost.

The structure of the song is interesting because it is cyclical. The singer’s mother starts out trapped in a destructive relationship and a life that is going nowhere, so she runs away. Then the singer becomes trapped in a dead-end town taking care of her father, so she runs away with her boyfriend. However, her boyfriend becomes an alcoholic just like the father she ran away from. Once again, she is trapped in a hopeless situation, but this time she says, “I got no plans, I ain’t going nowhere.” She is in the same predicament as she was earlier in her life, but she reacts differently this time. It seems that with experience, the singer has given up the hope that the act of putting a physical distance between herself and her problems will solve everything. She no longer naively believes that a boy with a fast car can save her. The cyclical structure allows us to compare the wishful thinking of her youth to the practical thinking of her adulthood.


SOURCE: http://blogs.cornell.edu/eng2750/2010/10/29/%E2%80%9Cfast-car%E2%80%9D-by-tracy-chapman-saadiya-mutawakil/

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