A Reflection on Tracy Chapman’s Self-Titled Record

Following Tracy Chapman’s performance of “Fast Car” at the Grammys this past weekend, I found myself reflecting on her self-titled debut album. Growing up, it was an integral part of my soundtrack. We had three copies: two CDs and a scratched vinyl, the latter of which is part of my collection. My mom has always had a penchant for looping the same albums until they’re practically unlistenable, and this was one of her most famous victims. Back when our car still had a CD player, it was always favoured over our terrible small-town radio station, whose call sign refuses to leave my mind even today. It just so happened that during my most musically formative years, this was the record that she had on repeat.

My mom isn’t afraid to skip to her favourites, and I don’t think I heard the album in its entirety until a few years ago. Naturally, when I was nine or ten, it didn’t make as much sense to me as it does now. At the time, my favourite song was “Behind the Wall,” a vocals-only track that details domestic violence. I think it spoke to the yet-to-bloom poet/writer in me, and I was beyond captivated by Chapman’s vocal power and the way that she so effortlessly told the story. My mom’s favourite, “Baby Can I Hold You,” was not any less emotionally devastating. Even now, I can still hear her singing along and instantly picture the highway toward Whistler ahead of us. This record is so tied to my childhood that when I listen to it, I feel like a kid again. Now, older and having worked a minimum wage job for a couple of years, it hits so much harder. It’s been the soundtrack to many an escapist fantasy over the recent years, especially before moving to Toronto and seeing something other than my hometown.

“Fast Car” is one of those songs ingrained in our collective consciousness, and I doubt I’m the only one with a story to tell about it. Though I don’t have any particular feelings about Luke Combs or his cover of the song, I’m glad it’s not a passing moment that’ll die with our generation. Chapman’s influence on us is undeniable and indispensable, necessary for everyone to experience. The feeling of staring out a window while listening to this song is ingrained within me as a core memory that others likely share. Though I was annoyed that I couldn’t listen to whatever top hit was on at the time, I’m endlessly grateful to know nearly every single word to her self-titled record. Listening to this on long drives is an irreplaceable memory for me, and I don’t think I would be who I am today without it.