That means it’s time for the Friday Mixtape. There is no tape and no mix, just 3 tracks from a single artist. Hope this skates you into the weekend! Today I bring you:
Who She Is: American singer/songwriter, 4-time Grammy Award winner (if that matters to you). Ridiculously talented, she plays guitar, harp, bouzouki, banjo, clarinet, keyboards, organ, harmonica, and percussion instruments. Her voice is like a warm blanket, carved wood.
Why I Love Her (and Why You Should Too): I first heard Tracy Chapman in the late’90s, not long after I first heard Alanis Morissette. I was 13, my family had just moved to Indiana after 8 years in Madison, WI, and I was so lonely I could have chewed off my own arm. I spent the summer before high school lying in a rectangle of light between the garage and the family room, drowning in songs like “One of Us” by Joan Osborne, and “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman. For the longest time, I didn’t know who was responsible for this track that so perfectly captured the ache in my heart. For years, I actually thought the singer was a man; it took me a long time to wrap my head around the fact that Tracy Chapman is a black woman. (I know, I know. In retrospect, how could I have thought she was anything but?) “Fast Car” is one of many hits off her first, self-titled album, which came out in 1988 (I was 5 years old!!!!).
After seeing Alanis Morissette last weekend, all I’ve wanted is a female voice in my ear (and you know I love my rockerboys). I’d only ever heard two songs by Tracy Chapman, and Man!—I was missing out.
Here’s the best sample I can put together before joining the revolution:
My Intro to Tracy – “Fast Car”:
This song still breaks my heart. All her songs are stories. I’m so used to the verse-chorus-verse-chorus formula (all over it, in fact), but having so many verses in a row really makes you pay attention. This one is totally wind through window; lonely, open road. I could listen to it all day.
“Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution”:
Follow-up single to “Fast Car.” I don’t mean to fixate on her breakout debut; with a career spanning 26 years, there’s more to her than all the songs people know—at 48 she’s still doin’ it. But I love the juddering rhythm of this song, and of course, its spirit.
Also love her mini dreads in this vid:
A bigger hit than people might realize, this song inspired a whole lotta musicians:
- Singer Ben Jelen covered it in 2004 on the Russell Simmons/Babyface-produced compilation Wake Up Everybody. Check it out here.
- Irish musician Damien Rice covered it on air. Love that man.
- Ska-punk phenom Reel Big Fish covered it on their 2005 album We’re Not Happy ‘Til You’re Not Happy—and I love me some Reel Big Fish! Saw them live Summer of 2007. Check out their wicked sexy cover here.
- Israeli band Shmemel covered the song in February 2011 with the title “Talking About an Arab Revolution,” adding a verse inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions. Learn more about it (and other musical responses) here.
This one I discovered just this week, even though it’s part of her best-selling album to date, 1995’s New Beginning. This album ironically spawned her biggest hit, the bluesy “Give Me One Reason,” which I’ve actually never been a fan of. But this song…tune in and weep:
There are never gonna be enough great women musicians of color like her. Her lyrics are socially active, and she performs for a number of benefits. Following a relationship with Alice Walker in the mid-’90s, Walker told The Guardian in 2006 that she did not use her relationship with Tracy to further LGBTQ awareness because: “My life is not to be somebody else’s impact […] it was delicious and lovely and wonderful and I totally enjoyed it and I was completely in love with her but it was not anybody’s business but ours.”
Tracy has one of the coolest, interactive official sites I’ve seen; check it out. Apparently she lives in San Francisco now, where I’ll be next week. *Whispers*: Tracy, if you’re listening…I’d love to meet. Bon weekend!