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On Tracy Chapman, Luke Combs, and Fast Cars

As a teenager in the 80's, I already had a pretty wide range of musical interests that included musicians and bands like Depeche Mode, The Cure, Ozzy Osbourne, Bon Jovi, and even Elton John and the Beach Boys. It was a little eclectic but there were two things it didn't include much of: R&B/Soul and country music. One year for Christmas my aunt K gave me Tracy Chapman's self-titled first album on cassette tape. It was different but I loved that song (Fast Car) so much. I didn't become a Tracy Chapman superfan or even really listen to more than the one song on the cassette with regularity. I've loved it since and will always turn it up and think fondly of my aunt K (RIP sweet lady) every time I hear it.

When I saw that Luke Combs had done the song and was getting some attention for it, I admit that my first reaction was that it felt yucky. Granted, I don't listen to Luke Combs or know anything about him or his music. I simply jumped to the surface level appearance conclusion that "Oh great--some white guy comes along and does a cover of this amazing song by an amazing black woman, and he's the one getting the accolades. Thirty-something years later. Of course."

But then I kept seeing him, her, and the song in the media and I started thinking, "Well, better late than never? At least she's still getting the recognition." And now we're a couple days past the 2024 Grammys, where Tracy and Luke performed the song together. I haven't even seen it, but I have seen some things that made me realize that I had really jumped to some conclusions without a full body of information. I saw a clip where Luke Combs talked about how he fell in love with the song listening to his dad's cassette tape. He didn't record the song as some grab at glory, he loved it as much as I did (do), and found himself in a position to honor it with his own version. And Tracy is getting the glory and recognition that she deserves.

As I sat down to write this blog, I did a basic Google search using both of their names. Scrolling through the results, I was struck by the fact that almost every article I was seeing started with "Tracy Chapman and...". As it should be. Tracy deserves this moment in the sun. Her music is powerful and the things she sang about are still very much issues that permeate society 30-something years later. Maybe we're ready to listen?

I owe Luke an apology for making so many assumptions about his character and use of Tracy's song. Sometimes a messenger comes along with a voice that the world just isn't ready to hear. And if it takes a white country singer to lift this powerful, beautiful black voice back into the collective consciousness, I say "Thank you, Luke Combs". Thank you for honoring Tracy Champman and the song Fast Car.

I still haven't even heard Luke's version of the song. I'm going to go listen now. I'm also going to try to remember that there's always more to any story and if we're willing to look a little deeper at almost anything, we might just find a change of heart.

"So I remember we were driving, driving in your car

Speed so fast, I felt like I was drunk

City lights lay out before us

And your arm felt nice wrapped 'round my shoulder

And I-I, had a feeling that I belonged

I-I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone"

--Tracy Chapman

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