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Fast Car

by

Tracy Chapman



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

Chapman (from Q magazine): "It's not really about a car at all... basically it's about a relationship that doesn't work out because it's starting from the wrong place."
This won the Grammy Award in 1989 for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
This song returned to the UK singles chart in April 2011 after it was performed by contestant Michael Collings on the first edition of the fifth series of Britain's Got Talent.
When the then unknown Tracy Chapman was booked to appear down the bill at the Nelson Mandela birthday concert at Wembley Stadium on June 11th 1988, little did she know her appearance would be the catalyst for a career breakthrough. After performing several songs from her self titled debut during the afternoon, Chapman thought she'd done her bit and could relax and enjoy the rest of the concert. However, later in the evening Stevie Wonder was delayed when the computer discs for his performance went missing, and Chapman was ushered back onto stage again. In front of a huge prime time audience she performed "Fast Car" alone with her acoustic guitar. Afterwards the song raced up the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.
Tracy Chapman
More Tracy Chapman songs
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Comments (45):

This is my favorite Tracy Chapman song. My favorite line is "So take your fast car and keep on driving". It shows that she believes that there is a newer, better future ahead of them. Other good songs by her are "Remember The Tinman" and "I'm Ready".
- Shadow, Depression, VA
Though I've heard this song my entire life, the meaning of it never struck me until last night. The meaning is so easy and so true and so real that the blantantness of it missed me. The song is Oedipal at its basis. The narrator has grown up in what we used to call a 'broken home' or a single parent home in today's parlance. Her mother left her father because he was an alcoholic with limited or no employment. The narrator takes sympathy on her father and quits school to work in order to support him as her 'mother's went off and left him.'
Back to the beginning of the song its starts out 'you got a fast car, I want a ticket to anywhere.' Everybody knew that girl in school that was dying to get away from her home life, she always dated older guys, and probably ran off and married the worst of them as soon as someone was willing to take her away.
To the Chorus: she remembers the beginning, she remembers the dream, the verse is a lament of what never became and the chorus is the reminder it clues the audience into what the narrator is lamenting....she's lamenting the loss of what brought her to this situation in the first place. the hope that the future holds in youth and that what the man and his fast car and the attention he gave her 'made her feel like she belonged and that she could be someone' I assume this was the fust time she ever felt this way.

To me there is a STRONG implication that the relationship only progresses due to an unplanned pregnancy. The narrator wrapped up in the moment and 'drunk' on the feeling of having someone want her, has unprotected sex and it produces a child, now the dreams fall away. I don't think the boyfriend is necessarily even a bad guy. But they are kids they get pregnant they have limited economic options and the child further limits them. He seeks refuge in the bar to hide from his reality of being an unemployed man in a household, she grows bitter at the lack of the promise, finally she in essence 'takes off and leaves him' wanting more from life that her fast car driver can give. She now empathizes (in the oedipal tradition she has, against all her efforts-remember she leaves in the beginning to get away from falling into the cycle of her parents-she does just that)with her mother.

That is my take on the song.
- James, Richmond, VA
i FEEL that this song is about how she has this relationship with this boyr but it's starting from the wrong place,her family started off perfect but as her father developed a drinking problem the mother left because she wanted more from life them he could give,but Tracy left school to look after him,she got a job as checkour girl to pay the bills and lok after her children but as she grew older she started realising her life is mirroring her mothers and her boyfriends is mirroring her fathers.
- Hannah, London, United Kingdom
To me this song is harsh and not totally appropriate, but it speaks a real truth that most people would try to hide or run away from. I always find myself caught up in the beautiful tune and words that not only go perfectly together but inspire me to make better choices in life.
- Megan, Milwalkee, WI
Right from the start she tells you the relationship between her and the boyfriend â
- Beng Loong, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
I actually have a project in ELA thats due this coming thursday, It Has to be about a song that has a story in it. Not just a song wrote to make money. I chose this song, and heres what I come up with about the story behind it and what it means.

A woman wants to break free from the struggles of everyday life and start over. She has to quit school because her dad has a drinking problem and he won't work. She decides to leave him though and try to make better for herself. She gets a job at a convience store and saves money to get away. They go to the city and her Boyfriend wraps his arms around her on the way and she feels like she belongs and can possibly eventually make it in the world. Then she has a job as a checkout girl and hopes things will get better, that maybe they can have a nice home and won't have to live in a shelter. Her boyfriend starts drinking, and he does'nt want to work. So she decides to leave him because he isn't helping her situation and she can pay the bills on her own since she already is.

The ending of the song relates back to her mom and dad, how her dad wouldnt work but he would drink. All she ever wanted was to live a little bit of the American Dream.
- Eric, Myrtle Beach, SC
I think the fast car is symbolic for feeling free, escaping the responsibilities that she ended up with and just being herself. "you're arm fely nice wrapped round my shoulder" is about the boyfriend and feeling free and loved etc. but it is a song about the vicious circle of life as her situation starts poorly, then becomes hopeful then ends poorly again. to me its just about life really, howe life can be. i totally relate to this song after sufferring hardship myself and the being in the fast car with a strong arm around your shoulder feelign like all you have is this moment of freedom and hope in amongst all lifes troubles - she captures that feeling in this song and its truly moving.
- Ny, Canberra, Australia
A lot of you IMO are missing many of the points of the song. The fast car is used to depict a weay to get away, escape from many things, but also as a method for the woman to move forward in her life.

The alcoholic thing is that her dad was one, and she had to look after him, her mother walked out on her dad, and then her life begins to mirror her mothers, because her boyfriend becomes an alcoholic in the same way her father did.

Amazing track, inspirational.
- max, chigwell, United Kingdom
I love the simplicity of her lyrics and her effortless style of singing. To me, this is one the few songs that depict real problems of real people. Almost everyone can identify with some parts of this song, if not all. I think today's so-called "pop divas" need to take a lesson or two from Tracy.
- Fariha, Dhaka, --
I believe that a musician from the San Francisco Bay Area named Mary Owens wrote the tune. Does anyone else know anything about it?
- Sandra, Gardnerville, NV
One incredibly sad song here.
It reminds me of the poem that inspired the title for John Steinbeck's "Of Mice And Men."
"The best laid plans of mice and men are so easily laid to waste."
I love this song anyway.
- oldpink, New Castle, IN
quite possible the best ssong i've ever heard. everytime i listen to it, i get lost in the song. i'm not really sure how the car ties into the story. i know it's an intangible artifact in the song, but does anyone know what relevence the car actually has?
- Zach, Marion, IN
This is the best song i have ever heard it is about a girl who wants to leave her hometown and live with her boyfriend but her father is an alcoholic who cannot take care of himself the girl leaves school after her mother leaves her father to take care of him.Then she leaves and becomes poverty striken and living in a shelter working long hard days at a grocery store. But unfortunatly she finds out that her life is turning into what her mothers when she finally decides to tell her boyfriend to either commit to her and their children or leave.
- a.s., nsw, Australia
This is a song about people who are living at the margins and how, all too often, their efforts to rise above their circumstances don't succeed. There is also a theme of repeating the mistakes of one's parents, like the protagonist quitting school to take care of her unemployed alcoholic father, then abandoning him to marry a man who she thinks shares the same dreams that she does, but he turns out to be very much like the drunken father she walked out on, leaving her back where she started, only now with children to raise. The end of the song, where she finally decides she can't take it anymore and rejects her husband, is tragedy of the kind that music seldom captures.
- Mike, santa barbara, CA
I love this song because of its simple tune and well written lyrics, but I don't like the story of the song much because, firstly, I don't think that you should live with you boy/girlfriend if you're not married, not to mention having kids. In my opinion it is like going out with a total stranger and doing that stuff. Until you have been bonded divinely it is not right to live in and especially wrong to go and have kids. Having sex is a way of saying how you give yourself completely and utterly to the other person but if you're not, which you can't be without proving it first through marriage, then it is the incorrect behaviour. Secondly, I don't think that it's right to split up after marriage. In this song, although they are not married they do split up, as implied by the last verse (or one of the last one's anyway). This is extremely hard on children because the first man that a girl loves is her father and the first woman that a boy loves is his mother. The two parents (note: a woman and a man, not two of the same) living together is very important for the maturing and developing of a child. Parents are there to give the children a model or an example of how they should live their lives when they grow up. That is why parenthood is such a big responsibility. Not just because you have to provide the children with food and clothing etc... but also because you can be a major influence of them and how they will live their life. Now, if parents are constantly fighting, what message does this put to the kids? I know that all marriages will have little stuff ups but the point is that you have to be ready to admit that maybe you were wrong or forgive your spouse. It is the core of marriage. Likewise if a parent is abusive or a drunkard...? Children will learn begin to underlyingly think that it is right and who knows? they may carry on the habit, and so it is passed down generations. I am also aware that it doesn't always happen like this but the majority of the time it does. We must give thanks that sometimes good comes from situations like this, however, the detriments do outweigh the silver lining on the cloud.
- Blake, London, United Kingdom
love this song, i see it a story where her childhood wasnt the best, and she wanted to be someone and achieve something, although in the end, her boyfriend/husband turned out to be similar to her father, and decides that it's best if he leaves. Very powerful song x
- Louise, London, United Kingdom
at times i wish i had a fast car myself and just drive away.though throughout the song reality hits like a bridge but the adventure of the road and emotions it evoked i find to be enticing.irrespective wether its about her or another persons life. the song reaches to the depth of the soul.when she tells the boyfriend that he needs to keep driving, the line in my book implies that at some point we all have to take a fast car and drive until we find a place of belonging even if its not to our dreams desire.dee
- dee, cape town, Africa
I think it's probably about how we are enticed by false dreams. The media show us and tell us all the time about how money makes our lives better but no matter what they say, people who try to make their lives better with money end up with nothing new. We fill this void in our lives with false dreams.

It's about how no matter how much you may dream, life's reality will come down upon you.

I wrote a great passage describing this like snow. Snow falls down in tiny fragments, almost invisible, but they can bury you in the end. Like life.
- Thomas, Londonion, England
You are wrong about fast car. the lyrics were written by some one else then composed by tracy. the song was written by a homeless achiholic and is about tracys volvo that had broken down after a show in N.Y. in the early 90's.
- john, balance, United States
Few songs sing to the soul... few songs sing about life, the real life that we, normal, middle class/ impoverised go through. Few songs talk about life, the lies, and the listless dreams. Few songs tell a story with a beginning, a truth, and an ending. Tracy Chapman tells the truth. Maybe not her own, maybe not anyone's. But as with any literary work, the truth is what one takes away from it. And this song has the power to empower truth and consciousness... For a person who likes rap, pop, country and the sorts, this song came as a surprise... a surprise that there we songs like this ever made. Amazing.
- Vivek, Atlanta, GA
What a great song.
- Cassie, Overland Park, KS
Most of you are wrong. In fact Tracy didn't have as bad of a childhood as is depicted in the song. While there are some similarities she acutally received a sholarship to attend college for music. she never quit school to take care of her father as the saong states.
- Clay, Anywhere, NY
Country family trio The Wilkinsons have recorded a cover of this song that became a major hit on Canadian country radio. While Tracy's original lasts almost 5 minutes, The Wilkinsons' cover lasts 3:42.
- Bradley, Bemidji, MN
this song is great i really like it but is it just me who thinks she sounds like a man
- stacey, someplace, Australia
Tracy Chapman is the most underappreciated artist of my generation. She is a gifted songstress who is ignored by blacks and whites in this country because she is a black "folk singer".
- April, Atlanta, GA
this song is about tracy's life in general. from her as a young'n to her life as an adult. her farther is an alcoholic so her mothere left him. she stayed to look after him. she swore to herself that this would not be how her life turns out, hence the "fast car". however, her boyfriend with the fast car wasnt all he was cracked up to be and her life ended up like her parents because he was always at the pub and never saw his kids...
- mish, Sydney, Australia
To me this is what this song means and maybe it's similar to what Tracy Really ment, or atleast what i like to think. MY dad is an alcoholic, but because he has a horrible disease called multiple sclerosis and being devorced. He was first diagnosed with it in his 30's. When i was little it never affected him, but now being in his late 40's its starting to cripple him and he developed miled alzheimers from the spots in his brain from MS. From about 30 on he started getting real bad. Finally in 02' my mom left him. She didnt want to have to deal with it and got divorced and developed alcoholism some years before when my dad started getting bad. I applied for college and got accpeted to a couple major universitys in indiana. Before i started even attending my dad was getting so bad i had to start helping out at the family buisness. My dad had taken over the buisness when my grandpa started it in 1947. we are a vending company based around jukeboxes and arcade games and things of that nature. some times i wish i had a fast car.
- Jonathan Sales, Delphi, IN
A great breakthrough hit for Tracy Chapman depicting lower class life and the hopes of moving out of the couple moving out of the shelters and into the suburbs. Also, the guitar work was outstanding.
- Howard, St. Louis Park, MN
This song contrasts the exhiliration on young love and the realities of a hard family situation and country situation. The most striking part for me is about her father, and how if it wern't for him and his alchohol problems, she and her boyfriend would be able to leave to try to make a better life for themselves. However, she feels a committment to her father, and accepts that the "good" thing to do is for her to take care of him. The chorus is describing how she felt when they drove so fast that she felt like she was drunk, and forgot her troubles for the moment. It is hopeful in certain ways, but it presents an idealized version of what she wants her life to be, which is sad because there is an undertone of doubt that it will ever happen.
- Miranda, Berkeley, CA
This song is about a girl who wants to move on with her life and yet can not do it because of a loved one who prefers a static life. It speaks of a broken family, a drunkard dad who's primary concern is only his friends. It talks about a family member who takes full responsibility over everything. And later, got fed up and decided to move on alone if the significant other won't go along with her.
- khadija, iloilo city
This song is about being homeless, and wanting to get away from the city
- Luke, St. Paul, MN
Tracy is very good. Very touching and soothing. But her music is inspiring, not depressing.
- Umesh, Delhi
I think some of you have missed the meaning it is about her dad...then she leaves with her boyfriend, who becomes just like her dad.
- sailor, San Antonio, TX
This is one song that never fails to bring a tear to my eye...powerful and sad.
It seems that the girl in the song is continually let down by the men in her life.
- sailor, San Antonio, TX
One of my all-time favourites. It means so much to me as it reminds me of my childhood. The song still haunts me to this day. In the UK this was Tracy Chapman's only hit but her albums were amazing. I take my hat off to her.
- Paul, London, England
Most of the songs on that album (wich I believe to be her debut album) all have a very strong background being the south african apatheid. The fast car is supposed to get them away from problems to make a new start in the city, but as pointed out, her boyfriend appears also to be one of those problems...
- Jay, Geneva, Cheezland
It's not about her and her father. Yes, "my old man" means her father -- but that's what she's trying to get away from, after staying home to take care of him.
- Dan, Philadelphia, PA
the song is about her and her dad starting again not her and her boyfriend....
'my old man' in most countries means father. in others it would mean boyfriend or husband.
she was only 19 when this was a git hit so think about it 'you see my old mans get a problem. he lives with a bottle, thats just the way it is. he says his body's to old for working, his body's to young to look like his.. so momma went off and left him....'
- marlow, perth, Australia
i love this song, its haunting guitar riff is amazing and i think absoloutly everyone can relate to this because it explains down to a t how you feel when life gets to much and you want to escape , everyone has felt like that at some point.
- emma, glasgow, Scotland
well ive heard Tracey say she doesn't explain her songs....you come up with your own conclusions..

my thoughts??? she bought this car at a used car lot ... her friensd saw it , wanted it for her self.... they had a fight made up , got together drove across the countryside and picked up young male virgins , seduced them , then killed them after a night of wild lovemaking
- pete, nowra, Australia
Amen to the comment about The River...there are definite similarities. This is such a sad song, because the narrator is struggling so hard to get away from where she is, while her boyfriend does nothing.
- Billy, Pittsburgh, PA
Well the guitar part is so damn haunting. me and fren played it again and again once when we're driving through town for most of the day!
- Chetan, Bangalore, India
The song is about a relationship between the singer and her boyfriend. She thinks the relationship isn't working because of where they're at. she complains about her surroundings, hence the "fast car" needed to get away. In the end she realizes it wasn't the old surroundings at all, but the boyfriend, now her baby's father, and she expresses this in the last verse, starting with "you stay out late at the bar".
- jesse, chicago, IL
ive always thought of this song meaning something else. ive always thought that it meant that she is living this really rough life and she just wants to get away from it all. the 'fast car' is just a literal or figurative means of escaping.
- Reed, Hagerstown, IN
This song seems to have the exact same structure as Bruce Springsteen's The River. They are sad songs about hopes and dreams which are crushed over time by mundane realities. Still, there is that perfect moment in time that the author visits over and over. The perfect moment in Fast Car repeated in the chorus, was when the love was fresh and she felt a sense of belonging and hope for the future.
- Tim, prescott, AZ
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