Not all remakes are worth talking about. But I think this one is.
Country artist Luke Combs recently put his touch on “Fast Car,” a song I often heard while I was working at a local coffee shop in high school.
Back then, I knew this song was originally released in 1988 by singer/songwriter Tracy Chapman. But I didn’t really listen to the lyrics. At least not enough to know how sad it was.
It’s a story about a young girl that dreams to escape her life with a love interest. But those dreams fall apart as time goes on, and she finds herself trapped in the same sort of life she yearned to escape from.
Combs sings, word-for-word, Chapman’s version of the song, from the point of view of Chapman’s female protagonist. It’s clear that the young woman in this song wants a better life for herself, and she wants to live this life with the man she loves; a man with a “fast car.” She says, “You got a fast car/And I want a ticket to anywhere…Any place is better/Starting from zero, got nothing to lose/Maybe we’ll make something/Me, myself, I got nothing to prove.”
The fast car though isn’t going to be her only key to freedom, so she leans on hard work (“I’ve been working at the convenience store/Managed to save just a little bit of money”) and a plan (“Won’t have to drive too far/Just across the border and into the city/You and I can both get jobs/Finally, see what it means to be living”).
We also learn that this young woman is compassionate and responsible so when her mother leaves her unemployed, alcoholic father (“See, my old man’s got a problem/He live with the bottle, that’s the way it is…mama went off and left him”), she makes the decision to stay in her dead-end hometown, quit school and care for him (“I said, “Somebody’s got to take care of him”/So, I quit school and that’s what I did”).
She’s trapped, years later, as a hard-working mom, married to the man with a fast car who used to hold promise and adventure, but is now dead weight (“You got a fast car/I got a job that pays all our bills/You stay out drinking late at the bar/See more of your friends than you do of your kids”).
She also talks about how she and her beau would drive so fast it “felt like I was drunk.”
The song’s resolution isn’t really a resolution. Although the tune may lead you to think it is.
It finds a hardworking mom telling the father of her children that he needs to make a life decision (“You got a fast car/Is it fast enough, so you can fly away?/You still gotta make a decision/Leave tonight, or live and die this way”).
And, preferably, in her view, the decision will take him far away from her (“I’d always hoped for better/Thought maybe together you and me would find it/I got no plans, I ain’t going nowhere/Take your fast car and keep on driving”).
This is a hard song on a lot of levels. It speaks to that youthful desire to live a full, vibrant life and then to the reality that often, life does not go the way we desire or plan.
But I think it ends on a positive note. It asks, what will you do when life doesn’t pan out the way you thought it would? Because the answer to that question matters more than you know.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).