Monday, July 23, 2007

Tracy Chapman

Tracy Chapman

In keeping with the gender balance of these posts I’d like now to say a few words about the beautiful black American Singer, Tracy Chapman. My good God, where have all the years gone? I cannot believe that Tracy released her first and very famous Debut Album way back in 1988, the year I started teaching in my present place of employment. Maybe it’s because I’ve aged with her that for some reason she seems to be in her late twenties or early thirties in my mind. However, Tracy was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1964 when I was 6 years of age. Good God she’s 43. Tempus fugit! Eheu fugaces labuntur anni (Virgil, Georgics) and all that.

Tracy studied at Tufts University, MA, USA where she graduated with a degree in Anthropology and African Studies in 1986. One would have expected no less from such a primally and primitively beautiful voice. I would describe her genre of singing, and I am virtually musically deaf, as folk tinged with the great intensity of American Negro Soul music. Her Debut Album, to which I’ve alluded already, contained the justifiably very famous two songs from her pen: “Fast Car” and “Thinking ‘bout a Revolution.” The first of these is one of the greatest escapist tunes and songs that I know. The listener immediately associates with the distress of the singer, feels imprisoned by her circumstances and longs for such a “fast car” and some companion to drive it and you and her indeed to some elusive freedom. This song carries the very weight of the history of American Black culture on its strong shoulders and Tracy’s words are marvellous, and that deep weeping timbre of her rich voice would bring a tear to a stone as my mother used to say.

You got a fast car
But is it big enough so we can fly away
We gotta make a decision
We leave tonight or live and die this way.

While the revolution she refers to is the dream of everybody on the underbelly of society whether they’re old or young, male or female, black or white, brown or yellow, straight or gay, healthy or ill, and of all religious persuasions and none. This revolution, Chapman imagines is whispering in those queues for welfare or for handouts, or in many places on our sad planet, for food and water, the very basics of all life. Deep down she feels the tables are beginning to turn. Alas and alack, they haven’t quite turned yet. I’m still hearing whispers not shouts!

My favourite Chapman song is from her Second Album called Crossroads which was released way back in 1989. It’s called “All that you have is your soul.” A brilliant song! I am listening to this very song which I have put it on repeat for inspiration as I attempt to make these words behave. It’s a wonderfully powerful song because it talks about what we may term integrity, authenticity, congruence or the being true to self of the individual. None of us wants to sell his or her soul to the various devils that are to be found in the modern world:- materialism (“the shiny apple”), power and its abuse (say an abusive spouse), one or other of the addictions that plague our human society or violence in its many forms. Hence, we get that marvellous verse in this wonderful song. Forgive me the overuse of superlatives here as I’m a little carried away. Why not indeed – let your soul carry you away, Tim! Here are those words I promised a sentence or two above this one:

Don’t be tempted by the shiny apple
Don’t you eat of a bitter fruit
Hunger only for a taste of justice
Hunger only for a world of truth
‘Cause all that you have is your soul.

These are her two early albums both of which I have and both of which I have listened over and over to in the past so many years. Tracy has made another six albums right up to the latest Where You Live” (2005) which alas I haven’t purchased. I’ve heard a few tracks from it on the radio over the last few years, but I still prefer her earlier stuff. Unfortunately, this little tribute to such a marvellously rich and supremely moving voice must remain truncated through my lack of knowledge. To talk about the first two albums of any artist without referring to or having listened to her latest five albums is considerably incomplete indeed. However, the site contains a sampler of 36 seconds long of each song on her last album. These songs sound more ponderous, a little less passionate, have a slower tempo and are more Gospelly than her earliest numbers. They refer to and use and Biblical terms like “forgiveness”, “Jesus knows what I have done,” “Easter,” and sentences like “Be and be not afraid to reach for heaven.” However, that old passion is still there under the surface.

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