We only work here? True enough, but it lacks flesh and bone, it lacks sweat and tears.
The lyrics to Tracy Chapman’s The Fast Car plays out that sentiment as a real life story with all its problems, hopes and dreams ending in disillusion with the unanswered question: How do we live and die?
It outlines a problem. She belongs to a poor family, a broken family, she has a drunk father and feels some responsibility towards him and so she drops out of school.
The fast car is a romantic symbol for escape and belonging. The studied, descriptive lyrics burst into a life of romantic hope, freedom and the yearning to belong to something worthwhile, in the chorus:
I remember we were driving driving in your car
The 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 had a feeling that I belonged
And I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone
The escape happens but before very long hope fades. She feels let down by her partner:
You got a fast car
And 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 finishes with the haunting question which she began with. We have come the full circle of social reproduction. There is no solution yet. We still have to think about the original question: How do we live and die?
You gotta make a decision
You leave tonight or live and die this way
Here’s another version, this one has all the lyrics: