Our third pandemic summer has brought rising rates of Covid infections, cautionary adventures with our favorite people, and a reminder from the queen herself that these days being outside means “worldwide hoodie with the mask outside.” When the pandemic first hit, my wife and I lived in a small one-bedroom apartment outside of Boston. We had no car and my anxiety left me frozen between two fears – afraid of being stuck inside forever and also terrified to go outside around others in our neighborhood. On days when it was really hard, my wife would leave our apartment armed with disinfectants and masks. She walked uphill for blocks to the nearest available car share and disinfected the random vehicle before driving it back to pick me up. And we would drive – fast and without direction, but so damn free. These rides became our thing – going nowhere (and sometimes somewhere) fast. When we finally got another car (hello, Subaru!), road trips continued to be our way to breathe, reflect, and get free.
This summer has been a struggle. Most days I’m not sure which way is up, and doom-scrolling is my primary pastime. However, I’ve found joy in my people, music, and our Autostraddle WNBA fantasy league. Months into the fantasy season, I’m still not sure how it all works but boy do I enjoy picking my lineup and all of the Discord banter. Even with these few pleasures, I’ve still been longing for an escape, an exhale of all of the heaviness I’ve been carrying. So last week, we hit the road again.
As we drove through the mountains of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, I couldn’t help but put on Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” crank the volume all the way up, and belt it out at the top of my lungs. The song is without a doubt the perfect anthem for a much-needed escape. We sped up and down hills and I tried and (failed) to match Tracy’s pitches and timbre. I’ve never been able to sing well – not like my mom or dad. My mom always said that all of my musical talent went to playing instruments and listening. That hasn’t stopped me from trying.
I’m not the only one either – people love “Fast Car” and so many artists have covered it. Like that one guy at this college open mic who announced he “loved the song even though it was by a Black woman” before butchering it. Or like Justin Bieber, who sang it like he would any other song (no further comment). The thing about our favorite songs – those that help us breathe and feel seen – is that when we love them, we shout our praise from the rooftops, we play them on repeat, and some of us (the bravest of us all) honor them with our own renditions.
Since I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, here’s the next best thing: an ode to both my favorite road trip anthem and the WNBA fantasy league that’s brightened my summer – my Starting Five of “Fast Car’ covers. May they help you breathe, fly away, and feel like you can “be someone, be someone, be someone.”
<CUE PUMP-UP MUSIC THAT ALSO COINCIDENTALLY SOUNDS LIKE A FAST CAR>
The Energetic Point Guard: Jonas Blue feat. Dakota
I will be honest – I was nervous about this one. I usually hate house covers of songs, but something about this Jonas Blue cover makes me smile. If I was a runner, I would run for miles on the beach with this track on repeat. There are a few other dance/electronic covers of “Fast Car,” but none hold up like this 2015 rendition. It is not over-the-top or full of heavy bass. Instead, Dakota’s voice and the instrumentals have just enough pep and light to carry you through your day. A point guard guides the team on the court and this cover is just the guidance I want for my lineup – confident in its direction, fierce, and uplifting.
The (Soul) Shooting Guard: Jamila Woods
Full disclosure: This one is my favorite because Jamila… Jamila “Voice like Heaven” Woods can sing the hell out of anything. I would pay money to see Jamila Woods perform her ABCs. I’m so grateful Spotify shuffled this cover onto my writing mix one day last winter. I’ve been hooked ever since. The ad-libs are my favorite on this track. “You, you, you, you got a fast car” she sings between the verse and chorus. They remind me of the ad-libs you sing on your favorite track when you think no one else is listening – Jamila represents us at our rawest and most vulnerable selves. What a gift.
The Power(ful) Forward: Khalid
Let’s be honest – Khalid never disappoints. This cover is no different. I was worried because I thought (if anyone would) he might try to imitate Tracy’s timbre. Like a good power forward (and vocalist), he stands firm on his own and takes his time with this beautiful live cover of “Fast Car.” This is the one for the trendy queers who drive Mini Coopers, only shop at Whole Foods, and have purebred dogs – be you, be true (or something like that).
The Small (but Mighty) Forward: Birdy
If you don’t know about Birdy – get hip, fam! Birdy’s an indie artist from across the pond and she holds her own on this piano-driven cover of “Fast Car.” Compared to a lot of the meatier covers, Birdy’s rendition might seem too soft or light, but just wait until this girl gets to the chorus. She sings it once as expected and then jumps up an octave to do it again. This girl knows music and it is good. What more could I ask for from my “small but mighty” forward?
The (Bold) Center: Black Pumas
This Black Pumas’ performance of “Fast Car” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was filmed in the fall of 2020 and everything about it feels defiant in the best of ways – Eric Burton’s sultry voice (and cool jacket), the idea of releasing a new project while the world crumbles, and the choice to cover one of the most iconic songs about wanting to escape and breathe while so many folks were struggling to do just that. Perhaps this song is the push you need to do your own bold thing today.
The Reliable Sixth Man: Boyce Avenue featuring Kina Grannis
When I was in high school, I stumbled upon Boyce Avenue on YouTube. I didn’t know much about them, but I’d spent enough time at open mics and concerts to know that these guys were good at what they did – covers of popular songs. More than a decade later, they’ve made a pretty successful career out of it (and even scored a record deal for their original stuff). Their 2012 remake of “Fast Car” is clean and consistent. If I had to pick a song to bring off the bench, it’d be this tried and true one.
Whether you’re planning a road trip or just trying to get through another day in the office, I hope you put on Tracy’s “Fast Car” (or one of these great covers) and remind yourself that you are worthy of the best things in life: dreaming, riding in fast cars, and breathing deeply in the arms of someone you love.