By Jeff Wisser, Chicago Sun-Times, July 4, 2003
Tracy Chapman’s childhood dreams did not come true. And that’s just fine for her as well as the music-listening public.
Cleveland-born Chapman, who exploded onto the scene and the charts with her eponymous 1988 debut and its unlikely hit single “Fast Car,” didn’t plan to be a pop musician.
She wanted to be a veterinarian.
“I decided I was going to go to school and have the world’s largest animal hospital and cure all the sick animals of the world,” the singer-songwriter says in a phone conversation from Denver. “Obviously I haven’t done that.”
Instead, while studying anthropology at Tufts University, Chapman began to take her songwriting, which she began at age 8, and performing more seriously.
“I started to think when I was in school that maybe if I wanted to, I could have a career in music and I could make enough money to support myself and have a decent life.”
She has done that and then some, releasing a handful of albums informed by folk, rock and pop and shot through with a deeply affecting honesty.
The latest of these, “Let It Rain,” features the tongue-in-cheek “You’re the One,” a character study of a woman defending a lover against the attacks of her friends and family.
“It’s such an exaggeration of bad character, it’s hard to imagine that there’s someone like this person that exists. … The whole point is that people sometimes choose persons or relationships that seem flawed or doomed from the outside but somehow they seem to work for the people involved, and some of love is acceptance. Who knows if the person is everything that the outsiders complain that they are.”
“Let It Rain” also features the grand, gospel-influenced “Say Hallelujah,” a song, Chapman says, that was inspired by death and the family memorial services she attended in her childhood.
“After the funeral, there’s usually a wake, and as much as people are in mourning and grieving, it can still turn into this really life-affirming, celebratory occasion. It was really odd for me to see this as a child … but I feel that I understand it a little bit better now that I am a little older and have, unfortunately, experienced the deaths of close friends and family.”
Chapman’s experiences continue to inform her honest, moving songs. And she wouldn’t do it any other way.
“People in the music business make music for all sorts of different reasons. It’s mainly a way for me to express myself creatively and communicate with people and, hopefully, do some good things through my music. That’s what makes it meaningful for me. I never considered trying to somehow change those things so I could possibly be more popular.”