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Tracy Chapman, 60, musician, on “Tracy Chapman” (1988)



I had this notion when I first started writing songs that to respect the muse — or whatever source of inspiration brought me to put pen to paper — I shouldn’t do any editing. The first thing that came to me was meant to be. “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution,” which I wrote when I was 16, emerged from that mind-set. It was one of those songs that came out in one sitting. It’s a very forceful declaration.

A song like “Fast Car,” which I wrote when I was maybe 22, wasn’t a very long process, but it reflected a different strategy about songwriting. It was more about revelation, sharing a story about a person and the changes happening in their life. I made edits to “Fast Car.” I definitely changed words and lines. I’m too embarrassed to tell you exactly what, but it was the verse that starts “See, my old man’s got a problem.” Let’s just say that there was something else there.

In some ways, writing a song is about asking and answering questions: “Who is this character, why are they doing this and where is the story going?” When I was young, I thought all these questions could be answered with the first iteration of the song. I’m not as enamored with this idea that the very first thing that comes to mind is what I have to remain committed to. — L.G.


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