However, let's listen to the songs: both are pretty damn sad.
In “Fast Car” the speaker shares her modest hopes and dreams with the listener, who is then forced to witness as they come to nothing. The song begins with the lyric “Starting from zero got nothing to lose.” For those of us weaned on America fuck-yeah success stories, this whets the appetite for a particular kind of narrative, so it’s a bit of a punch to the gut when, at the end, she tells us “I’d always hoped for better / Thought maybe together you and me find it / I got no plans I ain’t going nowhere.”
“Dead of Winter” opens with the speaker “Standing in the dark outside the house” while his mother nears the end of her battle with cancer. Oddly enough, the song seems to give a nod to Chapman’s “Fast Car” dreamer: “And the streets are jammed with cars / Rockin their horns / To race to the wire / Of the unfinished line.” Feeling lost, the speaker ends by asserting “And I will not / fade into / Fade into the night,” even as the music surges and he's left where he began, except probably emptier, "Standing here in the dark," echoed nicely by the bowed bass at the very end. His words, however, don’t feel entirely triumphant; instead, they’re fearful and only too aware that we all fade into the night eventually.
Both songs tap into universal miseries: a life that comes to...not much and the death of a loved one. What does that amount to? “Fast Car” does it by showing us a whole life; “Dead of Winter” gives us only a moment. Both songs appeal to me, in part because they lack self-pity. But, I have to admit that I hew more toward Chapman’s famously evocative plea to be someone, be someone, be someone...
* Bizarrely, there might be more remixes of "Fast Car" than any other song in the March Sadness bracket (a possible exception is Alphaville's "Forever Young," which Chapman could meet in the Final Four). If you want to experience this weirdness, start here: [Jonas Blue feat Dakota remix] [Lucas Türschmann remix] [Soundskin Remix] [Mike Rish Remix] [JK Remix] [C Barts Bootleg] [Navarra Chillout Remix] [Andreas Mark Remix] or do your own Youtubing.
(7) Tracy Chapman, "Fast Car"
(2) Eels, "Dead of Winter"
FINAL SCORE: TRACY CHAPMAN 99, THE EELS 62