I was listening to Tracy Chapman‘s first album on the way back from travels recently and the thought struck me: it is a perfectly conceived soundtrack for a modern folk musical!
The songs are about race (mainly black and white), rich and poor, the daily injustices of the powerful over the weak, unrequited love, escape to a better place… It’s got it all.
I thought: If I were to write the musical, I would name it after the lead character, simply entitled “Tracy.” But it wouldn’t be autobiographical. It would be purely a work of fiction, but born of Chapman’s authentic, original music.
It would open with the album’s opening track: ‘Talking about a revolution.’
It would start on the edge of a tough, poor neighborhood. A lone, man would appear…
[ begin scene 1 / song 1 ]
He starts quietly singing ‘Don’t you know… Talking about a revolution… It starts… with a whisper…’
‘Don’t you know-owe… Talking about a revolution… It starts… with a whisper…’
It would be a new day dawning on the set. People would be edging into the streets to go to their jobs, schools, public assistance, free breakfast lines, or just to hang out.
The song would build to the crescendo line: ‘Don’t you know you better run-run-run-run-run-run, run… Run! Cause (fin-al-ly) the tables, are starting to turn: talking about a revolution, who-oah.’
[A chase would run across the stage…]
[ end song 1 ]
[then, dialogue explaining what just happened and set up scene 2]
[we meet the lead character Tracy]
[ensemble sings ‘Why?’]
‘Why do the babies starve, when there’s enough food to feed the world?’
‘Why when there’s so many of us, there’s people still alone?’
‘Why are the missiles called peacekeepers, when there aim’s to kill?’
‘Why is a woman still not safe, when she’s in her home?’
‘Another day. War is peace. No is yes. We’re all free.’
‘But somebody’s going to have to answer. Time is coming soon. When the blind remove their blinders. And people see the truth.’
< repeat / etc. >
[ end scene 2 / song 2 ]
- Tracy sings a solo at her job of ‘Mountains O’ Things’ – kind of a contemporary turn on Tevye’s ‘If I were a rich man’ in the classic Fiddler on the Roof
- ‘For My Lover’ – sung by Tracy’s former live-in boyfriend, who has been jailed out-of-state but obsesses about her and about getting loose
- ‘For You’ – a heart-breakingly tender, beautiful love song. I would start it as a solo by Tracy of her love for a boy who knows her as a friend, but not a girlfriend. Then, the boy would sing the second verse to his girlfriend. Finally, Tracy and the boy would sing the final verse as a duet, but to their respective loves, all the way to fade to the end…
…plus six more songs.
In my mind’s eye, the concept is like a cross between West Side Story and Les Miserables, with a 1980s, African-American urban backdrop.
Maybe, some day, I’ll get around to the rest of the script.