Black Pumas’ “Fast Car”

Tracy Chapman’s debut single was an understated masterpiece, a low-key ballad in which you can hear her fingers slide along the guitar strings. In the current musical landscape, it sounds more like the sort of thing you’d expect to hear in the background at a coffeehouse open mic (back when that was a thing we could do, anyway) than a chart-topping hit. And if you had to guess who would record a heartfelt, impassioned cover of the song in 2020, Austin retro-soul heroes the Black Pumas would probably be low on the list: the band earned its Best New Artist Grammy nomination for the juxtaposition of singer Eric Burton’s soaring vocals and guitarist Adrian Quesada’s psych-jams, not for tender balladry. But the group’s slowed-down interpretation of “Fast Car” sounds right anyway, with Quesada adding tiny flourishes to the simple chords in Chapman’s composition, and Burton singing her dream of escape like he means every word. When they say that the classics never go out of style, they’re talking about bands like the Black Pumas and songs like “Fast Car.” 

Dan Solomon, associate editor 

Before Sunrise

As the global pandemic relocates all communication to phone screens, computer lenses, or—if you’re lucky—shouting from six feet apart, the art of the in-person conversation has started to feel nostalgic. Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, the 1995 film starring Julie Delpy and Austin native Ethan Hawke, is 105 minutes of pure, unalloyed chatter. The first installment of the Before trilogy, Before Sunrise tells the story of Jesse (Hawke) and Céline (Delpy), virtual strangers who spend the night walking and talking in Vienna after they meet by happenstance on the train. Without relying on physical contact, the two must connect solely through the tango of their conversations, fused with the electricity of a personal connection that no Zoom call can approximate.

Isaac Engelberg, editorial intern

Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World

Chinese president Deng Xiaoping’s 1979 trip to America is well remembered as a historic turning point in U.S.-China relations. But what’s often forgotten about this trip is that Deng made a crucial but surprising stop on his nine-day tour: a Texas rodeo. Michael Schulman recalls this in his newly published book Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World. He resurfaces this often forgotten moment in history, recounting how Deng went to Washington to establish diplomacy with America, but traveled to Texas to immerse himself in America’s soul. Deng showed up to the rodeo in Simonton in a ten-gallon hat—a moment that symbolized a sweeping welcome of Western culture. Though Chinese-American relations have shifted since, I found that this section in Schulman’s book serves as a much-needed reminder in our current tumultuous times of a moment when cultures and nations once peacefully (albeit briefly) merged—even if just for Deng Xiaoping’s first rodeo.

Elena DeBre, editorial intern