“41 shots / Cut through the night / Kneeling over his body in the vestibule / Praying for his life.” Man, what incredibly heavy, unsettling lyrics. They aren’t merely poetic but based upon an incredible American tragedy. 2019 marked 20 years since West African immigrant Amadou Diallo was fatally shot by the NYPD sparking outrage. Bruce Springsteen would compose an anthem protesting the wrongful death that same year entitled “American Skin (41 Shots).” Surprisingly, a studio version of the song wouldn’t materialize until the release of his 2014 album, High Hopes. While the lyrics are tailored to Diallo, the studio version embodies the spirit of other senseless fatalities, namely the 2012 fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Is it possible to atone for murder? That’s a resounding NO. That said, what Bruce Springsteen does successfully do throughout the course of this moving number is provide ‘food for thought’ in hopes of preventing more senselessness. As aforementioned, the lyrics are poetic, carrying more weight because of the biographical nature. The pre-chorus is a key part of the narrative:
“Well, is it a gun? Is it a knife?
Is it a wallet? This is your life.
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in your American skin.”
The chorus which follows simply repeats the titular lyric (“41 shots”), which was the number shot during the infamous murder of Diallo. Beyond staying true to the details, on the second verse, Springsteen brilliantly captures an unfortunate protocol that some Americans must consider:
“You’ve got to understand the rules
If an officer stops you,
Promise me you’ll always be polite
And that you’ll never ever run away
Promise Mama you’ll keep your hands in sight.”
The big takeaway from “American Skin (41 Shots)”? America has plenty of ‘work to do’ to fix its many social and racial issues. Songs alone can’t atone for the necessary changes and fixes.
You can learn more Bruce Springsteen about here:
About The Curator - Brent Faulkner
Slightly eccentric with interests that seem to know no ends, restless ‘Renaissance Man’ is the best way to characterize Brent Faulkner, a native of Kentucky. A certified music educator, multi-instrumentalist, and composer known for his incredibly sharp ear, he lives and breathes music of a variety of styles. In addition to passion for educating, performing, and writing music, he’s equally passionate blogging and writing about it, managing his own site, The Musical Hype (https://themusicalhype.com). When he’s not intensely analyzing music, you can find him reading or watching a movie, reality television or some sporting event.