‘American Skin’ by Bruce Springsteen on his Live in New York City album is 7:45 long. It’s followed by a one-minute pause for thought.
So basically the song is 8:45.
One second less than the length of time Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck on May 25th, 2020.
That was the inspiration.
That was how many times Amadou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant, was shot by four New York policemen on Feb 4th, 1999, after they mistook his wallet for a gun.
The song starts with various members of the band singing ‘41 shots’, beginning with Clarence Clemmons.
The first line from Springsteen is from the policeman’s point of view.
41 shots, and we’ll take that ride
‘Cross this bloody river
To the other side
Second verse is from the point of view of a black mother having ‘the talk’ with her son.
41 shots, Lena gets her son ready for school
She says, “On these streets, Charles,
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”
Last verse it’s back to the policeman.
41 shots, I got my boots caked with this mud
We’re baptized in these waters
And each other’s blood
The chorus brings it home.
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
Bruce Springsteen first performed the song during the reunion tour with the E Street Band on June 4th, 2000 in Atlanta, which is where Rayshard Brooks was shot by a policeman on June 12th, 2020.
He said it wasn’t an anti-police song, although that didn’t stop the police protesting.
For him, it was anti-tragedy. The tragedy of division. Hence his effort at a balanced voice.
But he forgot one thing.
The impact of 41 shots.
That made balance impossible.
Like 8 minutes 46 seconds.