8 MINUTES 46 SECONDS

June 18, 2020

‘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.

   

41 shots.

   

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.

 

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