AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS)

Album version

(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)

41 shots, and we'll take that ride
'Cross the bloody river to the other side
41 shots, cut through the night
You're kneeling over his body in the vestibule
Praying for his life

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)
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

(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)

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"

Is it a gun (is it a gun), is it a knife (is it a knife)
Is it a wallet (is it a wallet), this is your life (this is your life)
It ain't no secret (it ain't no secret)
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

(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)

Is it a gun (is it a gun), is it a knife (is it a knife)
Is it in your heart (is it in your heart), is it in your eyes (is it in your eyes)
It ain't no secret (it ain't no secret)
It ain't no secret (it ain't no secret)
It ain't no secret (it ain't no secret)

41 shots, and we'll take that ride
'Cross this bloody river to the other side
41 shots, I got my boots caked with this mud
We're baptized in these waters (baptized in these waters)
And in each other's blood (and in each other's blood)

Is it a gun (is it a gun), is it a knife (is it a knife)
Is it a wallet (is it a wallet), this is your life (this is your life)
It ain't no secret (it ain't no secret)
It ain't no secret (it ain't no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in
You can get killed just for living in
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

41 shots
41 shots
41 shots
41 shots

41 shots
41 shots
41 shots
41 shots

41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)

41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)
41 shots (you can get killed just for living in)


Page last updated: 23 Feb 2014

Intro

Music and lyrics by Bruce Springsteen, AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) is the third track on Springsteen's 2014 album High Hopes. The above lyrics are for Springsteen's studio version of AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) as released on High Hopes.

The song is a scathing comment on the New York City police fatal shooting (with 41 shots) of the unarmed Bronx resident Amadou Diallo in February 1999.

Background

AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) was inspired from the incident that took place on 04 Feb 1999, when four white New York City plainclothes police officers (Richard Murphy, Kenneth Boss, Sean Carroll, and Edward McMellon) shot dead Amadou Diallo, a 22 year old black West African immigrant. The four men suspected Diallo to match the profile of a rapist that had committed crimes in the Bronx area then, and when he tried to pull out what they later found out to be his wallet (which they presumed to be a gun), they opened fire, 41 shots, 19 of which hit the target. The officers were later tried for murder, but were found innocent by the jury. The verdict was not welcomed by many groups which created an atmosphere of tension in the city.

Debut and Controversy

Bruce Springsteen unveiled AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) on 04 Jun 2000 when he performed it live at Philips Arena in Atlanta, GA. He wrote the song during The Reunion Tour and after thorough checking with the band, he premiered it in Atlanta. Audience recording of the song was promptly posted on file-sharing internet sites, with the media picking up on it as well. The song pushed "a lot of buttons in America," as Springsteen later commented. It sparked a wave of controversy, and it was even accused by some of being written in support of Hillary Clinton's race for mayor against Giuliani.

Police Reactions

The first comeback against the song was made by Patrick Lynch, the president of the 27,000-member Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA) in New York City, who ironically hadn't even heard the song. He posted a letter on the PBA's website on 08 Jun 2000 accusing Springsteen of "trying to fatten his wallet by reopening the wounds of this tragic case". He also encouraged officers to neither attend nor work as moonlighting security guards at Springsteen's upcoming ten-show stand at Madison Square Garden. Howard Safir, New York City Police commissioner, told the New York Daily News that he personally didn't care for Bruce Springsteen's song or music, while Bob Lucente, president of the New York State Fraternal Order of Police, called Springsteen a "fucking dirtbag" and declared that he goes on the boycott list.

[Click thumbnail to enlarge/reduce letter]

Not all police fractions were out to kill; some spoke in Springsteen's defence. On 10 Jun 2000, Rev. Al Sharpton praised Springsteen and ripped into the PBA for urging a boycott of the concerts. "We were all born in the USA. [...] No one can tell us we can't stand for what is right," Sharpton said. He added that the Jersey rocker "can come up here anytime," and that he's invited "to march with us to Washington where we all will stand up against police brutality."

Lt. Eric Adams, spokesman for a group called 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement, told the Association Press that they "commend Bruce Springsteen, and we believe that he is courageous in the position that he is taking." Police lieutenant Michael J. Gorman wrote a letter to the New York Times noting, "trying to muzzle those who refer to this tragedy is wrong. Mr. Springsteen has generally been a supporter of police officers, giving generously to police charities. Attacks on him are not only unfair but also counterproductive." A notable incident was when a New York patrolman at one of Springsteen's shows in the city brought along a sign that said "Here sits a NYC policeman who still loves Bruce!!" Springsteen, spotting it from the stage, said, "Now there's a sign I like!"

Reception

AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) was described as "astonishing" by the New York Post's Jack Newfield. Jon Pareles of New York Times praised it as "a resonant elegy and a reflection on how fear can become deadly." Elysa Gardner of USA Today pointed out in her review of Springsteen's performance, "Those who would cast 'Skin' as an anti-police diatribe were off the mark. The song is more elegiac than angry in tone, expressing sorrow for all parties involved in the incident and, on a larger scale, asking what we can do to overcome the lack of communication that leads to such tragedies."

Springsteen played the haunting song, without comment, on the last eleven shows of The Reunion Tour (the last show in Atlanta and all ten shows in New York City) and he even included it on his Live In New York City album and home video in 2001. After the first New York show, on 12 June, he met with Diallo's parents who expressed their appreciation for the song. It seems that the boycott on Bruce Springsteen's New York shows went unnoticed; each of the ten Madison Square Garden shows was sold-out, and scalpers were able to sell tickets at multiples of the face value.

Springsteen's Comments

"Because a lot had been written about the case in magazines and newspapers," Springsteen explained later, "I was just setting out to basically continue writing about things that I'd written about for a long period of time, which is, who we are? What's it mean to be an American? What's going on in this country we live in? It was asking some questions that were hanging very heavy in the air... And it was an extension of just a lot of my other work." He added, however, "I think it dealt very directly with race, and that's a subject that pushes a lot of buttons in America." For his part, Springsteen said he was "surprised... there were so many people willing to comment so quickly about something they've never heard. That was just somewhat puzzling to me, because we'd only played the song once, in Atlanta, and there was no recorded version of it... There was a lot of misinterpretation and comment about something that I don't thing a lot of people had heard, and the song wound up being misrepresented by quite a few people."

Springsteen writes about AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) in the new edition of his book Songs, "Though the song was critical, it was not 'anti-police' as some thought." As he also points out, the first verse is from the point of view of a police officer, "kneeling over his body in the vestibule, praying for his life." Rather than being an indictment of police, if the song points a finger at anyone, Springsteen suggests that it points at all U.S. citizens, the singer included. "The idea was here," he writes: "Here is what systemic racial injustice, fear, and paranoia do to our children, our loved ones, ourselves. Here is the price in blood."

The Live In New York City DVD includes a bonus 15-minute documentary titled New York City Serenade that contains footage of some other songs not included on the DVD in addition to segments of an interview by HBO's Bob Costas with Springsteen and the members of the E Street Band. Costas asks, "'American Skin', the story of Amadou Diallo, the West-African immigrant who was slain by police fire. What is about you do you think that makes you go in that direction?" Bruce replies, "Sort of writing about what's in the air. I didn't think that song's particularly different from things I'd written in the past. It was just a part of the continuing work that I've done. It's sort of trying to figure out who am I, and who are we as Americans, what is Americaness. I think that my point of view with the song is that the Diallo's case ended of being a metaphor for a lot of people about feeling they don't have full citizenship..." He adds, "That was the essence of the title."

During The Rising Tour Springsteen opened his 12 Nov 2002 show at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, OH, with AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS). He preceded the song with the an introduction addressing racial tensions in the city: "Before we start the show tonight, I'd just like to say – I don't know if you've read about it in the newspapers at all out here but we've been contacted by several organizations here in the city who are trying to combat the segregation and the economic apartheid and the racism that exists not just here in Cincinnati but everywhere in our country. As a young man, I saw it up close in my own hometown, and while there've been many improvements since then, the core fact of racism continues to this day at all levels of our society. Well, I wrote a song a couple years ago about what happens when we stop communicating with one another, and how that non-communication becomes systematic, when injustice becomes ingrained in institution – the consequences, the violence, the human cost, and life cut short, that comes with it. So I wanna open our show here tonight with a song, not just for Cincinnati but for the country we'd like to see our children brought up in. And we're gonna send it out tonight to the people, and the organizations here in the city that are working for a just Cincinnati and a just America. Thank you."

Studio Recording

Bruce Springsteen first recorded AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) in studio for the first time on 02 Mar 2001 at The Hit Factory in New York City, NY, with the E Street Band. That studio version was distributed promotionally to radio stations. See the 2001 studio version for more details.

Producer Ron Aniello revealed in a December 2013 interview with Rolling Stone's Andy Greene that AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) was cut during the Wrecking Ball recording sessions, but ultimately was not used. "We did try a track of that," he said, "but it wasn't really an outtake."

In a December 2013 interview for Rolling Stone, Bruce Springsteen told Andy Greene that AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) and THE GHOST OF TOM JOAD are two of his best songs that he's written over the past 10 or 20 years. "And they didn't have a formal presentation on a studio record. When that happens, a song always loses a little of its authority. There's something about formally presenting it to your audience that I think makes a difference." AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) was recorded in studio again in 2013 and featured Tom Morello on guitar. "His presence made a big, big difference," Springsteen said. "He obviously brings those things to great life and deepens them and deepens the characters."

Prior to the March 2013 Australian leg of the Wrecking Ball Tour, Tom Morello was sent the song AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) to play guitar on. "I did that in my home studio and Bruce seemed to like that very much," He told Andy Greene in a January 2014 interview for Rolling Stone. "That song to me was the most challenging one. It was also the first one I did. Normally I'll go in there and tinker with a song a bit and try to capture inspiration and see if the world likes it or not. But that song just didn't come together for me. I went back to it a couple of times, and I'm glad that I did because at the end of the day I was really pleased with how the guitar solo and the rhythm stuff came out. But that one felt like it was work. I had to really work on that one."

The new studio version of AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) was released on High Hopes in 2014. It was produced by Ron Aniello with Bruce Springsteen. The performing musicians line-up on the track is:

  • Bruce Springsteen (vocal, guitar, percussion)
  • Roy Bittan (piano)
  • Nils Lofgren (backing vocals)
  • Patti Scialfa (backing vocals)
  • Steven Van Zandt (guitar, backing vocals)
  • Max Weinberg (drums)
  • Tom Morello (lead guitar, backing vocals)
  • Soozie Tyrell (backing vocals)
  • Charlie Giordano (organ)
  • Ron Aniello (bass, synths, guitar, drum loop, percussion, organ, vibraphone)
  • Curtis King (backing vocals)
  • Cindy Mizelle (backing vocals)
  • Jake Clemons (tenor sax solo)
  • Barry Danielian (horns)
  • Clark Gayton (horns)
  • Stan Harrison (horns)
  • Ed Manion (horns)
  • Curt Ramm (horns)
  • Scott Tibbs (horn orchestration)

Music Video

Springsteen and the band shot a video for AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) during the pre-show rehearsal prior to their 26 Jun 2000 show in New York City. The video was never released. According to sources, the shoot was directed by Jonathan Demme.

High Hopes

High Hopes is Bruce Springsteen's eighteenth studio album. It was officially released on 14 Jan 2014 on Columbia Records. It consists of 12 tracks and clocks at 56:24. Four songs were previously released in different versions (two of which are covers), two more were previously performed live but never released, and the remaining six are new to fans (one of which is a cover). "This is music I always felt needed to be released," Springsteen wrote in the album's liner notes.

In a December 2013 interview for Rolling Stone, Springsteen told Andy Greene that he has always written and recorded significantly more songs than can fit on to whatever album he's creating at the moment. "I have a lot of this music on a computer," he said. "I bring it out on the road to amuse myself. Very often, if I have nothing to do late at night I'll bring it up and look at different bodies of music." The songs that began catching Springsteen's attention were largely recorded after he reunited with the E Street Band in 1999. "The songs were relatively current and had a similar sound picture," he said. "I was interested in putting this material together in some form because it sounded like it all fit together... You have to imagine that when I'm home or done with a tour I go into a studio and I'm surrounded by paintings that I've sorta half-finished. There might be something wrong with this one and I didn't have time to finish this one. When I go into my studio, I'm surrounded by all my music that I haven't released. I wait to see what's going to speak to me." But then they cut a few sessions in 2013 while on tour. "I said, 'Well, these sound good,'" Springsteen told Rolling Stone. "These things blend together. Suddenly, it began to feel very fresh and fit together quite well."

Work on the album started in late 2012 when Springsteen called producer Ron Aniello asking him to work on some demos that he was thinking about releasing. "I remember that Bruce called me on my birthday, so it was December 9th, 2012", Aniello told Andy Greene in a December 2013 interview for Rolling Stone. "He said to me, 'I have some songs. I want to get together.'" According to Aniello, these were old demos that Springsteen had done with Toby Scott and that had been around for a while. Springsteen told him that he wanted to get these songs in shape and see what comes out of that. Aniello was not able to sit with Springsteen to sort it all out because Springsteen was away most of the time touring with the E Street Band. "It all happened in a very unusual manner," Aniello told Rolling Stone. "There was a lot of conversations in Europe and I did some of the recording via iChat when the band was in Australia."

In a January 2014 interview for Rolling Stone, Tom Morello told Andy Greene that he wasn't aware that there was ever talk of a new studio album when they sent him a couple of songs to add guitar on. He did that in his home studio and shortly after he was recording in studio with Max Weinberg and Ron Aniello. "But these studio sessions just kept occurring without any formal notion of what we were doing," Morello recounted. "My assumption was just that 'Bruce is always recording music.' So it was fantastic that I was asked to be a part of it. I was psyched." In March 2013 Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band performed ten shows in Australia as part of the Wrecking Ball Tour. Steven Van Zandt was off filming his television series Lillyhammer and was replaced by Morello for that leg of the tour. Morello suggested to add HIGH HOPES to the live set. They worked it up during the rehearsals prior to the Australian shows and Morello then "proceeded to burn the house down with it," as Springsteen said. They then re-cut the song along with JUST LIKE FIRE WOULD at Studios 301, Australia's largest studio complex. "Tom and his guitar became my muse, pushing the rest of this project to another level," Springsteen said. He told Rolling Stone's David Fricke, "We've never had a recording session during a tour in our lives. We did a couple of things that I wanted to put down. So that was very exciting. And being with Tommy was exciting. The band – Steven, Nils, all those guys – continues to be a source of inspiration for me." Morello told Rolling Stone that he didn't get the notion that this was "coalescing into what was going to be a major release" until they were in Australia.

No less than sixteen recording studios were used in the making of High Hopes: Thrill Hill Recording (Springsteen's home studio in Colts Neck, NJ), Stone Hill Studio (Springsteen's new home studio in Colts Neck, NJ), Very Loud House (in Los Angeles, CA), Renegade Studio (in New York City, NY), Veritas Studio (in Los Angeles, CA), Southern Tracks (Atlanta, GA), East West Studios (in Los Angeles, CA), NRG Studios (in Los Angeles, CA), Village Studios (in Los Angeles, CA), Studios 301 (in Byron Bay and Sydney, Australia), Record Plant (in Los Angeles, CA), Electric Lady Studios (in New York City, NY), Avatar Studios (in New York City, NY), Sear Sound (in New York City, NY), and Berkeley Street Studio (in Santa Monica, CA).

Ron Aniello revealed that at least 20 tracks were recorded for the album. Among the tracks that didn't make the album cut were COLD SPOT, HEY BLUE EYES, AMERICAN BEAUTY, and MARY MARY.

The album was produced by Bruce Springsteen, Brendan O'Brien, and Ron Aniello. It features all E Street Band members, including the late Clarence Clemons and the late Danny Federici on several songs of what Springsteen calls "some of our best unreleased material from the past decade." The album also features an ensemble of guest artists, including Tom Morello who's featured prominently on the album, appearing on eight tracks.

[Click thumbnail to enlarge/reduce artwork]

High Hopes is available in three configurations: standard CD edition, limited edition, and double-disc LP. The limited edition consists of the standard audio CD and includes a bonus live DVD of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band performing the entire Born In The USA album on 30 Jun 2013 at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, England, during the Wrecking Ball Tour. The double-disc LP is pressed on 180-gram vinyl and includes a CD version of the album.

High Hopes track list:

  1. HIGH HOPES
  2. HARRY'S PLACE
  3. AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS)
  4. JUST LIKE FIRE WOULD
  5. DOWN IN THE HOLE
  6. HEAVEN'S WALL
  7. FRANKIE FELL IN LOVE
  8. THIS IS YOUR SWORD
  9. HUNTER OF INVISIBLE GAME
  10. THE GHOST OF TOM JOAD
  11. THE WALL
  12. DREAM BABY DREAM

High Hopes was officially announced on 25 Nov 2013 and the release date was set for 14 Jan 2014, but on 28 Dec 2013 it became available for purchase as individual tracks in MP3 format through Amazon.com's mobile application. Although Amazon quickly removed the files, presumably recognizing its mistake, the album had already made its way onto file-sharing websites.

The album topped the charts in 20 countries, including the United States and the UK. It was Springsteen's eleventh #1 album in the US, placing him third all-time for most #1 albums only behind The Beatles and Jay-Z. It was his tenth #1 in the UK, putting him joint fifth all-time and level with The Rolling Stones and U2.

[Click here to display/hide list of countries in which the album charted]

Other Official Releases

Other versions of AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) were also officially released:


The 2001 studio version of AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) was released on a promotional single in 2001.

The live 01 Jul 2001 version of AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) was released on the Live In New York City album and home video in 2001.

The live 25 Sep 2009 version of AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) was released on the Spectacle: Elvis Costello With... (season 2) home video in 2011.

Live History

AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) was performed 11 times during the 132-date-long The Reunion Tour. It debuted on 04 Jun 2000 in Atlanta, GA, and was then performed on each show till the end of the tour (the 10-night stand in New York). Note that prior to its 04 Jun 2000 live debut in Atlanta, GA, the song was reportedly sound-checked three times on the tour: 22 Apr 2000 in Raleigh, NC, 29 May 2000 in Salt Lake City, UT, and 03 Jun 2000 in Atlanta, GA. The live 01 Jul 2001 version of AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) was released on the Live In New York City album and home video in 2001.

[Click here to display/hide detailed The Reunion Tour performances list]

In preparation for The Rising Tour, AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) was performed during 3 of the tour's five public warm-up rehearsal shows that took place in July and August 2002 in Asbury Park and East Rutherford. The song is also known to have been practiced during at least one of the private rehearsals that took place in July 2002 in Fort Monmouth and Asbury Park prior to the tour's first leg.

[Click here to display/hide detailed The Rising Tour rehearsals performances list]

AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) was performed 12 times during the 120-date-long The Rising Tour, including the tour's first six consecutive shows.

[Click here to display/hide detailed The Rising Tour performances list]

In preparation for the Devils & Dust Solo Acoustic Tour, AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) is known to have been practiced during at least one of the private rehearsals that took place in March and April 2005 in Asbury Park prior to the tour's first leg. The song was sound-checked twice (first on guitar, and then on piano) prior to the 11 Aug 2005 show in Seattle, WA, but it was not performed on any of the tour's regular shows.

[Click here to display/hide detailed Devils & Dust Solo Acoustic Tour rehearsals performances list]

AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) was performed 7 times during the 83-date-long Working On A Dream Tour.

[Click here to display/hide detailed Working On A Dream Tour performances list]

Springsteen performed AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) off-tour on 25 Sep 2009 in New York City, NY, during the taping of "Spectacle: Elvis Costello With Bruce Springsteen". The song was played solo on acoustic guitar. The 25 Sep 2009 show was released on the Spectacle: Elvis Costello With... season 2 DVD and Blu-ray in 2011. See the live 25 Sep 2009 version for more details.

[Click here to display/hide detailed 2009 off-tour performances list]

AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) was performed 14 times during the 133-date-long Wrecking Ball Tour.

[Click here to display/hide detailed Wrecking Ball Tour performances list]

(By the time this page was last updated,) AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) was performed 6 times during the High Hopes Tour. The song was played in its album style arrangement.

[Click here to display/hide detailed High Hopes Tour performances list]

Covers

Very few artists have recorded and released Bruce Springsteen's AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS), including:


Svante Karlsson -- Autograph

CD - Leco Music (LMD 7 391872 200326) - Sweden, 2003

Jen Chapin & Rosetta Trio -- Light Of Mine

CD+DVD - Purple Chair Music (PCM 1129) - USA, 2008

Includes a live video of AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS)

The Gibbons -- Live On WVKR And Then Some...

Cassette - Tapes Not Bombs (TNB04) - USA, 2009

Available Versions

List of available versions of AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) on this website:

References

Info for some of the above AMERICAN SKIN (41 SHOTS) cover releases is taken from the Nebraska website.

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