Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday PSTSS: "American Skin (41 Shots)"

There are a lot of performers and bands that I have never seen live, and wish I had the time and money to do so. And there are a lot of famous concerts I would love to have seen, and a lot of live albums whose recording I wish I could have been a part of, even if that just means having been one of a few hundred or a few thousand voices cheering in the background. I'm thinking in particular of Joe Jackson's Big World, the Rolling Stone's Stripped, Robyn Hitchcock's Robyn Sings, or either of the two shows recorded on the Police's Live! But as far as I'm concerned, one show--or rather, one series of shows--and one recording that came out of it stands above them all: any of the ten concerts Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played at Madison Square Gardens, June 12 through July 1, 2000, at the conclusion of their massive "Reunion" tour, the concerts which gave us the magisterial Live in New York City. And of course, as anyone can tell you, the highlight of that album, packed as it is with brilliant live music, was Springsteen's long, initially haunting, then angry, then ferocious, then finally mournful tribute to the 1999 police shooting victim Amadou Diallo....and, in a larger sense, to all Americans who have to navigate worlds of crime, brutality, suspicion, anger, false judgment, danger, and racism every day: "American Skin (41 Shots)." And really, there's nothing more to say than that.

I'm including the lyrics as they are sung on the album, excluding part of the intro and the fadeout; if you don't catch the spirit of the live performance of the song, there's almost no point in the lyrics at all.

41 shots...
41 shots...
41 shots...
41 shots.

41 shots;
and we'll take that ride,
'cross this 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.

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)--
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."

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)--
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...
41 shots...
41 shots...
41 shots.

Is it a gun?
Is it a knife?
Is it in your heart,
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;
got my boots caked in 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 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)--
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--
you can get killed just for living in--
you can get killed just for living in
your American skin.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for pointing this out. I don't often listen to Springsteen nowadays but it shouldn't surprise me to find him channeling and challenging the American Id on the Diallo killing.

Less then a decade since that shooting our progress seems to have been largely in firepower. Now some can pour 50 plus bullets into a car containing unarmed and innocent citizens and have their act declared only as incompetent and not criminal.

And all white American can say is shame on Reverend Wright?

The Modesto Kid said...

Is Robyn Sings the album of Dylan covers? I really didn't like that record -- maybe I should give it another try. (Saw Robyn earlier this month and blogged it -- excellent! here is video of the closing number.)

Russell Arben Fox said...

Modesto Kid--

Yes, Robyn Sings is the Dylan covers disc. I think it's fabulous; his cover of "Desolation Row" is, to my mind, the best reading of the song I've ever heard (including Dylan's original and a couple of subsequent live recordings of his own). But I can't claim any great musical expertise here. I'm actually not even that much of a Hitchcock fan; I've really liked a lot of his recent, alt-country-influenced work, but as for Hitchcock in his usual mad-poet-of-rock-and-roll mode, it's taken me a while to appreciate him. (Nearly a year ago I wrote about the one somewhat disappointing time I saw Hitchcock live, and about one particular brilliant song of his, here.)

The Modesto Kid said...

Yep, have to give that another try then. I loved Hitchcock's cover of "Trying to get to heaven before they close the door" on Spooked, and was all set to dig Robyn Sings, but then something turned me off to it the first time I listened to it and I never bothered again.

I read your post about "Mr. Kennedy" last year, thanks for reminding me about it. That is a really fantastic song, one of my couple of favorite tunes of his both lyrically and musically.

Given that you like the alt-country-influenced stuff (me too!), you might really enjoy these videos from Deni Bonet -- she plays violin on "Moss Elixir": the quality is spotty but some are really good, I especially like Arms of Love. (Hitchcock said in an interview that the original title of the song was "Arms of God".)