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American music

By Eric Swedlund
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
June 21, 2000
Talk about this story

If you take issue with somebody else's opinion, it's time to hurl childish insults and make illogical statements.

Apparently some New York City police officers actually believe that.

On June 4 in Atlanta, Bruce Springsteen introduced a new song, "American Skin (41 Shots)." While making no specific mention of Amadou Diallo, the song alludes to the 22-year-old African immigrant's February 1999 death at the hands of New York City police officers, who were tried and acquitted of murder in February.

"41 shots.../ Is it a gun?/ Is it a knife?/ Is it a wallet?/ This is your life.../ Ain't no secret my friend/ You can get killed just/ for living in your/ American skin."

The immediate response was ugly - and completely devoid of intelligence.

Bob Lucente, president of the New York state chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, reportedly said during an interview with SonicNet that Springsteen "has turned into some type of f***ing dirtbag. He goes on the boycott list."

Lucente went on to call Springsteen a "floating fag."

Speaking on behalf of the nation's largest police union, Lucente would have done better to think about his comments before ranting like a moron. What is so terrible about a song that it elicits such a reaction? Apparently Lucente thought the song his too close to home, and in light of so much other criticism of the NYPD, Springsteen's opinion was over the line.

Other police reactions to "American Skin (41 Shots)" don't sound so angry, just foolish.

In a letter to the New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Organization, the group's president, Pat Lynch wrote, "I consider it an outrage that (Springsteen) would be trying to fatten his wallet by reopening the wounds of this tragic case at a time when police officers and community members are in a healing period."

The Atlanta recording, widely available as an Internet bootleg, is unreleased. And the 10 New York City shows have been sold out for months. Springsteen won't make a cent from this particular song.

John Puglissi, another member of the organization, said in a press release that "We cannot have songwriters bring songs to New York City that will bring civil disobedience."

Sounds kind of like somebody once upon a time saying, "We cannot have colonists bring ideas to Concord that will bring civil disobedience."

Or Tipper Gore's early '90s crusade against songs that use dirty words.

American music is rooted in protest songs, from Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land," which was written as an angry response to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," to "American Skin," Springsteen's response to a man's death at the hands of police officers.

Bob Dylan used to introduce his "Talkin' John Birch Blues," by saying "There ain't nothing wrong with this song."

A parody of the anti-Communist group John Birch Society, the song was pulled from Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin' album.

Dylan was attacked as a trouble-making communist sympathizer, but never shot back. He just wrote songs about America as he saw it and was dead on.

This isn't Springsteen's first run in with national headlines as a result of one of his songs.

Good ol' Ronald Reagan for some reason thought "Born in the U.S.A." was written to support his run for a second term as president. Not really, Ron. It is kind of a dark portrait of how the United States was treating veterans of the Vietnam war.

And now Springsteen comes out with a dark portrait of one instance of a failed American criminal justice system. He played "American Skin (41 Shots)" at his opening show in Madison Square Garden. No introduction, no defense, just the song.

Springsteen hasn't responded to the insults - and he is right for bypassing that route. He is a songwriter, a musician and a performer. He has a statement to make and he should sing the song as he sees fit.

He'll continue to sing "American Skin (41 Shots)," continue to write socially and politically conscious songs. And if the NYPD can't shake off a little criticism, they'll continue to make horrifying mistakes at the cost of lives.

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