Wednesday, February 14, 2018
February 14, 2018: Songs I Love: Bruce Springsteen’s “American Skin (41 Shots)”
[For this year’s Valentine’s Day series, I wanted to share and briefly discuss a handful of my favorite songs, leading up to a special weekend post on a legendary singer/songwriter on whom my perspective has significantly and happily evolved. I’d love to hear about your favorite songs or artists in comments!]
On two more reasons I have come to love my long-time favorite song.
I’ve written on at least two prior occasions in this space, as well as at length in the opening of my second book, about Bruce Springsteen’s “American Skin (41 Shots)” (2000; I still prefer that live version to any subsequent one, although this post-Trayvon Martin performance from 2012 comes very close for sure). But I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned in this space a very cool complement to my own love for the song: my younger son’s early and continuing affection for it as well. Of course that began with my playing it for the boys, but I’ve played plenty of songs for them, and it was “American Skin” that really grabbed my son and has endured across many years and many other shifts in musical taste. To hear him sing along to my favorite lines—“We’re baptized in these waters/And in each other’s blood”—has been one of those singularly moving moments that parenting can offer.
So that’s one way I’ve come to love Springsteen’s song even more fully. But another is the reason I’m highlighting it today: this afternoon I’ll be giving Fitchburg State University’s biannual Harrod Lecture, focusing on the topic of my book in progress, Exclusion & Inclusion: The Battle to Define America. I’ve been thinking about those themes pretty much nonstop for the last couple years, and I’m not sure I’ve encountered a cultural work that more succinctly and powerfully highlights both of them than does “American Skin.” Even the title alone features both ends of the spectrum: Amadou Diallo was killed because of the color of his skin and what it meant to certain other Americans; but by calling it his “American skin,” Springsteen reminds us that those racist and exclusionary attitudes do not and cannot deny Diallo his full participation in an American community and identity. That we still so desperately need to hear that message is just one more reason to keep listening to “American Skin (41 Shots).”
Next favorite song tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Favorite songs or artists you’d share?