Bruce Springsteen’s “American Skin (41 Shots)” Lyrics Meaning

As some readers have likely already deduced just from reading this song’s title, it was actually inspired by the rather-infamous killing of an African immigrant by the name of Amadou Diallo at the hands of the NYPD in 1999. And whereas police killing unarmed civilians isn’t anything new, what really made this incident stand out is, as the title indicates, is that the officers involved actually shot at Diallo 41 times.

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Bruce Springsteen's American Skin (41 Shots) at

Amadou Diallo’s “American Skin”

Now at the end of the day, according to said officers they had mistaken Amadou’s wallet for a gun. Simply put, they thought he was drawing a gun when in reality he was reaching for his wallet. And let’s just say that the Boss isn’t buying their explanation. As such, he basically attributes Diallo’s death to his “American skin”.

In other words, Diallo, although he may not have been an official citizen of the United States, was still a law-abiding resident of the country. And Bruce Springsteen, as with practically everyone else who has analyzed the situation, is able to understand that his killing had a lot to do with the color of his skin. So by extension, the singer is recognizing that African-Americans for instance, who are also Black, are in danger from like-minded police officers. And this is due to the particular tone of their “American skin” (which is Black). 

“You can get killed just for living in your American skin”


So conclusively, we know that Springsteen is the type of artist who has used his influential voice to tackle social injustices in the past. And in this particular song, the issue he is dealing with is systemic racism in the United States. And more specifically, he has used it to voice out his concern over Black people being unjustly killed by law enforcement.

Facts about “American Skin (41 Shots)”

In 2000, this song contributed to Bruce Springsteen being granted the Humanitarian Community Service Award by the NAACP.

This track has been covered quite extensively by many top artists, including the following:

  • Jackson Browne
  • Mary J. Blige
  • Kendrick Lamar

This song originally came out as part of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band’s turn-of-the-century project “Live in New York”. 

April 24th, 2001 was the day Springsteen officially released it.

Later a studio version was released on the Boss’s 2014 album. He titled said album “High Hopes”.

Springsteen holds exclusive writing credits on this classic.

He however, shares its production credits with at least two other record producers.

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