This song is about Amadou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant who was killed in his New York City doorway when New York City police shot at him 41 times after mistaking his wallet for a gun. Springsteen felt that the shooting was an egregious over-reaction by the police, who killed an innocent man.
This protest number was written in 2000 and played for the first time at a concert in Atlanta on June 4, 2000, over a year into Springsteen's tour with the reunited E Street Band. A live version was released on the Live in New York City album, and the same version appeared a few years later on The Essential Bruce Springsteen. In 2014, a studio version appeared on the album High Hopes. The Boss said in the liner notes for the album that he felt is was among the best songs he had written and deserved a proper studio recording.
The song sparked enormous media coverage when it was part of The Boss' tour-ending 10-night stand at Madison Square Garden in 2000. The performances of the song in New York resulted in protests by the New York City Police Department and the Police Benevolent Association, who saw it as an attack on the NYPD (some cops refused to work security at the shows). Springsteen has stressed that this song is not anti-police, but anti-tragedy.
Springsteen was honored by The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in recognition of this song.
This was the last song Springsteen and the band played on their 2001 HBO special, which was made up of footage from the last two shows of their 1999-2000 tour. It was the first televised Springsteen show.
The song has periodically reappeared on Springsteen's setlists in response to newsworthy events that deal with its subject matter. It was revived for the E Street Band's live set after the shooting of the African-American teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012.
Springsteen described the thought process behind the track in his 2001 published lyric collection, Songs. "Though the song was critical, it was not 'anti-police' as some thought. The first voice you hear after the intro is from the policeman's point of view," he said. "I worked hard for a balanced voice. I knew a diatribe would do no good. I just wanted to help people see the other guy's point of view."
Mary J. Blige shoehorned a performance of this song right in the middle of her 2016 interview with Hillary Clinton for her Apple Music talk show The 411 with Mary J. Blige. Blige wanted to broach the subject of increasing police violence against African Americans and, being a singer, thought the best way was through song.
"I wanted to incorporate the song in the show because the lyrics resonated with me so deeply and so heavily because of all the shootings and police brutality and I never got a chance to say anything," she explained.
Before the interview aired, viewers caught a glimpse of the performance through a teaser clip and blasted the singer on social media, noting Hillary's stone-faced reaction to the sudden serenade. But the Democratic presidential candidate assured Blige that she was touched (literally as well as figuratively - Blige grasped her hand mid-song). "I've been interviewed so many times. Nobody has ever sung to me in the middle of the interview," Hillary told her. "So moving."
Tom from UsaThe song is not anti-police and it's not pro police. It's not pro-black and it certainly is not anti-black. It is anti-violence. It is anti-mistrust and over-reaction. All the comments missed one line, "You're kneeling over his body in the vestibule. Praying for his life." That's about the police, not his mother or someone else. A fact that came out in the trial was that when the lead cop stumbled and fell backwards, his gun discharged and that's what made the rest think he had been shot. They had called out the name of the person they were looking for and it is believed he was getting his ID to show it wasn't him. But another telling fact was that one office emptied all 10 rounds (9 in the magazine and one in the chamber) and then reloaded and fired another NINE times. That's 19 from that one cop. The other officers fired a TOTAL of 22 rounds or an average of seven each. I always say there are three kinds of police and use TV show cops to illustrate. A "Police Office" - Hill Street Blues, Capt. Frank Furillo, and Frank Reagan of Blue Bloods. Totally balanced and fair. Never breaking the rules because they can do it right without breaking them. "Cops" - Sgt. Andy Sipowicz - NYPD Blues who is out on the streets and has to get it done NOW but has respect for the law and honors the people he is trying to protect. And finally "Pigs" Lt. Norman Buntz also of Hill Street Blues who seems to think that everyone is the enemy. In that apartment building in New York that day were three Cops and one Pig. One terrible accident when the lead cap slipped and fell backwards. One act of stupidity when Amadou reached into his jacket for his wallet. And, IMHO, one act of hatred.
Cormorant from London, United KingdomI agree fully with Tim of Raleigh, North Carolina in his succinct comment below. I recall that Bruce sang "Better ask questions before you shoot" in "Lonesome Day" on "The Rising" released a few years later. Great to hear a studio version of 41 Shots on "High Hopes" this week.
Wesley from Albany, NyFirst lets get the fact straight "Amadou Diallo died in a hail of police bullets in February 1999. The police thought Diallo was a serial rapist who was drawing a pistol against them, but Diallo was an innocent man who was unarmed." The killing of Amadou Diallo was neither an act of racist violence nor some fluke accident. It was the worst-case scenario of a dangerous and reckless style of policing. " (source: http://www.cato.org/pubs/briefs/bp-056es.html) Also The officers claimed they loudly identified themselves as NYPD officers and that Diallo ran up the outside steps toward his apartment house doorway at their approach, ignoring their orders to stop and "show his hands"... Diallo then reached into his jacket and withdrew his wallet. Seeing the suspect holding a small square object, Carroll yelled "Gun!" to alert his colleagues. Believing Diallo had aimed a gun at them at close range, the officers opened fire on Diallo. During the shooting, lead officer McMellon tripped backward off the front stairs, causing the other officers to believe he had been shot. The four officers fired 41 shots, more than half of which went astray as Diallo was hit 19 times." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amadou_Diallo_shooting). Finally this song is not anti-police, but it is sympathetic to both points of view hence the line "Promise momma you'll keep your hands in sight"
Cole from Charleston, ScYou tell them! This comes into play with Travon Martin now a days.
Jason from Port Hope, OnMy dad was a fan of bruce for along time. so when my dad first introduced me to him, i thought he was pretty cool, because my dad liked him. but the more and more i listened to him, the more i liked him. i did this song for a sixth grade music project, and i read the story behind it. i am only 14, and alot of people take me to be into all that heavy rap, but to me, the boss beats all. LOVE YOU BRUCE!!!
Tim from Raleigh, NcWhat makes Springsteen so great, the song is from the point of view of a police officer. He's the one who must make that fateful determination, "Is it a gun? Is it a knife? Is it a wallet? This is YOUR life." The song sympathizes with the position of police officers, who are faced with life and death decisions everyday, as well as with the victim. Both sides are represented: "We're baptized in these waters, and in each other's blood"
Mike from Lalaville, Majust for the record - Amadou Diallo was shot 19 times. 41 total shots were fired. Also, the officer that first thought Diallo was pulling his gun out actually tripped down the stairs. One could infer that the other officers thought Diallo shot the officer who tripped, thus firing a few extra bullets for allegedly injuring/killing their fellow officer. Nonetheless, awesome song. Go Bruce!
Lori from Avon, MnYears ago when I first heard this song on my way home from work, I told my son about it, and later bought the dvd and made him listen to it. Now as a class project he needed to choose a song that influenced him in his life, and this is the song he chose. Though we do not live in big city, sometimes racism is even more prevalent where it does not often have to be dealt with. I appreciate the messages that Bruce puts out in his music. And am glad that some old rockers can break through and influence our kids. Especially when so much music now is not even fit for radio
James from London, --A huge part of "The Rising" is about the people who gave up their lives on 9/11
Tasmanian from Toronto, OnThe song is about facts. Most of the lyrics are based on what was reported in the news about the Diallo tragedy. The guy had a wallet and the cops claimed that they thought it was a gun. Even if it was a gun, does that give the cops the right to shoot him once let alone 41 times? Cops are supposed to be almost certain that there is a threat before they use deadly force. The fact that Diallo didn't even have a gun proves that there could not have been a threat. The question is, what's worse, the cops who committed this crime or the ones that supported these actions and boycotted Bruce?
Griffin from Indianapolis, InMark, Strathmere, NJ you are a idiot they shot him because he "looked suspisious" and he "looked suspisious" because he is black
Mark from Worcester, Mi"Maybe Bruce should write a song about listening to orders of police officers." Mark from Strathmere he has. It's this song, have you looked at the lyrics? Look: "Promise me if an officer stops you'll always be polite Never ever run away and promise momma you'll keep your hands in sight" this is clearly a tough subject for you, and I would never think to judge why, but I really think you don't understand this song...that your emotion will only allow you to see this song in one way. There's no condemnation of the police in this song at all. It is clear that the characters mother is asking the boy to obey the police. I know a lot of people who admire cops, and I know a lot of people who hate cops, but I don't know anyone that thinks cops have an easy job. Bruce is not your enemy friend. I'm sorry you feel so upset about this song. It makes me feel you've had a bad experience. I hope you find the peace you deserve.
Mark from Strathmere, NjIt?s amazing how many ?artists? write lyrics about death without understanding life. The fact that these NYC officers shot an unarmed man is a tragedy. No question. Prior to writing a song that would be heard by millions, I would probably do some research on how an event like this could happen. Law Enforcement Officers place their lives on the line each day they put on the uniform and walk out their front door. Each day a law enforcement officer dies in the line of duty in the United States. I wonder if Bruce worked on a song after 911 commemorating the fallen officers who died. If he has, I haven?t heard the song yet! It takes about 6 seconds to fire off 13 rounds from a fully loaded semi-automatic handgun. That?s right, 6 seconds, 4 officers and the fear of losing your life. Maybe Bruce should write a song about listening to orders of police officers. Maybe Bruce should have thought about the sleepless nights those 4 officers will have for the rest of their lives for taking the life of an unarmed man. In any event, the song is a disgrace and Bruce should be ashamed of himself!
Kyrus from Mumbai, IndiaThis song is not only powerful but it makes me wonder..makes me question...why?...why is there this lack of trust in the world. The words in the song are easily the most powerful of lyrics i've heard.. Amazing! Bruce Springsteen's outdone himself AGAIN!
Johnny from Los Angeles, CaYes, Bob Dylan would have appreciated this song. It has a protest side, and unlike some, I do not belive Dylan sold out. Nathan, the guy probably wanted his wallet to show his identification or of that sort. This is a mistake, but when a cop knocks on someones door pretty threateningly, do they always think very clearly? 41 is overkill. That's just it. The policeman could've just wounded him, and then found it was a wallet. But on the side of the policeman, when someone's supposedly pulling a gun on you, you don't have much time to think, either. It was just a mistake. A tragic, awful mistake. Bruce Springsteen would write a song about this because it is the type of event he would write about. It was not overblown; I have never heard a song about this tradgedy, until I went on songfacts and looked at this song, because I have the live version. Thanks songfaqs.
Ricki from Radnor, OhBruce Springsteen always said that he wanted to write songs about the human condition in much the same way as Bob Dylan did. I think he accomplished the task with this song. I think Dylan would appreciate the song and the message it brings across. However, and I hate to disagree with Bruce on this one, but I am on the side of the police with the story. A friend of mine is a cop and if he was ever in a situation like that and saw the man reach into his back pocket and hold out something, I would like to think that he would remember his family and protect himself. Yes it is a tragedy, but I don't believe anyone should be too hard on the police for this. Tragedies do happen, and they are horrible, but before you criticize the police, remember that they have families too. But I still love the song.
Nathan from Defiance, OhThe Boss is great, no question. But honestly the cops told the guy to freeze and put his hands up, not furiously reach into his jacket for his wallet. 41 shots is overkill (no pun intended) but did Bruce really need to write a song about a situation that was already overblown?
Wilfred from Melbourne, AustraliaBy far Springsteen's masterpiece of the period 1990-2001... This is just so haunting, the first time I heard it I could not get that chorus out of my head for days.
Alex from Duesseldorf, GermanyNot the first televised Springsteen show. That credit goes to 1992 "MTV Unplugged: Bruce Springsteen Plugged". With a non-E-Street band, but still very powerful. Those live versions of then-new "Human touch" and "Lucky town" (only ones available), played back-to-back, rock! Also features for the first time a new version of "Atltantic City" with way more power than the album original, which became standard for his later concerts to date.
Justin from Felts Mills, NyThis comes to show that Bruce Springsteen is one of the most lyrical singer-songwriters that this country has ever known. He wrote a song that was inspired by a senseless tragedy, and even though the NYPD was sharply against it, if you listen to "American Skin," it is just moving and gut-wrenching. The haunting chorus of "41 shots" will leave any listener haunted for days. This song can make anyone think about life itself...another reason why Bruce is one of the greats.
Glenn from Dunedin, New ZealandTo shoot someone 41 times isn?t a mistake it?s a massacre.
How do you make that judgement ?Is it a gun? Is it a knife?? Do you make it in your heart or by the blind prejudice of what you see? ?Is it in your heart? Is it in your eye??
Our frailty defines our shared humanity, ?And my boots caked in this mud, We?re baptised in these waters and in each other?s blood?.
Springsteen has used the symbol of this ?human clay? before, probably starting with his apocalyptic view of the world on ?Lost in the Flood?
'And everybodys wrecked on mainstreet, From drinking unholy blood. Sticker smiles sweet as Gunner breathes deep, His ankles caked in mud. And I said ?Hey Gunner man that?s quick sand, That?s quick sand, that ain't mud, Have you throw your senses to the war, Did you loose them in the flood?? '
Graham from Newcastle-upon-tyne, EnglandI have the Springsteen live album, and like the song 41 shots but never knew what the song was about until reading the comments on song facts, it now makes sense. Thanks to song facts. Graham. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England