This song was bizarrely thought to be controversial in the wake of the police murder of Amadou Diallo in 1999. Bruce played it once in a show in Atlanta, and then it got this huge reaction in the New York press. One of the themes in the song was, sometimes when you’re black in the United States, you get shot by police officers. As if that’s a controversial thing to report in a song.
Bruce is able to distill universal themes into these small narratives, and “American Skin” is certainly a case. It’s a song that, I think, transcends the crime. I went to the last Madison Square Garden show of that reunion tour, and there was some controversy with the local law enforcement, a scenario that I was very familiar with at the time. Backstage, I told Bruce, “Welcome on board!” I was impressed by his courage. He played that song every night of the homestand and did it so fearlessly.
This originally appeared in the 100 Greatest Bruce Springsteen Songs of All Time list