The Hitter weighed into the "American Skin" controversy on Microsoft's Slate, taking issue with one writer's interpretation of the politics behind the song.
You can read the underlying article --
and our modest contribution to common sense -- here.
(Look for us right under Eric Alterman's response.)
Part II Now Online!
The second installment of Sages of the Subway is now live on the Wanted web site. And appropriately enough for that site, the topic this time is bootlegging and taping.
Now we're going to start circulating your questions to our esteemed panelists. The final installment of the series will be posted here, and will consist of your questions -- and their answers.
If it's not June 29 yet, you can still enter our Born In The U.S.A. contest, described in our last issue.
Send your entry to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. No purchase necessary.
"American Skin" Now.
Never in a million years did we think that an unreleased Bruce Springsteen song would be at the center of an acrimonious debate in the United States over issues of crime and race. For a fan of Bruce's music, and his unreleased output in particular, it's like manna from heaven.
Yet our first reaction to "American Skin (41 Shots)" was one of doubt. We were afraid Bruce had unleashed a genie he would be unable to put back in the bottle. It seemed to us that just as with the flag-laden album cover of Born In The U.S.A. and the irrepressible music of its title track, Bruce had used imagery that begged to be distorted by others with their own political agendas. And we feared the song might be lost as a result.
Moreover, the circumstances of the song's unveiling seemed almost too clever by half. The premiere in Atlanta, the initial stories in the American media and the all-too-predictable controversy that followed looked a little to us like a cynical effort to get some attention while the band plays the same show they gave at the Meadowlands a year ago.
Yet here at The Hitter, it is to first principles that we must return. This is about a new song. By all accounts, it is an extremely good one. And it has the promise to make a difference, not so much by revitalizing Bruce's career commercially as by lending a voice of uncommon compassion and intelligence to a subject that has got to be discussed, no matter what your point of view.
To us, there is no higher calling for Bruce and his music. In a way, "American Skin" is a lot like the apocryphal Murder Incorporated album discussed in our last issue. It represents the right choice in that fork in the road between the hard medicine of "Atlantic City" and the sugarcoating of "Bobby Jean" -- a choice we think Bruce has been making consistently well these days.
Yes, Bruce is taking a big risk. Already the debate has devolved into one of those Crossfire-like exercises at which Americans peculiarly excel and which will not accommodate the subtlety of Bruce's songs. In 1984 it was whether you were pro-American or anti-American. In 2000, it's whether the police are good or bad. That a police union would stage a boycott over a song that virtually no one has heard is but one example of how bad things have already gotten.
In our view, there's only one thing to be done. And once again we find ourselves back at first principles. This song must be heard. It should be played every night at Madison Square Garden. And it should be released to the public now, while the shows are ongoing -- first perhaps in the form of an MP3 file on Bruce's hitherto lame web site, and then as a commercial single. For Bruce to interject this song into the Diallo debate without giving everybody the chance to hear it and judge for themselves would be like when Sylvester Stallone fought the first 14 rounds right-handed in Rocky II. It would be unfathomably dumb. As Bruce learned over the years with "Born in the U.S.A.," a song itself can provide the best defense against misinterpretation.
A song isn't a song until somebody hears it. That's what Bruce used to say when he introduced "Stolen Car" in Europe in 1981. It was true then, and it's true now. This song needs to be heard. By everybody. Right now.
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