American Triangle
Elton John
Songs From The West Coast, 2001
Music by Elton John / Lyrics by Bernie Taupin

A moving tribute to Matthew Shepard, the openly gay Wyoming college student who was the victim of a brutal hate crime.  Media reports at the time provided the harrowing details of this horrific act. "Matthew Shepard was lured out of a Laramie bar on October 7, 1998 -- allegedly because he was gay -- driven to a remote prairie, tied to a fence, pistol-whipped into unconsciousness and left for dead in freezing temperatures. A bicyclist who found Shepard, nearly hidden in the sagebrush, 18 hours later thought at first the 5-foot-2, 105 pound University of Wyoming freshman was a scarecrow. Taken to a hospital, Shepard never regained consciousness and died of massive head wounds on October 12, 1998."

The title of this song refers to the victim and his two assailants but might also be an allusion to the Pink Triangle which was the Nazi symbol of hate and intolerance used to identify homosexuals. The artist sings, "...I've seen a scarecrow wrapped in wire Left to die on a high ridge fence..." This horrible image of a seemingly lifeless body draped over a fence also inspired the title of another tribute song, "Scarecrow" by Melissa Etheridge.

When asked about the inspiration for this song lyricist Bernie Taupin stated, "Hate and injustice is a subject matter that I approach often, it's a natural tendency of mine...Bigotry affects not just the victim but also the perpetrators, everybody loses. Hate is inbred and sad to say that in the case of Matthew Shepard we have a perfect example of all of the above."

This tragic tale is also a story of hope and provides an opportunity to promote change as it reveals the importance of love and compassion and the healing power of mercy and forgiveness. As Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Source: "Judge may bar 'gay panic' defense in Wyoming beating trial" Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.

Elton John Music and Lyric Resources:

The Official Elton John Web Site

Elton John AIDS Foundation

Melissa Etheridge

Referenced and Related Works:

Dennis Shepard's Statement to the Court - 11/4/99


Countee Cullen's "The Incident"


Langston Hughes' "I Dream A World"


Lucille Clifton's "Jasper, Texas, 1998"


Jose Marti's "I Cultivate A White Rose"


Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise"


Raymond Carver's "Cathedral"


Legend of the Starfish


Matthew Shepard Foundation    ( external page )


Stop The Hate! ( external page )


Stop Hate 2000 ( external page )



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