Intended for healthcare professionals


The ballad of the poor, young male

BMJ 2004; 330 doi: (Published 30 December 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;330:51
  1. Des Spence, general practitioner (
  1. Glasgow

Elvis Presley's song “In the Ghetto” always brings a lump to my throat. For the uninformed, the song's theme is the cycle of violence in which young black men in Chicago in the1960s were trapped. It is the emotional inflection of Elvis's voice that moves me, which is odd, as he was a poor white southerner and so can't have known what life was like in the urban slums. My wife suggests that my sentimentality is borne of eating too much quiche in the 1980s and desperately juggling a small baby while shirtless.

In the song a mother finds her young son dead, “face down on the street with a gun in his hand”—sad stuff. The song is 40 years old, but in Glasgow this futility continues relentlessly, ouryoung men dying in street violence. If not killed, many are beaten, “slashed,” or stabbed, and on most nights in casualty departments their …

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