His royal Bobness and the truth about polygamy

Readers respond to Bill Wyman's profile of Bob Dylan, and Chris Colin's polygamy satire.

Published May 25, 2001 7:00PM (EDT)

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Bill Wyman's piece on Bob Dylan took me back to a night three years ago. Bob was playing a hockey rink in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio. I'd seen him a month before in Indianapolis and he'd been truly uninspired. But this night he was shaking his booty and dancing and smiling and rocking it like the music, and the lives the music was about, really mattered. In the middle of the show he did his usual acoustic set and in the middle of that set he did a version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" that broke my heart in so many places I realized how much I loved being alive. How does it feel, indeed. Thanks, Bob -- thanks for the stories, the songs; thanks for the mysteries I'll never solve.

-- Jim Dwyer

Nice cheap shots delivered to the gospel-era Bob Dylan and to all people of faith everywhere ("they must have laughed down at the revival hall"). Why do we smile and nod when Bob Marley or Al Green sings about faith, but when Bob Dylan does it he's smeared by critics (even now)? Wyman is of a piece with rock critics everywhere who have spent 23 years attempting to savage what are actually a series of great albums ("Slow Train Coming," "Saved," "Shot of Love," "Infidels").

Dylan himself sniffed at the monstrous college kids ("the supposedly liberal-minded students who booed me") who detested Dylan for not being what they wanted him to be at that moment. They wanted Jackson Browne, and instead they got Dylan, nearing 40 years old at that time, coming to grips with adult issues (existence, pain, regret, hope, faith, religion).

That such issues don't lend themselves to great rock music is the lasting flaw of the musical form, unfortunately. Dylan has struggled against that, not always successfully, but at least he's fighting; how many more truly adult voices does one hear in rock music today? Rock, in 2001, has no place for grown-up concerns, especially that most grown-up matter of personal and collective religious faith. For proof, look at Wyman's own dismissive comments about our greatest songwriter's own very personal journey of faith.

-- Rick Middleton

I agree with most of what your article says. However, you and most people always give short shrift to the 1980s albums Dylan put out. "Down in the Groove" is a fine album, and includes some great rockers, including "Ugliest Girl in the World." "Brownsville Girl" from "Knocked Out Loaded" is worth many more than one listen, and "Under the Red Sky" also has many great songs. Even though the two titles you mentioned might be considered something along the lines of childish, if you listen to much of the album, I believe it's meant to be that way.

Finally, even on an indifferent or "whiny" night, there's no one I'd rather see in concert than Mr. Dylan and his band. Thanks for giving me time and space.

-- Howard Zilbert

This is why I read Salon.com.

-- Patrick Talley

Bill Wyman isn't a bad writer in general, but at times he is laughably misinformed. In his profile of Bob Dylan he refers to "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" as a "stoner anthem," claiming such a song ruined an otherwise classic album, and calling the song "unforgivable."

What's unforgivable is Wyman's ignorance. This song has nothing to do with dope, and never did. Has Wyman never heard the phrase "throwing stones" or read even one good Dylan biography, or for that matter really even listened seriously to the song?

Pretty clearly, "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35" is Dylan's response to critics, who were at the time raking him over the coals for having sold out to pop music, commercial values, or whatever. I'm certain that fact has been reasonably well documented -- I wouldn't be writing this letter otherwise.

If Wyman isn't certain of that for which he speaks, he should keep his opinion of an artist's work to himself (lest he seem like a fool whose one sentence can ruin an otherwise entertaining, if hardly classic, article).

-- George Rollins

Wonderful, wonderful article on Bob Dylan. Wyman's last paragraph sums it all up -- that Dylan, above every other rock icon of his or any era, made the journey last not by turning it into spectacle, but by keeping it honest. Only one correction though. "Brownsville Girl" does hold up upon repeated listening, even if it's only to hear the simple beauty in lines like: "Your memory keeps calling out to me like a rolling train." Merely another Dylan throwaway that lingers in the heart and mind long after the song is over. Part of his genius all along has been to let the nakedness of honest sentiment shine through. Great article!

-- Scott Mehno

I'm sorry, but all this waxing philosophical over some guy named Robert Zimmerman (aka Bob Dylan) has left me completely baffled. And yes I have heard every Dylan album, and I have been to numerous Dylan concerts, so I know of whence I'm talking.

Frankly, Dylan bores me. The songs aren't bad, but that's about all I'll say. He mumbles, he's incoherent and I swear to God (whichever one he's praying to now) that the man is half-stoned and half-drunk whenever he plays or records an album. I mean, for crying out loud, can the guy just stop? There are those of us who enjoy our eardrums, who wish to God that he would just shut the heck up, and drop out of sight.

If you choose to believe, as my Dad does, that Dylan is supreme to everyone else, then fine. Just don't force him onto those of us who thinks he needs to be taken out of the musical gene pool.

Sorry, but this music fan refuses to bow at the throne of His Bobness.

-- Heather Johnson

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OK, yeah, I admit that polygamy should not be considered a major crime, and I truly enjoyed writer Chris Colin's satirical take on this new national fury (à la "A Modest Proposal"), but his humor does not address the specifics of this newest case in Utah.

I saw a documentary on Tom Green on A&E earlier this year. Tom Green has married two of his stepdaughters, and began sexual relations with one at the age of 13.

On camera, all of his wives looked like stereotypical abuse survivors. They all sat quietly and looked really nervous, examining their fingers or the floor. Even the most outspoken was very soft, and they all seemed to be dealing with a fair amount of shame.

This documentary included segments taken from Tom Green's appearance on "The Jerry Springer Show." Tom Green claimed that most people were jealous because of all the sex he gets.

I'm no prude. I believe that many humans are polygamous by nature. Monogamy is difficult and, in many cases, not terribly practical. But marriage is a serious statement. Whether or not a marriage is successful, the act of getting married is a declaration of commitment, devotion and fidelity. It is impossible to honor a marriage by taking another wife. Each of Tom Green's marriages is a disgrace.

Should polygamy be illegal? No, but abuse certainly is -- and since polygamy seems to foster abusive climates, each known case should be reviewed. Do woman need our protection? No, most women are strong and do not need to be protected from their own potential bad judgement.

But even polygamists do not wish to associate with Tom Green. The man is a sicko. Chris Colin did a great job of showing the idiocy of persecuting those who commit victimless crimes (and America's propensity for prudishness). He just picked the wrong person to use as an example.

Love your site. Thanks.

-- Josh Millican

Chris Colin's diatribe was amusing. It did not make me laugh. Polygamy is not a religious practice that is benign; it is abusive of women and children and a burden on Utah and federal taxpayers. I find it extremely unusual that God appears to tell 40- to 60-year-old men that they should take 14-year-old girls as wives; or to marry the daughters and sisters of present wives. If they supported these families, it might be less of the public's business. In many cases, they do not. That leaves part or all of the burden on welfare and other aid programs. I resent paying for any part of an aging religious nut's sexual/power fantasies. Mr. Colin has considerable wit; it would be nice to see a bit of it turned on the polygamists.

-- Andrea Sandvig

In response to Mr. Colin's satire, I, for one, do not see anything funny about the Mormon polygamists. While I'm all for consenting adults choosing to have relationships as they see fit, a more than cursory glance at many Mormon polygamist households shows that several polygamists' "wives" are not adults at the time of their marriages. Tom Green, the man who is currently being prosecuted, was on talk shows a few years ago showing off his latest fiancée, who was only 14 years old (and who looked 12). I do not know the legal age of consent for females in Utah, but surely this is unethical: an adult man marrying an eighth-grade girl who surely knows little, if anything, of other opportunities available to her, like higher education, a career or the right one day to have a partner devoted solely to her and her children.

Also, in another high-profile polygamy case in Utah about a year ago, a teenage girl was kidnapped and beaten by her father after running away because her father was about to force her to marry his brother. According to this girl, such cases of incest and forced "marriages" are not uncommon in her community.

For reasons such as these, I do not believe the Mormon polygamists have a right to continue their practice, and I am sure the young women being abused by these men do not think polygamy is a laughing matter.

-- Danielle Maze

By Salon Staff

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