Jerry's jerkiness, Axl's anger, Dylan's soul

Readers respond to articles on Jerry Lewis' pity for the disabled, Axl Rose's uneven career and the price of Dylan's soul.

Published June 12, 2001 10:00PM (EDT)

Read "Jerry Lewis Speaks the Truth."

Great commentary, but you forgot about one crucial element: Jerry Lewis is a pretentious jerk. For literally decades he has been observed condescending not only to the handicapped but to everyone in his path.

Let's just do the right thing this one time and put this appallingly outdated individual out to pasture.

-- Linda Riley

Lorenzo Milam hits the proverbial nail on the head in his commentary on the backlash against Jerry Lewis' comments regarding the M.D. sufferers he raises money for. They are, indeed, cripples. They do invoke both pity for them as well as infinite thanks that we're not in the same boat.

As I watch the left- and right-wing militants seek to sanitize the English language toward their own political and social ends, I can't help but feel we're losing something important. "Differently abled" is a term designed to make people think that really nothing's wrong, that it's all OK and that maybe the person's just happy the way they are, when we know that for these kids with M.D. that simply isn't the case. "Cripple," however, evokes a vivid image, rouses a concerned community to action and thus provides increased volunteer action and research funding.

We've euphemized the meaning out of our language. Instead of wife beating, now we talk about spousal abuse -- not necessarily because the two terms have different meanings but because the former forces us to envision bloodied noses and bruised legs, an image we might be forced to act on. When Lewis refers to cripples, he's forcing us to look at the reality of a painful existence cut tragically short, something some of us just don't want to see, and it's dramatically effective.

-- Gregory Dyas

Your subheading states: The veteran comedian is in trouble with the militant disabled for using words like "cripple" and "pity."

Have Salon and Milam fallen for the false notion that disability rights activists are in a tizzy because someone used a word we don't like? Please.

Lewis' vocabulary is not at issue. His opinions are: "You don't want to be pitied because you are a cripple in a wheelchair? Stay in your house." This from the man who, in 1991, referred to wheelchair users as "half-persons."

With friends like these ...

Yes, people in wheelchairs evoke pity. Yes, even in our day, people who have black skin evoke emotions ranging from distrust to fear and hatred. Would anyone claiming to be a champion of civil rights consider exhorting blacks who wish it were otherwise to become prisoners in their own homes? Such advice would be defined as obscene.

I'm not sure which is more obscene -- Lewis' bigotry or Milam's exoneration of it.

-- Chava Willig Levy

Lorenzo Milam's essay shows that "crips" are just as able as anyone else to mouth off about things they don't know much about. Milam may be a brother crip, but he doesn't know much about the telethon controversy. It's not about the words, though obviously using bad words is a danger signal. One may assume they are used for a purpose. "Cripple" is analogous to "nigger." On the streets of my home city of Charleston, S.C., I may hear African-Americans greet one another: "Yo! Nigger! What's happening?" But if someone else uses the word about them, it signals disrespect. If a high-profile spokesman uses a term of contempt for the people he's supposedly speaking for, he might expect to catch a little flak for it.

But as I said, the words aren't the problem. The problem is a high-profile spokesman for a powerful multimillion-dollar media empire telling us "cripples" that if we don't want pity we should stay in our houses. That's what has us up in arms and, yes, out on the streets. If you don't hear the animus in this, play the "substitute the minority group" game. Try: "If you don't want to be groped for being a broad, stay in your house." Or: "If you don't want to be bashed for being gay, stay in your house." Would Milam or any other person of common decency be surprised if the objects of such remarks took umbrage?

Oh, Milam apparently thinks, like Lewis, that there's a difference. The difference is supposedly that we are pitiful. Milam accepts as gospel truth the notion that people with muscle diseases are the sad "dying children" that Lewis has talked about all these years. We deserve all the pity we get.

I deny that. And unlike Milam I know what I'm talking about. I'm one of those "kids" who was told at a very tender age that I was terminally ill. Next month I'll be 44 years old, and I'm not dead yet. Jerry says people like me "can't work, can't do anything." That's false too. I work as a lawyer and do other mischief besides.

Like Milam, I encounter pity as a part of daily life. Like Milam, I'm old enough to try to react to it with understanding and kindness. The security guard at the grocery store has no idea what my life is really like. People who know me generally get over their pity pretty fast. They come to learn that a life on wheels isn't necessarily miserable, and that most of what they've heard about "Jerry's kids" is a lie. Like women who have fought for the right to go out without being groped, and the gays who struggle to go out without being bashed, I will struggle for a day when I can go out without being subjected to ill-informed, ignorant pity. To do that, I have to tell my truth. I'll be on the streets protesting the telethon this year, for the 11th year in a row.

If you want the real deal, go to Learn about the telethon protest from the people who know.

-- Harriet McBryde Johnson

I am a proud woman with cerebral palsy. I want to write a movie. It's called "The Purple Hat Gang." A dozen crips driving around in our wheelchairs and scooters, all over Oakland and Berkeley. We will terrorize the neighborhoods by spray-painting cars parked in front of curb ramps, and block in cars that are parked in the blue handicap-access zones.

The women will wear tight leather pants, and long earrings, and be sexy; the guys will wear leather jackets and ride big, powerful motorized wheelchairs referred to as Big Macs.

The purpose, of course, will be to destroy pity and replace it with powerful, sexy, hip images.

I, for one, am sick of the person with disability who is always viewed as angelic! Barf! Who needs that?

If Spike Lee wants to contact me about doing this film, let him have my e-mail address!

-- Tamar Raine

Read "Axl Rose: American Hellhound."

I first heard of GnR while living just off Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles in late 1985. A kid approached me on the street and asked me if I was going to the show at the Roxy. He was exited, stoked even.

I had never heard of them, so I said "no" -- 99.9 percent of the L.A. bands playing the Strip in 1985 were no-talent clones in hairspray and leotards. I figured they were just another one.

My loss. Little did I realize that the lead singer of the band -- albeit an egotistical, bipolar misogynist jackass for the most part -- would turn out to be one of the only "public figures" of the late '80s/early '90s that was genuine to the core.

He was fed up with the political correctness and double talk that permeate this society, and he had the balls to get up and scream about it.

I believe Axl is pretty much how he represents himself to be in his songs and onstage. That was no act. No B.S. about that anyway.

-- Joshua Vaughn

While Guns n' Roses (and particularly Axl) were a cultural phenomenon in their heyday, I think the article you published on Axl was misleading and critically underwhelming. For example, the claim that his anger "directly" led to Rage Against the Machine's is unsubstantiated and less than compelling. Axl may have been angry, but his anger was never directed at political or social causes in any significant way like the Clash, the Dead Kennedys or many other bands that probably influenced Rage Against the Machine. Comparing Rose to Robert De Niro because his wardrobe "draws you in" is downright silly. Other inconsistencies, like claiming "the bitches' brew has only grown stronger over the years" and going on to say that later in their career the "music seemed to suffer," further undermine the author's ability to make a valid point and construct a cohesive article.

Axl Rose and his impact on American culture make an interesting subject, but not in the hands of someone who sees him as a cultural icon primarily because he wears a bandanna. In general, the quality of writing at Salon is so high I found this article surprising in its daftness. Besides, everyone knows Izzy wrote the best songs.

-- Mark Yokoyama

Read Bill Wyman's essay on Bob Dylan.

Bill Wyman's concluding vision of Bob Dylan spending his life, "true to a voice inside ... trying to communicate it faithfully whether people listen or not, whether people like it or not," while "Mick Jagger shills for Budweiser" and "respected new stars like Moby sell entire albums' worth of songs to corporations" can only have been written in ignorance (perhaps for the reason, always excusable to a U.S. readership, that it happened in Canada) of the all-time lowdown shill to shame them all, committed by Dylan himself.

Dylan, of course, didn't have to sell an entire album. To paraphrase Faulkner, "The Times They Are A-Changin'" is worth any number of young Mobys. But, yes, that's what he sold, two years ago, to the Bank of Montreal, for use as background music on a TV commercial -- a low-glitz, black-and-white video collage "grimly purveying" Canada's oldest and biggest chartered bank to potential young investors in the prime-time audience.

Stunned and incredulous Canadian viewers in the near-50 age group desperately sought excuses, suggesting the commercial might be a hoax, or else an unfortunate arm's-length arrangement (you know, maybe like the sale of the Winnie the Pooh rights to Disney, unbeknown to Christopher Robin Milne), till Barb McKenna, a Prince Edward Island newspaper columnist, phoned Dylan's agent and asked point-blank, "Did Bob know?" and got an unequivocal "yes"; Dylan had personally approved the deal, and declared himself highly satisfied.

For many fans who, like me, had been prepared to overlook Dylan's nasty streak out of respect for what we thought his songs meant, this sorry bit of business set "the last moving target of '60s rock" in rigid perspective.

As for what keeps Dylan on the road, headed for another joint, to the tune of 96 shows a year? Likely the same thing that made him sell "The Times." Trying to make a buck, faithfully or otherwise. Positively Fourth Street, Bob. You could have done better, but never mind.

-- Fred Louder

By Salon Staff

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