The Song Bob Dylan Was Accused Of Romanticizing A Criminal
Real-life crime has been a source of inspiration for music throughout the years. Take Bon Jovi’s ‘August 7,’ for example; it’s a song Jovi wrote about the murder of his personal manager’s 6-year-old daughter. According to the investigators, the little girl suffered a fatal blow to her head when she was sent to check the mail by her mother. It’s blood-chilling to know that the case remains an unsolved mystery.
Nirvana’s ‘Polly’ is another example; it’s about the kidnapping, torture, and rape of a 14-year-old girl. Kurt Cobain wrote the song from the murderer’s perspective and detailed her sufferings through the lyrics. ‘Polly’ remains a Nirvana classic to this day, and it still has the power to break our hearts to think about what the girl endured at the hands of the torturer. The Smiths’ ‘Suffer Little Children’ is another song about murder, written from the perspectives of the five children Ian Brady and Myra Hindley killed.
While these songs don’t glorify the murderers, a song in Bob Dylan’s catalog was considered an attempt to romanticize the criminal. Titled ‘Joey,’ the song is the longest of Dylan’s ‘Desire’ album. It tells the story of the gangster Joey Gallo, a racist who constantly beat his wife, abused his children, and took part in a brutal gang rape of a young boy in prison. However, Bob Dylan decided to portray Joey as a hero rather than a criminal.
In ‘Joey,’ Bob Dylan presented Joey Gallo as a person who didn’t kill innocent people and shielded his family with his body when he was about to be shot. According to Dylan, Joey wasn’t a racist either — he was just an outlaw with moral values. Besides, rather than telling the tragic story of the victims like the songs mentioned in this article, the musician chose to detail the killing of Gallo in Umberto’s Clam House in the song.
Bob Dylan read about Gallo’s death in Donald Goddard’s book ‘Joey: A Biography,’ and the criminal’s friends actor Jerry Orbach and his wife, Marta. He wrote the song in one sitting after hearing the story. However, the musician didn’t include any of the graphic details of Joey’s deeds found in the book — instead; he chose to romanticize him with lyrics that are far from the truth.
It was inevitable that ‘Joey’ would be greeted with a public backlash. Dylan’s romantic portrait of Joey and his remarks saying that Gallo was ‘a hero rather than a gangster’ received a quite negative response from the press, fans, and public officials. Apparently, Joey Gallo wasn’t a person ‘who didn’t carry a gun for children not to know about guns,’ as Bob Dylan said of him.
It is not that surprising that the victims’ loved ones were enraged with Bob Dylan’s portrayal of the disturbing criminal, and it remains a mystery why the musician chose to describe him like that. Also, despite the massive backlash, the song was regularly featured in Bob’s setlist throughout the ’90s.