In a relaxed, conversational writing style, Suze Rotolo, in A Freewheelin’ Time, reminisces about her place in the history of the turbulent 1960’s and her part in the Bob Dylan saga. The vibrant Rotolo was Dylan’s girlfriend after his move to New York City. Born in the borough of Queens, New York City, in 1943, she was the daughter of radical parents, and she became famous for being pictured with Dylan on the cover of his groundbreaking 1963 album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Some of Dylan’s early landmark songs are found on this album, including “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” and “Masters of War.” Rotolo was surprised to find that the photograph of them as a couple was ultimately used for the cover.
Their relationship began as two people who inspired each other. Unfortunately, Dylan became a larger-than-life figure, impossible to deal with. Rotolo had “trouble talking or reminiscing about the 1960’s” because of Dylan, stating that he was “an elephant in the room of my life.” When they first met, she was seventeen and Dylan was twenty. He had come to New York to work on his music and to meet the legendary American singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie. While this memoir is most certainly the story of Rotolo and Dylan, it is also a love story about place and time. Greenwich Village of the early 1960’s was where creative people from all over found their way and where artists, poets, and musicians would meet and share ideas. It was in this mix that Rotolo and Dylan lived.
Over the years, the legend of Dylan has grown, supported by increasing numbers of books, articles, and films. Scholars, journalists, and those who were there have tried to give the public an accurate picture of Dylanwho he was, who he is, and who he wanted to be. Rotolo remained silent for many decades about the early 1960’s and her relationship with Dylan because, as a private person, she did not want to get into a literary shouting match with others about where reality ends and fantasy begins. In A Freewheelin’ Time, she tells her side of the story, on her terms. This is not a tell-all, with bombshell moments that will leave the reader gasping. For the most part, it is a respectful sojourn down memory lane, with no bitterness or vindictiveness.
Rotolo states early in the memoir: “Secrets remain. Their traces go deep, and with all due respect I keep them with my own. The only claim I make for writing this memoir of that time is that it may not be factual, but it is true.” For some readers this disclaimer may not be enough. Certainly some who thirst for Dylan souvenirs will not be satisfied with her “truth.” In that regard, Rotolo may find herself in a no-win situation. She must have decided that this memoir was not for the fanatical fans or even the archaeologists of all things Dylanesque. The story told, as she emphatically states, “is mine.”
In their years together, Dylan and Rotolo believed that they could be a force for change. While both were “sensitive” souls, Dylan also was “tough and focused” and possessed a “healthy ego.” As Rotolo recounts, these qualities helped to make him a successful artist. Upon arrival at Greenwich Village, Dylan entered the folk music scene, and Rotolo first saw him perform at Gerde’s Folk City. At this Village venue, Dylan played harmonica with several musicians, worked in a duo with fellow folksinger Mark Spoelstra, and performed solo. During this period, the young Dylan was in the process of establishing his identity as an artist, as a “rambling troubadour, in the Guthrie mode.” While numerous books and articles have been written about the Village and about Dylan, this memoir is unique for its female voice. A few women close to Dylan have written about their relationship with him. Joan Baez, who has written two autobiographies, did not dwell on her relationship with Dylan in either one. It is possible to recommend several books that delve into the evolution of Dylan, including Robert...
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