Another Side of the Folkdays Nov 13, 2008
The cover photograph is iconic: In a belted green coat, a pre-Raphaelite Suze Rotolo clinging to her thin, shivery boyfriend Bob Dylan, dressed in suede jacket and jeans, as they amble down a snowy Greenwich Village street. The title of Rotolo's memoir refers to The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, his breakthrough album, and recounts the halcyon days of the folk movement when Dylan was rapidly becoming anointed its spokesperson and its generational voice.
It's fascinating, however, to read this memoir in relation to Dylan's own, Chronicles Vol. 1, which is even more vivid in its evocation of the Village scene. At the same time, Rotolo includes what the songwriter leaves out: their meeting at a Riverside Church folk concert, their near-instantaneous attraction and loving bond, his preoccupation with image, his self-invention and untruths, her difficult family life (she was a "red-diaper baby" of Communist parents), their tormented separation as Rotolo entered art school in Perugia, Italy, his ascent into the musical firmament.
But perhaps most importantly, Rotolo sheds a clear and incisive light on the sexism that existed not only in the bohemian folk scene, but in the Beat movement that preceded it. While male singers such as Dylan and Dave Van Ronk could stride that scene with an unprecedented freedom, women such as Rotolo could be no more than a consort, a musician's "chick." That bid for autonomy leads to her decision to leave for Italy. A woman's perspective on the early Sixties makes this memoir invaluable, and gives weight to Suze Rotolo's accomplishment as author and artist in her own right.