Suze Rotolo's A Freewheeling Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties

Posted by Miss Ess, November 7, 2008 06:05pm | Post a Comment

I just finished reading Suze Rotolo's A Freewheelin' Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties. Rotolo is most famous for having had a complicated and inspiring relationship with Bob Dylan early in his career and for appearing with him arm in arm on the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.

Her autobiography is an easy read, and she chronicles not only her time in the Village in the early 60s, but also the trials of growing up the child of two communists in the era of blacklisting, and her post-Dylan trip to then-recently Communist Cuba for several months in 1964. It's interesting to read about a woman's life in the early 60s (I was glad to have recently experienced a visual touchstone of the early 60s in Mad Men) and the limitations that were part and parcel of daily life back then that are now in many ways foreign to us gals. When Suze was with Dylan, everyone expected she would merely be his shadow and have no career or creative pursuit of her own, and, among other things, she was subjected to his own rigid expectations of her looks and her second-class status.

While the book was mainly enjoyable to read, I'm not sure if I was expecting too much, but it was not heavy on details, in my opinion. I respect Rotolo's right to keep some things private, of course, but I also wondered at times why she was compelled to write a book if she wanted to keep so much to herself. Still, the book does give an outline of The Village as an exciting, creative place and also of Dylan as a charismatic but manipulative charmer. She also gives an interesting take on the corrosive effects of fame on individuals, those around them, and their relationships.

My favorite story from the book came when Rotolo remembers the night in 1964 she had a party at her house and a man who identified himself as George Harrison called and asked her if she'd come down to the hotel where he was with the other Beatles and Dylan and bring some girls. When Suze showed up at the hotel, she couldn't get in and when she finally located Dylan on the phone, they fought so bitterly she left without ever getting upstairs.

Having completed this book along with many others about Dylan, I'd say if you've never read a book about Dylan's early years and would like to, I would most highly suggest Dylan's own Chronicles Vol. 1, or David Hajdu's Positively Fourth Street, both incredibly absorbing reads that paint what feels like a much more colorful and precise portrait of both Dylan, New York City, and the early 60s. What those books can't offer is a woman's true perspective, and for that, Rotolo's book is worth reading. But don't go looking for all those new and different nuggets of Dylan mythology you were hoping would be included. Instead, be satisfied with a female's insider experience of what was supposed to be the most "free" place on the planet in its time, NYC's Village.

Though throughout the book Rotolo again and again distinguishes herself from others' expectations that she was merely Dylan's puppet, she sure does use the word "freewheeling" a lot in the book to describe things -- a lot -- and she takes several of her chapter titles from more recent albums by Dylan. In these and other ways, she is still connecting herself to this man she also spends much of her book trying to disentangle and distance herself from. A complicated relationship indeed.

Relevant Tags

Bob Dylan (63), Suze Rotolo (3), Book Review (5), A Freewheelin Time (1)