Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Suze Rotolo: A Freewheelin' Time

Regardless of the contents of Suze Rotolo's A Freewheelin' Time: A Memoir Of Greenwich Village In The Sixties, her four-year relationship with Bob Dylan will still be represented in the public imagination by her presence on the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, where she hangs on the singer's arm in a snowy city scene. (This scene was recreated in Todd Haynes' I'm Not There with Charlotte Gainsbourg, whose character is considered a fusion of Rotolo and Dylan's first wife, Sara.) Her claim that she hadn't anticipated being on the album cover is just a reminder that the stories behind those iconic images never seem to measure up to their fictions.


Rotolo grew up in working-class Queens, the daughter of Italian-American Communists. She became absorbed in the Greenwich Village folk scene as a teenager to escape her mother's short temper. Working as a waitress or a set designer when she needed the money, and going to folk shows every night, Rotolo met Dylan at a showcase and moved in with him as soon as she turned 18, experiencing firsthand the making of his first few albums and his reputation.

A Freewheelin' Time aims to paint Rotolo's relationship with Dylan as only one in a number of quintessential '60s experiences she had, from picketing a New York City Woolworth's to making clandestine trips to Cuba after the State Department ban. But these stories are directionless, and only intermittently interesting. It's a fine thing to be freewheelin', but Rotolo talks about her life as if she's withholding a major part—which, really, she is. Her memoir openly admits Dylan was her first love, but provides only tantalizing glimpses of their years together, resorting to familiar language about the tensions of fame and the unwanted role of the rocker's "chick." In choosing not to kiss and tell (and certainly there's something admirable in not going the Angela Bowie route over a relationship which undoubtedly had its difficulties) Rotolo writes about their love and surroundings with a palette of words as bland as a PBS special, made all the more frustrating when she references Dylan songs she says she inspired, like "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." She was lucky enough to have her place in the Bob Dylan mythology captured on film forever, but her account adds to that mythology instead of clarifying it.