This article is republished from the January 2010 issue of the spiked review of books. View the whole issue here.
It was here, in the New York city blocks enclosed between Broadway and the Hudson, and between 14th Street and Houston Street – in other words, in Greenwich village – that the Beatniks, politicos and folkies of the early 1960s - the outsiders who became the in-crowd – played music, penned poems, painted, debated and made history. And it was here, on one cold 1963 winter day, that two lovers walking down a slush-lined Jones Street, accompanied by a Columbia Records photographer, were captured and turned into the poster couple of a generation.
Neither Suze Rotolo nor her boyfriend Bob Dylan were dressed appropriately for an iconic portrait shoot. While Dylan ‘chose his rumpled clothes carefully’, Rotolo writes nearly half a century later, and put on a thin suede jacket which gave him ‘the right image’ but which was not ‘remotely suited for the weather’, she ‘felt like an Italian sausage’ in her green loden coat worn over two sweaters, one of them Dylan’s and very bulky. The famous photograph became the cover of Dylan’s second album, The Freewheelin’, and another photo taken on the same shoot is now the cover of artist Suze Rotolo’s memoirs of Greenwich village in the Sixties, titled A Freewheelin’ Time.
Bob Dylan and Suze Rotolo
in Greenwich Village, 1963.
Those looking simply to excavate yet more trivia from the early days of Dylan shouldn’t bother with Rotolo’s book. Sure, there are Dylan photographs, anecdotes and love letters, but what really marks out Rotolo’s heartfelt and jumbled tribute to an era which many still consider to have been the best time to be young is not that it complements the vast mythology surrounding the elusive Dylan, who has been credited, or burdened, with being the voice of a generation. Rather, it is the fact that in this gem of a memoir we get to know the story, fascinating in its own right, of a woman whose life coincided with and helped shape the Sixties. For Rotolo, this was an era that ‘spoke a language of inquiry and curiosity and rebelliousness against the stifling and repressive political and social culture of the decade that preceded it’.
In that spirit, Rotolo – who at the age of 17 caught the subway from Queens to the Village, ‘without looking back’ – resented being cast in the role of a musician’s ‘chick’ as Dylan shot to fame. Following a few months of separation from New York and Dylan while she enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Perugia, Italy, she was, on her return, met with resentment from friends who thought she had been cruel to let Dylan suffer from the pain of being apart from his lover.