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A Freewheelin' Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties Hardcover – May 13, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
In July 1961, Rotolo, a shy 17-year-old from Queens, met an up-and-coming young folk singer named Bob Dylan at an all-day folk festival at Riverside Church in Manhattan, and her life changed forever. For the next few years, Suze and Bobby lived a freewheeling life amid the bohemians in the emerging folk scene in Greenwich Village. Rotolo offers brief glimpses of the denizens populating the new music scene below 14th Street in the early '60s and recalls the excitement as writers and musicians like Dylan wandered in and out of each other's lives and apartments, trading music and lyrics to produce a new sound that would change American music. Yet as the woman who's clutching Dylan's arm on the cover of his second album Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, Rotolo doesn't give us a very freewheelin' memoir. She offers shallow, almost schoolgirl-like reflections on the man she loved and lived with for three years. In a dull and plodding manner, Rotolo provides no new insights into Dylan, claiming, as have so many, that he is mysterious and enigmatic. In an excerpt from one of her journals, she writes ambivalently that she believes in his genius and that he is an extraordinary writer, but that she doesn't think he's an honorable person. (May)
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One of the most recognizable album-cover images of the 1960s shows a young man, underdressed for the winter in a light suede jacket, leaning into a young woman. Rotolo was that young woman, and in this uneven, overlong, still fascinating memoir, she tells the story behind that photo and her love for Bob Dylan. Rotolo met Dylan in 1961; she was 17, he 20. While Dylan is the bedrock of her memoir—without him, would there be a book?—he isn’t the whole story. Rotolo discusses her own background (Italian heritage, Communist parents, inability to fit in growing up in Queens, the craziness and sexism of the era), but the dominant setting is the Greenwich Village folk scene. In informal, conversational style, Rotolo recalls those who made that scene, many of them famous but none more so than the complicated Dylan. Given his formidable presence, Rotolo’s adamant refusal to be more than “a string on his guitar” in the book is admirable. The moments when she comes most alive in its pages are the most compelling. --June Sawyers
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Unlike some reviewers, for me, the book was a page turner and did not last long enough, even though i read it slowly and closely. The story is told with genuineness, as the person she is, not who other people want her to be. She's someone who knows how to be true to herself.
One of the most heart wrenching parts of the book for me was when she was about 14, her sister, Carla, moved out on her own, and Suze was left alone with their mother, who was an over the top alcoholic and rage-aholic. During that period, Suze endured brutal emotional abuse, the target of wild loud hate-filled rants from which she had no escape, as her tortured depressed mother blamed Suze for her unhappiness. Suze had some support from outside the home, family friends who knew what she was going through and let her come and stay with them for respite sometimes.
Like all people, her mother was a mixture and Suze took the best and tried to shut out the worst. Maybe this had something to do with her increasingly difficult reaction to the raucous and chaotic atmosphere involved in being Dylan's girl. She was his first love, and he was hers, their relationship lasted most of 4 years, which is a long time for any first relationship, much less one that had so little privacy, and so many amazing challenges to cope with.
Suze grew up lonely and often alone as a kid, she knew and adapted to solitude. She drew on her strengths to entertain and educate herself and to develop her creativity and to evolve her morals and values.
It was one of those stories where, even though i know how it's going to turn out, i couldn't help wishing for a different ending, for true first love to triumph and all romantic dreams to come true. The story gives context to Suze's rejection of the relationship with Dylan and moving on to do many other things with her life, in which she surrounded herself with a loving family of her own and continued to develop and exercise her own special talents. It's no wonder Dylan, and then her husband to be, fell in love with her. She has a simple and honest charisma.
She gives her experience of the Village at that intense exciting time in history. i had a feeling of her disconnectedness throughout, of an objective observer, keeping a self-protective distance. Clearly, she maintained a limit on the depth of feeling she shared for the most part, she shared what she was comfortable sharing, she shared the person that she shares with the world, drawing the boundaries she chooses to draw. It's a memoir, it's not an expose or tell-all kind of style.
You could call Ms. Rotolo’s life unremarkable, if you grant tragedy, family disfunction, emotional crises, moments of mental instability, passion for one’s interests and brushes with greatness more typical to each of our lives than not. Prosaic or not, I found it fascinating, and it left me a profound appreciation for this woman who Dylan called the most erotic woman he ever laid eyes on, but who was so much deeper than that. I suspect that even that eroticism was inseparable from her sincerity, empathy and lust for life. She ends this autobiography when she's still in her early 20s, and I hope for the rest of her life she had more time for herself than the demands of others dictated up until then.
No, it won’t quench your thirst for the inside scoop on any of the host of musicians and their entourages that consumed several years of Ms. Rotolo’s life. But read it to appreciate her own life well lived.