A Freewheelin’ Time by Suze Rotolo: a review

This book’s about the Village in the sixties, and about Suze Rotolo’s youth. Since Bob Dylan was important to both, this memoir talks a lot about his early career, but even that’s usually more about the Dylan/Rotolo relationship than about Dylan’s work. And that’s OK. If this were any other author, looking back at that time and place, we’d expect lots of context and little Dylan. Here we’ve got Rotolo doing something similar.

The book reads like the author made a list of things she wanted to say, arranged that list more or less chronologically, then wrote a few paragraphs about each topic. The result is unpolished, but generally successful and even charming. That she glosses over entire aspects of Dylan’s character is occasionally obvious and sometimes frustrating, but it’s her story to tell. She tells it well enough.

There’s lots of non-Dylan material that historians and others will find interesting and/or useful: A sense of the Greenwich Village geography in the 60s, including descriptions of the most important venues. It’s a fine portrait of her social sphere, which included many folks who became somewhat important in music and the arts–some in large ways. Her family history is absolutely fascinating, which is really unusual in such a volume. She was a good observer, and an adequate writer. You can easily understand why Dylan found her attractive.

There’s an odd recurring theme, by the way. One of the reasons Rotolo’s relationship with Dylan ended was her resistance to subsuming her identity in his (she tells us three times that she didn’t want to be just “a string on his guitar,” an image that’s interesting once). I certainly don’t doubt her sincerity about this, in the sixties or when she was writing, but the fact is that the book’s selling point is her Dylan relationship. I’m sure she recognized the irony.

Anyway: A fine book. Worth your time if you’re interested in that time and place, or the musicians who worked there.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

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