A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties
The photo on the cover of this book is instantly recognizable, to persons of a certain age, as the cover photo on the 1963 Colombia Records album "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan." The author is in fact the young girl shown clinging to the arm of the soon to be famous singer-songwriter. Susan "Suze" Rotolo was a seventeen year old emancipated minor, house sitting a friend's apartment in New York's Greenwich Village when, in 1961, Robert Zimmerman arrived from Minnesota and began to invent the mythical character we know as Bob Dylan.
Rotolo's memoir gives an interesting insight into the process and into the mind of the developing artist that became Bob Dylan. Memory being a tricky thing, however, she begins the book with a disclaimer:
Secrets remain. Their traces go deep, and with all due respect I keep them with my own. The only claim I make for writing a memoir of that time is that it may not be factual, but it is true.
Keeps them with her own what? Dylan like she doesn't say. Like a poet, like Dylan himself, Rotolo's language sometime eludes understanding. This book was definitely not ghost written. I bears the marks of a non-professional, veering from one subject to another unexpectedly, leaving the reader wondering what just happened. Fragmented sentences and abandoned thoughts pepper the narrative. In a perverse way, this is perfect for a memoir about a time spent with this master of evasion and misdirection.
Rotolo was a red diaper baby. The passages that deal with her own family, her involvement with radical politics in the 1960s and her visit to Cuba, as a test of the travel ban imposed on American citizens, could have been expanded into a book themselves, if she had never met Bob Dylan. Another book certainly could be written about the folksingers, Pete Seeger, Dave Van Ronk, Phil Ochs, Mary Travers, Ian & Sylvia, who wander in and out of her Dylan centered story. The story of her work in the avant-guarde off off Broadway theater could make a third. Perhaps a career as a memoirist is being born here.
What this memoir is, though, is an impression, looking back 40 years in memory, of a time when a young man and a young woman were embroiled in a moment of extreme pressure and confusion and the way that they tried, with difficulty to deal with it. Some things are glossed over and some things are left unsaid.