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A Freewheelin' Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties (2008)

by Suze Rotolo

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3201359,471 (3.74)16
Suze Rotolo reflects on her experiences in Greenwich Village during the 1960s, focusing on the growing popularity of folk music in the area and her relationship with Bob Dylan.

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It was one of the iconic images of the early 1960s: a young Bob Dylan walking down a snow-covered street in Manhattan, looking down, while a young woman clutching his left arm walks with him, facing the camera, a knowing smile on her face. The photo appears on the cover of Dylan's second, breakthrough album, and the woman in the picture is Suze Rotolo. Rotolo was a 17 year old girl when she met Dylan, who was three years older, and the time she spent with him was the time he made the transition from unknown folk singer to superstar. This could have been a book only about Dylan, and a lot of it is, but it's also Rotolo's own story, a story of love and frustration and betrayal, and of a young woman's coming of age in Greenwich Village in the 1960s. Though the chronology can be a bit confusing, the story is actually quite well told. Sadly, Rotolo passed away just two years after writing the book. ( )
  ericlee | Mar 13, 2019 |
Another bestseller I am years late coming to, but Suze Rotolo's fine coming-of-age-in-the-60s memoir, A FREEWHEELIN' TIME, is still relevant, still a fine and compelling read. And not just because she was Bob Dylan's first girlfriend and appeared on the cover of that album with him. Nope. She's got a voice of her own, and this is not just an "I knew him when" kind of book. It's a true memoir, and she tells her own story the best she can remember it, fifty years later. True there is plenty of name-dropping here and there throughout the narrative, but she still manages to tell her own story, and does it with charm and honesty. The one revelation that did shock me - was I the last one to know? - was that she became pregnant during her Dylan years, and had an abortion, which was illegal and could be dangerous at the time. She suffered a long period of depression after that too.

Indeed, in looking back at those pre-feminist years, Rotolo recognizes now how innocent and 'unfree' she was then, as a young woman, noting -

"In my youthful confusion I was still struggling for permission to be. All that was offered to a musician's girlfriend in the early 1960s was a role as her boyfriend's 'chick,' a string on his guitar."

She remembers too going with Dylan to see PULL MY DAISY, an experimental new film from the time which featured Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso and other writers and artists.

"I identified with the men in the film, not the women, who seemed insignificant in the midst of these wild, funny and offbeat guys. I wanted to be them, but didn't know how. I envied them their freedom. Many years later when I saw the film again, I was shaken by that memory. This time I was cognizant of the women and their role in the story. They were inconsequential and extraneous in the way a prop is part of the set."

Rotolo went on to become an artist in her own right. She carries no grudges or hard feelings from those years, saying -

"... I see no reason to take anyone to task for the foibles of the young. We were a passionate lot, dedicated to whatever it was we were doing."

Suze Rotolo is a fine writer, who knows by now just who she is. She's the same age as I am, so a lot of her memories are mine too, only different, of course. It might have helped too that I was listening to some early Dylan as I read. I enjoyed the heck outa her story. Thanks, Suze. Very highly recommended.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER ( )
1 vote TimBazzett | Oct 30, 2017 |
Enjoyed the atmosphere of the village, but after a while, ho-hum.
  spritecat1948 | Sep 10, 2017 |
Been looking for this book for sometime and was thrilled we hen I ran across it on the shelves in the library. Put book down for weeks but decided to finish it yesterday.
A brave book taking an unflinching look back. She states at the end the vulnerability of relying on memory.
We follow those memories of a young woman in the right place at the right time. We follow her journey to Greenwich Village to Italy and back. Her attempts at acting and art school. Her whirlwind love affair with Dylan. Her two month trip to Cuba after travel for US Citizens was banned.
A good read that was not particularly enlightening but definitely from the heart. ( )
  Alphawoman | Sep 2, 2015 |
Suze Rotolo is best known as Bob Dylan's girlfriend at the start of his career, but this memoir shows that there's so much more to her than that. It is clearly marketed as a bit of Dylanology, with the famous album cover photo of the couple on the front cover of the book, but it's as much a memoir of a young woman growing up and making a life for herself.

I enjoyed her portrait of the period. She was a red diaper baby - her parents were communists - and brought her up with a commitment to social change and justice and an ability to think for herself. By 17 she was living independently of her family and earning a living with a variety of casual jobs while pursuing her interests in art, reading, music etc.

Her relationship with Dylan lasted a few years though they only lived together briefly for various reasons. He also had affairs with others including a very public liaison with Joan Baez, and in the end they went through a slow and painful split. But this is no kiss and tell memoir - she writes about it all in a very dignified way.

There are also stories which have little to do with Dylan, such as her trip to Cuba with a group of students to test the US government ban on travel to Cuba. After this Rotolo became a bit disillusioned with the politics of her upbringing and of the New Left, and dropped out of political activity.

Recommended reading particularly if you're interested in the 60s, the music or the history of the American left. ( )
1 vote elkiedee | Feb 24, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
One night in the early 1960s, when Dylan came home drunk, she writes, he accidentally dropped the contents of his wallet on the floor. Rotolo, then a teenager, picked up his draft card and was shaken. His last name wasn’t Dylan; it was Zimmerman. And even though they were essentially living together in a tiny walk-up on West Fourth Street, he hadn’t told her the truth, too committed to maintaining his mysterious persona.
added by danielx | editNew York Times, Sia Michel (Jun 5, 2011)
 
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Epigraph
Who are we, if not a combination of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined?  Each life is an encyclopedia, a library, an inventory of objects, a series of styles, and everything can be constantly reshuffled and reordered in every conceivable way.   ---   Italo Calvino
Dedication
For Luca so he will know and Enzo who always did
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I met Bob Dylan in 1961 when I was seventeen years old and he was twenty.
Quotations
People say he is so secretive- why doesn't he reveal more of himself? I never understand what they mean by that.  Songs and poems reveal the artist's core.  Bob Dylan is his work. There is a fine line between analyzing lyrics and destroying the art.  When does parsing words and phrases begin to smudge or erase the magic in them?  (p. 289)
I don't like to claim any Dylan songs as having been written about me, to do so would violate the art he puts out in the world. The songs are for the listener to relate to, identify with , and interpret through his or her own experience. (p. 290)
Sex, drugs, and rock and roll became the sound bite for the 1960s.  It characterized the times- decade of this, decade of that- but it was not really about anything that superficial.  Those years were about a way of thinking, seeing, and believing- a way to live.  We had depth; we were not superficial.  We honestly believed we could change the world, and we did, for the better. (p. 363)
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Suze Rotolo reflects on her experiences in Greenwich Village during the 1960s, focusing on the growing popularity of folk music in the area and her relationship with Bob Dylan.

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