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The Sunday Times Music books of the year

The Sunday Times books of the year: Music

Reviewed by Robert Sandall

John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman
HarperCollins £25

Written with the co-operation of Yoko Ono, who subsequently disowned it for being ‘disrespectful’, Norman’s life of Lennon is the most complete account yet of an incendiary talent and troubled soul. Fame has seldom alighted on a man who was, from first to last, such an unhappy misfit.

From the upheavals of his early life, as an unwanted child raised by his strict and starchy aunt Mimi, to his last days as a homesick, housebound exile in New York, Lennon never really settled. Not even leading the most famous pop group in history could bring the peace he hymned in his celebrated song Imagine. The reasons why are superbly marshalled in this meticulously researched, compulsively readable book.

Harvill Secker £12.99

A rock’n’roll version of The Office, this account of Kennedy’s spell as an employee of the Warner label in New York is a droll antidote to the standard musicbiz memoir. When he arrives in 2002, the budgets for debauchery have been slashed, and nervous marketing types rule.

Desperate avarice is everybody’s default position – from the new proprietors who loot the company for their $20m bonuses to the artists eager to flog their integrity to the first corporate sponsor. Kennedy views this shambles with the eye of a larky obituarist.

Orion £20

Led Zeppelin summed up the best and the worst of rock culture in the 1970s, and Wall is one of few biographers to have got the measure of both sides of the band. If he is steadfastly nonjudgmental in the face of all the drinking and drugging, the misogynist abuse of groupies and the psychotic thuggishness of drummer John Bonham and manager Peter Grant, that’s because he appreciates how their callous disregard for normal constraints also allowed Led Zeppelin to make toweringly original music – for a while. Theirs was a Faustian tale that veteran metal-journo Wall tells with authority.

Orion £20

Encapsulating the life of a prolific character such as Eno is, as Sheppard points out, “like folding down a skyscraper into a suitcase”. His preference is for the younger man, the art-school maverick turned boa-wearing synthesizer whiz who lit up the early 1970s with Roxy Music and went on to produce U2. Although Sheppard skimps the last 25 years and doesn’t delve far into Eno’s art projects or complicated marriage, he is strong on the bitter 1970s battle with Bryan Ferry and the working friendship with Bowie. He sheds interesting light, too, on Eno’s fondness for women with large bottoms.

GIG: The Life and Times of a Rock-Star Fantasist by SIMON ARMITAGE
Viking £16.99

Armitage is a writer and poet for whom the template of performance is supplied by the rock gig. In this lively memoir he takes us through his youthful obsession with punk and the “new romantics”, right up to his current interest in Arctic Monkeys and their “engaging narratives and subtle half-rhymes (sung) in a republic of south Yorkshire accent”. Armitage’s taste in music (indie guitar bands such as the Smiths and the Fall) is stuck firmly north of Watford, and the way he weaves it into the story of his life with his wife, formerly the singer with Sue and the Speedy Bears, makes this a must-read for fortysomething teenagers everywhere.

Aurum £16.99

Rotolo was Bob Dylan’s first proper girlfriend, and was with him, on and off, for four formative years in New York from 1961 to 1965. Apart from hugging his arm on the front cover of his second album, Rotolo kept a low profile before publishing a book that has curried her no favour with Dylan anoraks. Her portrait of an unsophisticated and unscrupulous young hick from Minnesota may not burnish the myth, but she tells it with a keen eye for Manhattan’s bohemian folky ethos and, given Dylan’s relentless womanising, a complete lack of vengeful bitterness.

THE REST IS NOISE:Listening to the 20th Century by ALEX ROSS
Fourth Estate £25

Much modern classical composition is a no-go area for many music lovers, and a pointless racket to the general public – hardly a promising subject therefore for a non-academic book. The New Yorker’s music critic Ross, however, has turned it into a gripping account of the last century in which troubled, shady characters such as Richard Strauss and Dmitri Shostakovitch seek refuge in the patronage of Hitler and Stalin, and outlandish avant-garde ideas find shelter in the work of cool jazzers such as Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk. A definitive work of reference dressed as unputdown-able social history.

Bantam Press £20

Although he never got feted as a journalist the way he did as a DJ and broadcaster, Peel contributed columns and reviews to a number of publications throughout his career. This selection of his articles (chosen by his children and named after the make of typewriter he always used) reminds you of his wonderfully surreal humour; as in “Aerosmith thundered away with all the careless spontaneity of a telephone booth.” It also contains some surprisingly indiscreet, possibly fictitious personal details, such as “somebody called Anne has written to me from Preston offering to fellate me till I faint…”.

THE FALLEN: Searching for the Missing Members of The Fall by DAVE SIMPSON
Canongate £18.99

MarkE Smith, the prime mover of the Fall, the longest-running punk group on the planet, is a notoriously autocratic band-leader who has fired around 40 backing musicians during his 30-year career. Simpson’s idea – to interview as many of these discarded sidemen (and women) as he can track down – is a good one, given that Smith himself is as enigmatic in interviews as he is on record. The results of Simpson’s picaresque endeavours are a hoot and reveal a surprising amount of goodwill for a capricious and sometimes violent employer. Most believable is the lady vocalist who observes, “Mark’s the sort of person who likes pulling wings off flies.”

Atlantic £30

The trend for bands to publish books the size of paving slabs with lots of previously unpublished posters and accompanying “in their own words” blah has gone beyond the point of dullness. The Clash bucks it, thanks partly to the fact that the band’s career was so hectic and short – a little over eight years – and mainly to the individual members’ refreshing candour. Headon apologises for his heroin addiction; Jones forgives Strummer for kicking him out of the band; and Simonon says he wishes that the triple album Sandinista! had been released as a single one.

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December 15, 2008 Posted by | John Lennon, Suze Rotolo, _ARTICLE, _BOB DYLAN, _LITERATURE, _MUSIC | Leave a comment

Bob Dylan – Minneapolis 1992 – Boots Of Spanish Leather

So take heed, take heed of the western wind,
Take heed of the stormy weather.
And yes, there’s something you can send back to me,
Spanish boots of Spanish leather.

After the Pretenders new punk pop great Boots Of Chinese Plastic, here’s the real fucking deal, Bob Dylan‘s classic Boots Of Spanish Leather !

A great live performance from a haunt familiar to Bob from his earliest days, the badlands of Minneapolis !

Album cover
Album The Times They Are a-Changin’
Released January 13, 1964
Recorded August 7, 1963
Genre Folk
Length 4:40
Label Columbia
Writer Bob Dylan
Producer Tom Wilson

“Boots of Spanish Leather” was first released on Dylan’s great 1964 album The Times They Are A-Changin’.

Musically, this song consists of Dylan alone on the acoustic guitar as he plays in his idiosyncratic “fingerpicking” style!

Musically this song is quite similar to his earlier amazing composition “Girl from the North Country“, a wonderful song we’ve already written extensively about!

Lyrically, “Boots of Spanish Leather” is “a restless, forlorn ballad for the ages and sages – a classic Dylan tale of two lovers, a crossroads, and the open sea…” (Trager 80).

Many critics have said that this song was written about and may relate to , Dylan’s New York City girlfriend in the early ’60s, who in 1964 left him to travel to Italy.

Rotolo confirmed this interpretation in a 2008 NPR interview. Of course she did! There was book to flog with nothing of interest therein aside from the period when Bob was fucking her!!

The song is written as a dialogue, with the first six verses alternating between the man and woman; however, the last three verses are all given by the one who has been left, presumably the man (Dylan). Within these nine verses, the woman goes across the sea.

She writes, asking whether the man would like any gift, and he refuses, poetically saying he only wants her back. Towards the end it becomes clear that she is not returning, and she finally writes saying she may never come back, “It depends on how I’m a-feelin’.”

The man comes to realize what has happened and finally gives her a material request: “Spanish boots of Spanish leather.”

Michael Gray has pointed out a strong parallel between this line and the traditional folk song “Blackjack Davey,” which Dylan arranged and recorded for his 1992 album Good as I Been to You, and in which footwear of Spanish leather also plays a significant role (Gray 657).

We take particular note of this song’s inclusion in the Norton Anthology of Poetry, 5th edition, in the section titled “Popular Ballads of the 20th Century.

It’s about fucking time Dylan’s magnificent poetry gets widely recognised in the cobwebbed corridors of academia.

Same goes for the greatest poet of recent times, Even moreso!

Though performed live only sporadically since its composition, Dylan did not start performing “Boots of Spanish Leather” regularly until his Never Ending Tour began in 1988.

However, after that Suze Rotolo cash-in book recently, methinks his taste for performing this great song will dwindle!

Oh, I’m sailin’ away my own true love,
I’m sailin’ away in the morning.
Is there something I can send you from across the sea,
From the place that I’ll be landing?

No, there’s nothin’ you can send me, my own true love,
There’s nothin’ I wish to be ownin’.
Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled,
From across that lonesome ocean.

Oh, but I just thought you might want something fine
Made of silver or of golden,
Either from the mountains of Madrid
Or from the coast of Barcelona.

Oh, but if I had the stars from the darkest night
And the diamonds from the deepest ocean,
I’d forsake them all for your sweet kiss,
For that’s all I’m wishin’ to be ownin’.

That I might be gone a long time
And it’s only that I’m askin’,
Is there something I can send you to remember me by,
To make your time more easy passin’.

Oh, how can, how can you ask me again,
It only brings me sorrow.
The same thing I want from you today,
I would want again tomorrow.

I got a letter on a lonesome day,
It was from her ship a-sailin’,
Saying I don’t know when I’ll be comin’ back again,
It depends on how I’m a-feelin’.

Well, if you, my love, must think that-a-way,
I’m sure your mind is roamin’.
I’m sure your heart is not with me,
But with the country to where you’re goin’.

So take heed, take heed of the western wind,
Take heed of the stormy weather.
And yes, there’s something you can send back to me,
Spanish boots of Spanish leather.

Copyright ©1963; renewed 1991
Special Rider Music

Bob Dylan – Minneapolis 1992 – Boots Of Spanish Leather

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October 2, 2008 Posted by | Music_ClassicRock, Suze Rotolo, The Pretenders, _BOB DYLAN, _MUSIC, _POETRY | Leave a comment

Former Girlfriends Dish on Dylan & Lennon / Or Attack of the Killer Leeches!

A genre has evolved: Books by Rock Star love interests

Yap, it’s like an appalling Z-Movie shocker from the 50’s, Attack of the Killer Leeches!

These exes are now being encouraged by publishers to crawl out from wherever they disappeared to after their fifteen minutes in someone else’s spotlight elapsed!

As well as Suze Rotolo (whose claim to fame apparently is that she appeared in a picture with Bob Dylan!), there’s Eric Clapton’s ex (and before that, George Harrison’s ex!) , serial mistress Patti Boyd … to John Lennon’s “lost weekend” girlfriend May Pang (who the fuck’s she?) … to Nancy Lee Andrews, Ringo Starr’s former fiancée (again, who the fuck ?) ……

A typical quote from one of these characters;

Rotolo – “Yes. I could say I was a Muse.

Wow, thanks Suze! I guess that, without you, we’d never have had the genius of Bob Dylan!! Not one album, not one song, not one verse, not one line, not one word, not one note!

We owe you the world, baby!
Two things to note about being a “muse”;

    – No talent whatsoever is required, and,
    – You don’t actually need to do anything at all!

Seems that this would be the only job spec that most of these could qualify for!

I mean, a dog or a sheep or a flower or a steeple or a goldfish or a stick could just as equally be a “muse”!!

Another wonderful fragment, this time from mistress Pang!;

“It was the most productive time in his solo career,” Pang says, which was marked by the release of “Walls and Bridges.” “And that was his number one album with his only number one single in his lifetime, ‘Whatever Gets You Through the Night.'”

His only number one single in his lifetime? Has this bimbo ever heard of a little group called The Beatles?!

Back on topic, there is one huge question about this whole leech phenomenon!

Who the fuck buys this shit?!

They Loved These Music Icons, And Now They Tell Their Stories

//” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.The year was 1963. And she was Bob Dylan’s girlfriend. The image of them together is one of many from a Columbia Records publicity shoot.

“And the photographer said, ‘Bob, sit here. Move here. Pick up your guitar. Put down the guitar.’ And then he said, ‘Suze, get in the picture.’ So, I said, ‘Okay.'”

“You had no idea?” Altschul asked.

“No idea, and was very surprised that they chose that one to be the cover,” Rotolo said. “I thought they’d take one of Bob by himself.”

Forty-five years later, Rotolo has written a memoir, “A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village In the Sixties” (Random House), putting her in tune with a new trend.

From Eric Clapton’s ex, Patti Boyd … to John Lennon’s girlfriend May Pang … to Nancy Lee Andrews, Ringo Starr’s former fiancée, a genre has evolved: Books by rock star love interests.

“What can we learn about Bob Dylan from your book that we’re not gonna learn from all of the others?” Altschul asked.

“It was through my eyes,” Rotolo said. “Anyone could write about that period. But through my eyes, it’s personal. It was my personal history, my personal story, in seeing this man who became an icon.”

He may be an icon now, but his first Greenwich Village apartment – which he shared with Rotolo in 1961 – was anything but grand. She took CBS News Sunday Morning to the building.

“We were on the top floor, in the rear,” she said. “It was hot in summer, and cold in winter.”

“Little apartment?” Altschul asked.

“Very little apartment,” Rotolo said without hesitation. “One tiny bedroom, and a tiny kitchen, and the main room. We used to eat a lot at The Bagel, which was across the street. And there was a guy who made wonderful hamburgers. He was in the window grilling the hamburgers. So we’d go there a lot.”

Rotolo first laid eyes on Dylan only a few blocks away, at a club called Gerde’s Folk City. He was playing back-up harmonica. When they met she was 17, he was 20. A romance ignited quickly, fueled by their mutual love of poetry, and lasted almost four years.

“So within that first year of knowing him, he became very famous,” Altschul said.


“That’s so much pressure on a relationship, too.” Altschul added.

“Yes,” Rotolo answered. “Well, I think it’s very difficult for the artist, too. People would take him as gospel – that he could give the word on anything. And why would that be? He was basically an entertainer.”

An entertainer obsessed with writing lyrics.

When not penning songs, Dylan wrote romantic inscriptions to Rotolo, like this one in a poetry book he gave her as a gift. And he was still penning words of affection about her four decades later, in his 2004 memoir.

“He characterizes you in a particular way that’s quite moving,” Altschul said. “He says, ‘Meeting her was like stepping into the Tales of 1,001 Arabian Nights. She had a smile that could light up a street full of people, a Rodin sculpture come to life.’ How does it feel for him to say that and to characterize you like that?”

“That’s nice, no?” Rotolo said.

“Were you his muse?” Altschul asked.

“That makes sense,” she answered. “Yes. I could say I was a muse.”

Rotolo is not the only rock star muse with a book. There’s also May Pang’s new volume of John Lennon photographs, “Instamatic Karma: Photographs of John Lennon” (St. Martin’s Press).

(St. Martins Press)She was Lennon’s mistress between 1973 and ’75, when he was separated from Yoko Ono. It was known as his “Lost Weekend,” and he was rumored to be depressed, but Pang says just the opposite: Those were years of re-birth.

“It was the most productive time in his solo career,” Pang says, which was marke dby the release of “Walls and Bridges.” “And that was his number one album with his only number one single in his lifetime, ‘Whatever Gets You Through the Night.'”

“What do we learn about him from these photographs that we haven’t known?” Altschul asked.

“I guess the vulnerability,” Pang answered. “He was like you and me, you know? When he was away from all the cameras, he just liked to do the normal things. His favorite thing in life was just to sit around, take in the sun, and go swimming. I couldn’t swim; that’s why I took the pictures instead.”

Pang took pictures of just about everything, in both New York and Los Angeles, where the couple split their time:

There’s Lennon’s reunion with his young son Julian after several years apart, and the signing of the papers that officially disbanded the Beatles.

“Was he resolved about it?” Altschul asked.

“Yeah, he was resolved,” Pang answered. “I mean, he took a deep breath. You know, if you look at that picture, he’s the last one to sign it, you know. He started it and he’s ending it. And his signature was the last one.”

Pang has since been married and divorced, but she’s always kept her Lennon photographs stowed away at home, a home that at times feels more like a John Lennon museum.

There are pieces of history …

“This is my ‘Walls and Bridges’ gold record which I treasure a lot,” Pang said.

And there are personal mementos.

“This was John’s favorite poetry book, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning,” she said.

And then there’s a larger item you’d never expect to see firsthand:

“This was the bed that John and I bought together,” Pang said. “This was in our apartment. So when you look in the book and you see us laying in this bed, where he’s looking at TV, this is the bed.”

And if you look hard enough, you can almost see the world through Lennon’s eyes.

“He wore these,” she said, holding a pair of Lennon’s eyeglasses.

“So he had very poor vision?” Altschul asked.

“He was really, like, almost blind,” Pang answered.

“When was the last time you spoke with him?” Altschul asked.

“Well, 1980, memorial weekend,” she said. “I had some friends over, and the phone rang. And all I heard was, “Hi, May.” My heart just skipped a beat and I said, ‘John.'”

John Lennon died later that year.

Pang says his legend – and that of The Beatles – will always remain.

“They changed the world, not of only music, but they changed the world of how we dress, how we look, how we talk,” she said.

As for Suze Rotolo, she is now a visual artist exhibiting her work at a Manhattan gallery. Married, with a grown son, she says she tries to avoid nostalgia about Bob Dylan. But it’s hard not to look back and reflect on a decade of such profound cultural change.

“It was a very fruitful period, in all the arts,” Rotolo said. “And also, socially. The civil rights movement was going on. The war in Vietnam was firing up. So it was a hot bed of all these different things. And Dylan became kind of the mover and the shaper of the period.”

May 13, 2008 Posted by | John Lennon, May Pang, OTHER_ARTICLE, Suze Rotolo, _BOB DYLAN, _MUSIC, _OTHER | Leave a comment

Excerpt ‘A Freewheelin’ Time’ – By Suze Rotolo / Bob Dylan is an elephant … apparently!

The Rotolo “let’s leverage my short time with Bob Dylan to the nth degree and make loads of cash from it” book is here!

I believe Suze actually wrote all the songs from The Freewheelin Bob Dylan! (well, she seems to think she did anyway!)

She surprisingly says “(Bob) became an elephant in the room of my life. I am private by nature, and my instinct was to protect my privacy, and consequently his.

Erm … what? Why then is she releasing this, exploiting the short relationship they had when Dylan was just a kid, and blowing that relationship’s privacy to smithereens?

Bob is an elephant? I always thought he was a small guy?

Is she talking about Bob’s little Bobby?!


Excerpt ‘A Freewheelin’ Time’

By Suze Rotolo

Published: May 11, 2008

//” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.I met Bob Dylan in 1961 when I was seventeen years old and he was twenty. This book is a memoir of my life as it intertwined with his during the formative years of the 1960s.

I’ve always had trouble talking or reminiscing about the 1960s because of my place close to Dylan, the mover and shaper of the culture of that era. The kind of adulation and scrutiny he received made that conversation awkward for me. He became an elephant in the room of my life. I am private by nature, and my instinct was to protect my privacy, and consequently his.

I was writing a bit before we met—poems, little stories, observations—and I kept at it while I was with him. The writings served the same purpose as the sketchbooks I kept—except that these were verbal drawings:

It isn’t you baby, it’s me and my ghost and your holy ghost.
There is a saying about one’s past catching up
with them
mine not only did that, it overran the present. So tomorrow when the future takes hold
I’ll be sitting in the background with the Surrealists.

Though I no longer remember what triggered those thoughts, recorded in January 1963, reading them in the present gives me an eerie feeling of prescience. In so many ways my past with Bob Dylan has always been a presence, a parallel life alongside my own, no matter where I am, who I’m with, or what I am doing.

Dylan’s public, his fans and followers, create him in their own image. They expect him to be who they interpret him to be. The very mention of his name invokes his myth and unleashes an insurmountable amount of minutiae about the meaning of every word he ever uttered, wrote, or sang.

As Bob Dylan’s fame grew so far out of bounds, I felt I had secrets to keep. Though I kept my silence, I didn’t relish being the custodian of such things. Time passes and the weight of secrets dissipates. Articles are written and biographies are churned out that trigger memories only because they are often far from the reality I knew. They tend to be lackluster yet fascinating in their fantasy. I acknowledge that memory is a fickle beast. Fragments of stories stride in and out; some leave traces, while others do not. 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.

May 12, 2008 Posted by | OTHER_ARTICLE, OTHER_BOOK, Suze Rotolo, _BOB DYLAN, _OTHER | Leave a comment

Suze Rotolo – Tangled up in Dylan

Piece about Suze Rotolo’s book, which of course exploits her short relationship with Bob Dylan in 61 and 62, and her famous appearance with Bob in NYC on the cover of the Freewheelin’ BD album.

Who the hell knows what else lil Suzy ever did? Who cares!

Tangled up in Dylan

Suze Rotolo, the musician’s first muse, has written an entertaining memoir about their love affair that is also a remarkable portrait of living and making art in the 1960s.

By Stephanie Zacharek
April 26, 2008

//” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Face it: The art — or is it more of a science? — of dissecting Bob Dylan is a man’s game. Most of the Dylan scholars (both the smart and the lame ones), the rock critics who have collectively spent several lifetimes wrestling with his lyrics, the civilian gasbags who hold forth at dinner parties whenever his name is even mentioned, are men. I used to have an officemate who, whenever he wanted to take a break from doing actual work (which was shockingly often), would march into my office singing some random Dylan lyric and challenge me to name which song it came from. I know women who love Dylan’s music as much as anyone else does, but I’ve never met one who felt the need to be a walking, talking sack of trivia.

So whether she knows it or not — and I suspect she does — Suze Rotolo has taken something of a risk in writing a memoir of the time she spent in the early ’60s as the girlfriend of the Great Man. There are going to be people out there who think she’s just cashing in on her role as a handmaiden to genius. But “A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties” is only partly about Dylan. Rotolo has written a perceptive, entertaining and often touching book about a remarkable era in recent American cultural history, about a way of living, of making art, that couldn’t have happened at any other time or in any other place.

This is about as far from a juicy tell-all as a memoir can get: Rotolo does share some private details of the story of her romance with Dylan — the two met in 1961, when Rotolo was 17 and Dylan was 20, and were a couple for some four years — but her approach is so sensitive, discreet and affectionate that she never comes off as opportunistic. This is an honest book about a great love affair, set against the folk music revival of the early 1960s, but its sense of time and place is so vivid that it’s also another kind of love story: one about a very special pocket of New York, in the days when impoverished artists, and not just supermodels, could afford to live there.

Rotolo was born in Queens, N.Y., in 1943, the daughter of politically active communists. Her father died suddenly, in 1958, and partly as a way of escaping her rather difficult mother, Rotolo established her independence early on, first taking day trips into the city with friends — specifically, Washington Square Park, a gathering place for anyone interested in music, poetry and politics — and eventually moving out altogether. She then lived with her aunt and cousin in Harlem and eventually found an apartment-sitting arrangement on Waverly Place in Greenwich Village. As teenagers Suze and her older sister, Carla, would listen to a country radio station out of Wheeling, W.Va., where they would hear Les Paul and Mary Ford, Hank Williams and the Everly Brothers on the Grand Ole Opry. Later, after moving to the Village, Rotolo would haunt the cheap record shops, buying up blues and jazz albums as well as Harry Smith’s collected recordings of traditional folk music. As a young woman with an interest in painting and drawing — she would later work as a set designer on off-Broadway productions — she’d decorate the plain white sleeves of these records with her own cover art.

Although Rotolo had heard Dylan perform at a small West Village club, she first met him at an all-day folk festival in July 1961, held at Riverside Church in upper Manhattan: “Whenever I looked around, Bobby was nearby. I thought he was oddly old-time looking, charming in a scraggly way. His jeans were as rumpled as his shirt and even in the hot weather he had on the black corduroy cap he always wore. He made me think of Harpo Marx, impish and approachable, but there was something about him that broadcast an intensity that was not to be taken lightly.”

Dylan was, she says, “funny, engaging, intense, and he was persistent. These words completely describe who he was throughout the time we were together; only the order of the words would shift depending on mood or circumstance.” Rotolo and Dylan immediately became inseparable, and not long after their meeting she moved into the small walk-up Dylan found on West Fourth Street. The headiest parts of the book detail their time there and the friends they made in the glory days of the folk music revival, among them singer-songwriter duo Ian and Sylvia Tyson and folk legend Dave Van Ronk and his wife, Terri Thal, a leggy, lanky, unconventional beauty who, on hot days, would greet guests at the couple’s West Village flat dressed only in a white bra and panties.

Rotolo writes about Dylan’s sudden and rapid ascension, but she doesn’t underplay her own story, which is engaging in itself: When her mother and stepfather offered her the opportunity to go to school in Italy for six months, she made the wrenching decision to leave her boyfriend behind. (Rotolo includes quotes from some of Dylan’s letters to her, which are deeply moving both for their unapologetic silliness and their unvarnished lovesickness.) She also details, conscientiously and without bitterness, some of the issues that led to the couple’s eventual breakup. Rotolo, an artist herself, was completely clued in to the sexism of the folk scene (a feature of ’60s counterculture in general). She began to shrink from the idea of being a musician’s “chick” or, worse, his “old lady.” She writes only glancingly of Dylan’s romance with Joan Baez, which began when she and Dylan were still a couple: The episode was obviously painful for her, but she doesn’t treat it as a major feature of her story. It’s possible for women as well as men to be chivalrous, as Rotolo proves.

“A Freewheelin’ Time” doesn’t begin and end with Dylan: Rotolo also talks about her life after Bob, including an illegal trip she made to Cuba in 1963, as a way of protesting the State Department’s travel ban to that country. (Rotolo, raised in a fervently communist household, was sympathetic to communist ideas only to a point; her ongoing questioning of those ideas is a recurring feature of her memoir.) And as the book’s title says outright, Rotolo knows that the story of Bob Dylan is inseparable from that of a specific New York neighborhood. In one of the loveliest passages she describes the genesis of the famous photograph that graces the cover of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” an image whose visual and emotional simplicity made it revolutionary, for album-cover art, at the time.

Rotolo describes how Columbia Records sent a photographer to the couple’s apartment on West Fourth Street. For the occasion, Rotolo writes, “Bob chose his rumpled clothes carefully.” When it was time to go outside for more pictures, he wore a suede jacket, even though it was an extremely cold day. Rotolo wrapped herself in a green coat, which she belted tightly for more warmth. “I felt like an Italian sausage,” she writes.

The cover of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” shows an almost unbearably young-looking couple striding toward the camera — toward the future — through a corridor of parked cars and tallish buildings laced with fire escapes. There’s slush in the street; this is New York in midwinter, after all. The guy in the picture, a skinny, nervous-looking kid, his head topped with a tall pile of curly hair, is instantly recognizable. But the girl, attractive and thoughtful looking, with a wide-open smile, holds the camera’s gaze just as intently. Dylan fans, thanks to their stockpile of important trivia, have always known that this woman’s name is Suze Rotolo. Now we know more than just her name.

April 28, 2008 Posted by | OTHER_ARTICLE, Suze Rotolo, _BOB DYLAN, _OTHER | Leave a comment