Review by Ben Macnair
Publisher: Broadway Books 2008
ISBN: 978-075792687 HB
Suze Rotolo had a close-up view of Greenwich Village life in the 1960s, she saw the early days of figures who would go onto change popular music, and popular culture, who would go onto have a profound influence over the generations that followed them.
Rotolo was Bob Dylan’s girlfriend at the time of his ascendance in the early 1960s. She is on the iconic cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, an album that contained some of his finest early songs. Folk club favourites Blowin’ in the Wind, Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, and Masters of War, to the majesty of A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, and many others.
A Freewheelin’ Time is a love story, about Dylan, about many other incidental figures, but it is also a love story about a place that has changed beyond all recognition. Few of the places mentioned in the book are still there. As well as Rotolo’s involvement with Dylan, the book looks at every part of her life, from her childhood as the shy daughter of Italian working-class communists in Queens, fearing McCarthyite reprisals, and not fitting in at school, or home.
In 1961, as a seventeen-year-old, deeply in love with poetry, art and society, she met Dylan, who was then 20, on the cusp of what was to become a stellar career, driven at his own pace.
We see what Rotolo felt for Dylan, and how she had to let him go to take his place in the folk firmament, but we also learn about her time in the Civil rights movement, at the time of far-reaching change, which many decades later still hasn’t changed as much as it could have done.
Although the book takes liberties with time, it is a fine, easy read, with an eye-witness account of one of the most culturally important places and times in recent American music.