A Freewheelin' Time:
A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties
A Book by Suze Rotolo
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2008, Volume 15, #8
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Wed August 6, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
So many books have been written about Bob Dylan that it’s forgivable to ask whether anyone’s shelf has room for another one. Since Anthony Scaduto published the first biography, simply titled Bob Dylan, in 1972, an entire cottage industry has sprouted. Rarely a year has passed without a new addition to the genre. With every aspect of the bard’s work dissected, with tales told and retold, and with nothing new to report, it’s no wonder that Dylan has become such a curmudgeonly recluse. Who could possibly live under such scrutiny?
Of course, some of the books have been enjoyable. Christopher Ricks provided an intelligent encapsulation of Dylan’s thematic concerns in Dylan’s Visions of Sin, while David Hajdu’s Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina, and Richard Farina was a fine, cultural remembrance. Most of the tomes, however, are nothing more than exercises that completely miss the point.
Greil Marcus’ celebrated eviscerations of the influence that Harry Smith’s Anthology of Folk Music had upon Dylan’s work — Old Weird America: Bob Dylan and the Basement Tapes and its analytical counterpart Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads — often bear more resemblance to an obsessive’s cataloguing of an archaeological dig than they do an evocation of what is great and wonderful about Dylan’s canon. Chronicles, Volume 1, Dylan’s own contribution to the fray, wasn’t so much an autobiography as it was a delightful riff and meditation on the spaces that lie in between what has been reported. Although the world continues to wait for a book on Dylan where the writer gets more than the facts correct, Suze Rotolo’s A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties goes a long way toward communicating what it was like to be around Dylan as his life and the world around him were changing faster than anyone possibly could ever understand.
Most Dylan fans will recognize Rotolo as the woman who was featured with him on the front cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, his sophomore set from 1962. Until the filming of Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home in 2005, Rotolo had remained silent about her early relationship with Dylan. The experience of recalling those formative years in Dylan’s career opened the floodgates of Rotolo’s memory, and A Freewheelin’ Time is the result. For the record, she is not an eloquent writer, and it takes some time to become acclimated to her choppy, conversational style. Nevertheless, Rotolo describes this period in Dylan’s life in such an honest and unaffected way that one is gradually won over and taken under the thrall of the story she has to tell.
With the help of Rotolo’s voice and insights, the Dylan mythology is stripped away, and the reader is left with the experiences of a 17-year-old girl who falls in love with a 20-year-old singer at the cusp of a period of great personal and social upheaval. The stories that Rotolo previously had kept to herself now emerge naturally and effortlessly as she tries to clear herself of what she calls "the elephant in the room of my life." There are too many interesting anecdotes and insights in A Freewheelin’ Time to describe without giving away Rotolo’s tale, but the overall effect of her reminiscences is to change Dylan, the icon, into Bobby Dylan, the young songwriter and man in love.
A Freewheelin’ Time is a delightful and unexpectedly wonderful book. As its subtitle suggests, it serves very nicely as a memoir of life in Greenwich Village during the early 1960s. Beyond, that, however, it also becomes an uplifting evocation of the healing nature of time. If Rotolo had written this tome earlier, she undoubtedly would have struggled under the burden of her need to define herself as a separate entity from her former lover. As it is, A Freewheelin’ Time is the mature work of a woman who has seen and done a lot, but who now is ready to look back "with eyes unclouded by longing." As a result, she is able to reclaim her past as well as the love of her young life. A Freewheelin’ Time is a quiet triumph; it is an uplifting journey of hope and reclamation.
Of Further Interest...
A Freewheelin' Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties
is available from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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