Thursday, March 3, 2011

In memory of Suze Rotolo (1943-2011)

The sixties were an era  that spoke a language of inquiry and curiosity and rebelliousness against the stifling and repressive political and social culture of the decade that preceded it. The new generation causing all the fuss was not driven by the market; we had something to say, not something to sell
Suze Rotolo from A Freewheelin' Time
Deeply saddened by news of the early death of Suze Rotolo, aged just 67 in New York. Suze Rotolo is best remembered as the muse and girlfriend of Bob Dylan when he came to prominence in the 1960's. It was Suze Rotolo who appeared arm in arm with Dylan on the cover of his breakthrough 1963 album The Freewheelin Bob Dylan.

Suze Rotolo was a highly creative artist, illustrator, jewelry artist, teacher, political activist and writer in her own right. Her influence on Dylan is well documented. She was just 17 when she met the 19 year old Dylan in New York, and was already a committed political activist deeply involved in the political struggles of the 1960's, particularly the civil rights movement. Rotolo was raised in a family with radical left wing views and her influence over Dylan's early songwriting was profound. Her social and political views were a major influence on Dylan's early songwriting and she introduced him to many of the political stories and events that appeared in his songs.

Many of his early political ballads and love songs drew inspiration from Rotolo. Rotolo also introduced Dylan to art, drama, film, poetry, books and writing that were to have a major influence over his songwriting and world view.

Rotolo maintained a dignified silence about her relationship with Dylan for nearly 4 decades, until she appeared in Martin Scorsese's 2005 documentary about Bob Dylan No Direction Home.

Her memoir of Greenwich Village in the 1960's and her relationship with Bob Dylan are beautifully documented in the highly acclaimed book she wrote in 2008 titled A Freewheelin Time.

Rotolo's leftist political commitment and activism continued throughout her life. In 2004 she was involved in Billionaires for Bush, a street theater organization that took political activism seriously but took action with satire and panache.

A fine blog piece about Rotolo can be read here. Obituaries are here, here and here. A You Tube tribute to Suze Rotolo featuring photos of Rotolo and one song Dylan wrote about her Tomorrow is a Long Long Time is here

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