A Freewheelin' Time

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-05-12
  • Publisher: Broadway Books
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Rotolo has written a moving account of the fertile years just before the circus of the 1960s was in full swing. She chronicles the backstory of Greenwich Village in the early days, when Bob Dylan was honing his music skills and she was in the ring with him.

Author Biography

Suze Rotolo (aka Susan) is an artist who lives in New York City with her family.



In the 1960s Bobby wore a black corduroy cap, with the snap on the brim undone, over his head of curly khaki-colored hair. His clothes were sloppy and didn’t fit his body well. He wore shirts in drab colors, chinos and chunky boots, which later gave over to slimmer-fitting jeans and cowboy boots. I slit the bottom seams on his jeans and sewed in an inverted “U” from an older pair so they would slide over his boots. He is wearing them on the cover of theAnother Side of Bob Dylanalbum. My solution was a precursor of the bell-bottoms that came on the market not too long afterward.

He had baby fat, and Dave Van Ronk, already a well-known folk musician dubbed the Mayor of MacDougal Street, loved to tease him about the way he looked. As a folksinger, he advised, Bob had to develop and present an image to the outside world, his future public. Such things might have been talked about in jest, but in truth they were taken quite seriously. Much time was spent in front of the mirror trying on one wrinkled article of clothing after another, until it all came together to look as if Bob had just gotten up and thrown something on. Image meant everything. Folk music was taking hold of a generation and it was important to get it right, including the look—be authentic, be cool, and have something to say. That might seem naïve in comparison with the commercial sophistication and cynicism of today, but back then it was daring, underground, and revolutionary. We believed we could change perceptions and politics and the social order of things. We had something to say and believed that the times would definitely change.

Bobby had an impish charm that older women found endearing, though my mother was immune. He was aware of it and used it when he could. But in general he was shy around people. He had a habit of pumping the air with his knees, a kind of marching in place, whether standing or sitting—all jumpy. Onstage he did it in time to the music. He looked good, despite his floppy clothes. He had a natural charisma, and people paid attention to him.

At the height of his Woody Guthrie phase, he talked through his teeth and when he laughed he would toss back his head and make a crackingha hasound or a smallha, with fingers covering his mouth. His walk was a lurch in slow motion. He had a touch of arrogance, a good dose of paranoia, and a wonderful sense of the absurd.

It was very important t him at that time t write as he spoke. Writin like speech an without havin any punctuation or t write out the word to.

We got on really well, though neither one of us had any skin growing over our nerve endings. We were both overly sensitive and needed shelter from the storm. But Bobby was also tough and focused, and he had a healthy ego. The additional ingredients protected the intense sensitivity. As an artist he had what it took to become a success.

We hadn’t been together long when we went to Philadelphia with Dave Van Ronk and his wife, Terri Thal, for a gig she had booked for the two of them at a coffeehouse. When Bobby got up on the stage, he stood straight with his head slightly back and his eyes nowhere and began to sing “Dink’s Song,” a traditional ballad I had heard sung before by others. I watched him as he sang:

If I had wings like Nora’s dove
I’d fly ’cross the river to the one I love
Fare thee well oh honey,
Fare thee well

He started slow, building the rhythm on his guitar. Something about him caught my full attention.

He pushed out the lyrics as he hit the strings with a steady, accelerating drumlike beat. The audience slowed their chattering; he stilled the room. It was as though I had never heard the song before. He stilled my room, for sure.

In those early years Bob Dylan was a painter searching for his palette. He had in mind the pi

Excerpted from A Freewheelin' Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties by Suze Rotolo
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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