Dear Readers,

I now consider this blog to be my Juvenelia. Have fun perusing the archives, and find me at my new haunt, here.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Freewheelin' Time

Like many female Dylan-fans I've been long-fascinated by Suze and Sara and Joan, the legendary women in Bob's life. Those feminists who have seen Don't Look Back know that it's hard to wholeheartedly continue one's passionate embrace of the Cult of Bob after a screening, due to his callous treatment of Joan Baez and his narcissism as revealed in that film.

So when Suze Rotolo wrote a memoir of her years as a Greenwich Village bohemian radical, I was all too eager to read it (okay, I got a free galley copy, but even so...)

If you have any interest at all in the 60s, Dylan, or the emergence of feminism, I can't recommend the book enough. It is the best example of the daily frustrations of pre-feminist existence, EVEN in liberated circles, I've ever read. Don't be turned off by Rotolo's writing: the book is written in a patchy, free-association way with lots of names and places that overwhelm even people like me, with a decent familiarity with the Dylan hagiography. This painterly style is the best evidence of Rotolo's forthright honesty and openness and gradually builds a lot of trust in her memories.

Said memories start out with a lot of fascinating stuff about growing up as a red-diaper baby, the child of hard core Italian communists/leftists and what life was like in the repressive 50s.

Later on, when things get hotter and heavier, Rotolo never exploits her relationship with Dylan, referring obliquely to their sex life and his later affairs with Joan Baez.

She also supports his controversial choices with fervor, believing in the ultimate calling of Art.
But what Rotolo is most interested in preserving and recalling is the chemistry arising from the meeting of their two minds, the kind of young idealistic love they had, and their existence in this incredible time of ferment: the early 60s when art, music, and politics all convened for an assault on Society as it was. She describes their intellectual and political fads with a respect for youthful idealism past and in her epilogue, defends her generation against those that came after:

The sixties were an era that spoke a language of inquiry and curiosity and rebelliousness against the stifling repressive political and social culture of the decade that preceded...[we] were driven by the fact that we had something to say, not something to sell.

But through it all, she also talks about the pain of being a woman with a brain, motivation, and ideas in a place where women weren't welcome yet. She mentions little things, like the constant sexual harassment and leering that women faced, to bigger ones, like having no place in the movement beyond being a helper and partner to Dylan.

I chafed at the notion of devoting my young self to serving somebody., since I was still so curious about life--questing. I hated the thought of being so and so's chick; I didn't want to be a string on Bob Dylan's guitar... but I didn't know where to put that frustration.
In a way, her extraordinarily brilliant reflections--and the nascent career in art and politics she describes-- demonstrate her point better than anything: in another era, we might know Rotolo's name as well as we know the story of the man she once influenced and adored.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:26 PM

    My partner loves all things Dylan and Dylan-related. I know what I'm getting him for the holidays!