Helpless Dancer

The Endless Note

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan, ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’. sleeve was captured off Jones Street and West 4th Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, Dylan and his girlfriend Suze Rotolo pose a short distance from their apartment. Rotolo saw the sleeve as a “cultural marker” of “spontaneity and sensibility”, whatever the hell that means.

Anyway Suze Rotolo has done alright by it, her book as highlighted below is next up on my list of books I have lying around for reading.

The girl with the wistful eyes and hint of a smile whose head is resting on the suede-jacketed shoulder of a nice-looking young man as they trudge through the snow on the cover of 1963’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan met with his Bobness in 1961, when she was 17 and he was 20.

The story of their love affair is a microcosm of the early Sixties, when the gentle strains of folk music gave way to the electronic blare of rock and a few puffs of pot turned into a bad trip on LSD. For Rotolo, it was a trajectory that would take her from the sweetness of first love to the trauma of abortion.

Dylan maniacs will scour these pages for clues to his lyrics – and find plenty. But they’ll miss the point of this oddly organised (though not as random as it seems), delicately written, heart-tugging memoir of New York’s Greenwich Village when it nearly was a village, and seemed the most exciting place on earth in which to be young. Rotolo’s volume includes a map showing how closely packed into a few streets of the West Village the epicentre of the Sixties music scene was. One only needed to walk up Bleeker Street to get from Gerde’s Folk City – where in September 1961 Robert Shelton discovered Bob Dylan and wrote the career-launching review in the New York Times – to the White Horse, where Dylan Thomas drank himself to death less than seven years earlier, and we all hung out at its tables trying to catch the vibes (though it was a few months earlier, and in Chicago not New York, that the kid from the Midwest, his bid to perform rejected, slept on my floor for a few nights during a folk festival).

Rotolo, now an artist, captures this bohemian atmosphere with loving detail. Those who knew the scene will not be surprised to learn that it was she who taught small-town Bobby Allen Zimmerman about politics. She was the child of communists, whose affiliation had to be kept secret all through the Fifties and Sixties because of the overt persecution the family would have suffered during the McCarthy period.

Rotolo seems refreshingly free of the paranoia that afflicted many of our generation and virtually all her parents’ cohorts, which manifested itself in the habit of hiding copies of the Communist Manifesto and Little Lenin Library books from the eyes of neighbours in the Westchester suburbs. Dylan knew left-wing politics from the dust-bowl perspective of Woody Guthrie, whom he finally met as Guthrie lay dying in a New Jersey hospital in 1961. But it was from Rotolo that he learnt about the labour movement and the organised left, as well as about the civil rights and peace movements. In a way, Dylan’s Jewish background equipped him better for life in Greenwich Village than did Rotolo’s Italian heritage. Both her parents were Italian-born, but the culture (and personnel) of the left was strongly Jewish. There was a slightly frosty meeting of Rotolo and the Zimmerman parents for dinner after Dylan’s under-attended Town Hall concert in April 1963, and another in October for his Carnegie Hall appearance.

Following a temporary separation when Rotolo went to Perugia in 1962 to study, they were together until she decided to move out of the small flat they shared. Then, slowly, the romance fizzled out. Rotolo is generous about the break-up. Did Dylan leave her for Joan Baez? She says only that Dylan and Baez’s ‘professional appearances together were exciting and provoked gossip about an affair. At first it was just gossip – then, of course, it wasn’t.’ And she hasn’t quite kissed and told. As she says: ‘As Bob Dylan’s fame grew so far out of bounds, I felt I had secrets to keep.’ She still has a few.

Review byPaul Levy originally published in The Observer 21st September 2008, published here in edited form.

“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” – Bob Dylan

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son ?
And where have you been my darling young one ?
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Oh, what did you see, my blue eyed son ?
And what did you see, my darling young one ?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand takers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son ?
And what did you hear, my darling young one ?
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
I heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
I heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
I heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Oh, who did you meet my blue-eyed son ?
Who did you meet, my darling young one ?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded in hatred
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

And what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son ?
And what’ll you do now my darling young one ?
I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the deepths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are a many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my songs well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

To buy the music of Bob Dylan click HERE

To buy the book by Suze Rotolo click HERE


April 22, 2010 - Posted by | Books, Interesting Fact, Old Music, Video | ,

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