<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Patterson Tangled Up in Dylan

Tangled Up in Dylan


It’s been a while since I touched on a regular topic of mine here: Bob Dylan. Even if it’s been decades since he was a decidedly political songwriter, his work in that realm is its highest art and remains influential. And as much as I eschew calling anyone the “greatest,” his contributions to the art of songwriting and music making are inestimable and without peer over the five decades plus he’s been at it. And to those of us who still follow him, his work today continues to be relevant, satisfying and enjoyable.

And when an artist’s achievements are so monumental, any naturally curious person wants to discover how they were able to achieve. There’s strong clues in the first of what is slated to be his three-part memoir, Chronicles Rot, Volume One. I a bit impatiently await the next. But my fascination with the man, his work and his life got a very insightful and enjoyable look into how Robert Zimmerman became Bob Dylan in the book A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties by Suze Rotolo.

Rotolo is best known as the young woman walking arm-in-arm with Dylan down a snowy Greenwich Village street on the cover of his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. His girlfriend at the time, she deserves a far greater place in the Dylan hagiography than simply that status, which is part of why her memoir is essential reading to anyone interested in the man, his music, the folk movement of the time and even simply the culture of America in the 1950s and ‘60s.

For starters, it’s an exceptionally well-written book with a winning style by an obviously intelligent and aware woman – one of those reads that’s hard to put down as it flows and charms through her own fascinating life even before she met Dylan and afterwards. But of course, Bob Dylan being who he is, that is the core of the tome and was my primary interest in reading it and I am sure the reason most anyone else would be. But that simply makes it merits beyond that so much stronger.

On the Dylan front, A Freewheelin’ Time is revelatory both personally and artistically. Dylan is an enigmatic person, often but not always by his own intent, and no one else in the many books about him renders him in that crucial era with such empathetic flesh and blood humanity. Yes, the man is a genius, a cultural and musical touchstone, a figure of monumental importance. But in Rotolo’s time with him in the book we get to see the brilliant and artistically ambitious boy becoming a man that is too often overlooked due to the awe, intense interest and even worship he generated as he rose to fame.

Like Chronicles, it illuminates the influences from music to literature to culture and more that fed into his astounding creativity. It shows how genius isn’t simply intelligence but a thirst for knowledge that feeds and informs such profound accomplishments. In his early days, Dylan was an atomic-powered sponge that drew in so many riches that preceded him and reconfigured that to his own purposes. Rotolo not only adds to the list of such inspirations but provided some of it, being a intelligent and aware New Yorker and folk music scene veteran when her lover was still a bit of a midwestern neophyte.

Of course it’s also a love story and account of youthful romanticism. And the author shows great insight into why their relationship was so powerful at its best and closest and the both personal and external factors that led to their break-up. Rotolo is never overly sentimental about their time together nor does she try to any way promote her role in his life and art. By simply telling the facts of the tale that proves significant.

As the title of the book implies, it’s not just about Dylan. A Freewheelin’ Time is a notable work of cultural history. Her account of her youth as a red-diaper baby from an immigrant background coming of age in the 1950s is as powerful as Carl Bernstein’s Loyalties, and her time on the Greenwich Village folk scene even before Dylan arrived has a lovely you-are-there resonance.

Yes, read A Freewheelin’ Time for its Dylan connection and savor all it offers on that matter. But also enjoy it as I did for all it offers as a deliciously eloquent account of its times and one quite impressive and admirable woman’s journey through that.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@prismnet.com.

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2014


Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2014 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652