A Freewheelin’ Time, Suze Rotolo. In some ways, this book is great — far better than it could have been given the author’s involvement with Bob Dylan during his critical first years in New York City. Of course Rotolo writes about Dylan and takes the book’s title and cover photo from the Dylan album cover on which she was pictured with him. There are some nuggets of information about Bob and his writing, leaving me with some fresh thoughts about the thinking behind Dylan’s early songs, his attitude toward his career in those early years, the real struggles he and Rotolo and other friends had dealing with his skyrocketing fame, and just how damn young they all were throughout these years.
But the book is much more than a recounting of Rotolo’s memories of Dylan. I would guess most of the audience for this book are Dylan fans, and none of them would read it if it were not for Rotolo being his girlfriend at the start of his career, but there is more to the author and more to this book than Dylan. This is her life, her story, and Bob is simply intertwined in a lot of it. Rotolo had plenty of amazing experiences of her own during the years described here, including publicly testing a newly enacted Cuba travel ban. Her struggle with life in a male-dominated world, no doubt made worse because of her relationship with a budding male rock star, is a recurring theme. Her recounting of life in Greenwich Village during the ’60s is worth a read on its own merits.
However, the book suffers from a severe lack of focus. Time jumps around enough that I found it impossible to keep track of what happened when. Rotolo leads into the book stating it is more a recollection than a statement of known facts, but that does not excuse this huge problem with the book. Stories begin, are cut off, and then are picked up again and told in full. Wider topics come up several times throughout the book, little new being added each time. I want to imagine this is the result of an editor taking the manuscript, knowing it will sell to Dylan fans in any condition, running spell check and sending it to press. Rotolo’s recollections deserve more attention and better presentation.