Monday, February 28, 2011

Suze Rotolo, Muse and Girlfriend to Bob Dylan, Dies at 67

Bob Dylan and Suze Rotolo, New York, 1963
Don Hunstein: Bob Dylan and Suze Rotolo, New York, 1963

ArtsBeat - New York Times Blog

The New York Times
February 28, 2011, 1:16 pm
By William Grimes

Suze Rotolo, Muse and Girlfriend to Bob Dylan, Dies at 67

Suze Rotolo, who entered into a romantic relationship with Bob Dylan in the early 1960s as his career was just getting started and, in one of the signature images of the decades, walked with him arm-in-arm on the cover of his groundbreaking second album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” died on Thursday at her home in Manhattan. She was 67.

The cause was lung cancer, her husband, Enzo Bartoccioli, said on Monday.

Ms. Rotolo, whose nickname was pronounced su-zee, met Mr. Dylan in 1961 at a Riverside Church folk concert at which he was performing. She was 17; he was 20.

“Right from the start I couldn’t take my eyes off her,” Mr. Dylan wrote in his memoir, “Chronicles: Volume 1,” published in 2004. “She was the most erotic thing I’d ever seen. She was fair skinned and golden haired, full-blood Italian. The air was suddenly filled with banana leaves. We started talking and my head started to spin. Cupid’s arrow had whistled past my ears before, but this time it hit me in the heart and the weight of it dragged me overboard.”

In her own book, “A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the 60’s” (2008), Ms. Rotolo described Mr. Dylan as “oddly old-time looking, charming in a scraggly way.”

They began seeing each other and shared a walk-up apartment on West Fourth Street in Greenwich Village.

Suze Rotolo and Bob Dylan
Don Hunstein/Sony BMG Music Entertainment

Suze Rotolo and Bob Dylan in their apartment in 1963

The relationship, lasting four years, was rocky. She was the daughter of Italian Communists with her own ideas about life, art and politics that made it increasingly difficult for her to fulfill the role of helpmate and, as she put it in her memoir, “boyfriend’s ‘chick,’ a string on his guitar.”

Her social views, especially her commitment to the civil rights movement and her work for the Congress for Racial Equality, had a strong influence on Mr. Dylan’s writing, as did her interest in theater and the visual arts, which exposed him to ideas and artists outside the world of music.

When, to his distress, she went to Italy in 1962 to study art at the University of Perugia, her absence inspired the plaintive Dylan love songs “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Boots of Spanish Leather” and “Tomorrow Is a Long Time.” He later wrote a song highly critical of her family, “Ballad in Plain D.”

Ms. Rotolo spent most of her adult life avoiding discussions of her relationship with Mr. Dylan and pursuing a career as an artist, but she relented after Mr. Dylan published his autobiography. She appeared as an interview subject in “No Direction Home,” Martin Scorsese’s 2005 documentary about Mr. Dylan, and wrote “A Freewheelin’ Time” in large part to tell her side of the Dylan story and to portray herself as more complicated than a muse.

A fuller obituary will be posted at nytimes.com

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