Their marriage has been called one of rock’s greatest romances. The relationship of Sara and Bob Dylan, married from 1965 to 1977, spawned several of Dylan’s greatest songs. The duo, both incredibly weary of the public eye, has never offered a lot of comments about one another in the press, even during their twelve-year relationship, and it’s Bob’s songs about Sara that have remained the lasting testament of their relationship.
Bob and Sara allegedly met in Greenwich Village in 1962, though this is unfounded. At the time, Sara was known as Shirley Noznisky and was working as a model and bunny at the Playboy Club in New York City. While modeling, she met her first husband photographer Hans Lowndes, who she married in 1960 and by whom was convinced to change her named because he “couldn’t be married to a girl named Shirley.” She had a daughter Maria in 1961, but their marriage was quickly crumbling. In 1964, Sara attended the wedding of one of her good friends Sally to Albert Grossman, who was Bob Dylan’s manager. The wedding was most likely the first time that Sara and Bob met. The two became involved very quickly and seriously throughout 1964, Sara noting how Bob had seemed to adopt Maria as his own daughter. Together, they moved to the Chelsea Hotel, albeit in separate but near rooms, but even though they were seriously involved, Dylan continued his relationships with several women, including Joan Baez and Edie Sedgwick.
In November 1965, Bob and Sara were married in a very private ceremony – nobody was to find out about the wedding for several months, not even Dylan’s parents, until an article published February in the New York Post titled “Hush! Bob Dylan Is Wed.” Together, the newlyweds moved into a house in Woodstock New York, and welcomed a son, Jesse Byron, in January 1966. Later that year, Dylan was in a motorcycle accident that led him to withdraw extensively from the public, rarely making appearances for the next eight years. Of the crash, he said “when I had that motorcycle accident…I woke up and caught my senses… I had a family and I just wanted to see my kids.” With Dylan not touring or doing appearances, he took care of his growing family: Maria, Jesse, Anna, Sam, and Jakob; the role of dad fit him so well that friends would say that they’d never seen Bob happier than during that time.
By the mid-1970s, with Bob back to touring and apparent having affairs with Sally Kirkland, Ellen Bernstein, and reconnecting with Joan Baez, the marriage was put under undue stress and the couple became rather estranged. But still, together they filmed “Renaldo and Clara,” a movie written and directed by Dylan during the Rolling Thunder Revue tour during 1975-1976, with Bob also playing the role of Renaldo, and Sara playing Clara. That wasn’t all – Joan Baez plays the part of the Woman in White. The film had the three in a love triangle eerily similar to what was happening off-screen as Sara encouraged her husband to return to Woodstock more to be with their family, and Joan encouraging Bob to return to writing his political songs.
Apparently it was during this tour that Sara confronted Dylan about his infidelities and increasingly odd behavior. According to Baez, Sara showed up backstage one night “looking like a madwoman, carrying baskets of wrinkled clothes, her hair wild and dark rings around her eyes,” and she began to verbally attack Dylan over his drinking, cheating, and drug use. From this point on the marriage became increasingly distant, until Sara finally filed for divorce in early 1977, claiming that Bob’s bizarre behavior has made her and their five children greatly worried. She said, “I can’t go home without fear for my safety. I was in such fear of him that I locked doors in the home to protect myself from his violent outbursts and temper tantrums…He has struck me in the face injuring my jaw.” The proceeding divorce was bitter, and the following custody battle was worse. Bob and Sara remained on unfriendly terms for the next few years before reconciling their relationship in the early 1980s, even considering remarriage in 1983. Today, they are friends, with Sara occasionally attending his shows and Bob referring to Sara in “Chronicles: Volume One” as “one of the loveliest creatures in the world of women.”
The only time Bob ever spoke about his marriage openly with the press was in 1978 when he was doing a lot publicity for “Renaldo and Clara.” Still in the wake of his divorce and custody battle, Dylan reflected on his marriage, saying, “Marriage was a failure. Husband and wife was a failure, but father and mother wasn’t a failure. I wasn’t a very good husband…I don’t know what a good husband is. I was good in some ways…and not so good in other ways… There aren’t really any mistakes in life. They might seem to knock you out of proportion at the time, but if you have the courage and the ability and the confidence to go on, well, then… you can’t look at it as a failure, you just have to look at it as a blessing in a way…”
Of his marriage with Sara, Dylan would say that he “figured it would last forever… Most people…keep some contact, which is great for the kids. But in my case, I first got really married, and then got really divorced. I believe in marriage. I know I don’t believe in open marriage. Sexual freedom just leads to other kinds of freedom. I think there should be a sanction against divorce. Why should people be allowed to get married and divorced so easily?”
Sara is believed to have inspired some of Dylan’s most emotional songs, including: “Isis,” “We Better Talk This Over,” “Abandoned Love,” “Down Along the Cove,” “If You See Her, Say Hello,” “Wedding Song,” “On a Night Like This,” “Something There is About You,” “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” “To Be Alone With You,” “If Not For You,” “Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat),” “Love Minus Zero/No Limit.” One song that is known to be about Sara is “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” which was confirmed by Dylan’s other song about her, appropriately titled “Sara,” with the lyrics I can still hear the sound of the Methodist bells/ I had taken the sure and had just gotten through/ staying up for days in the Chelsea Hotel/ writing Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands for you. The albums following the estrangement and breakup of the marriage – 1975’s “Blood on the Tracks” and 1976’s “Desire” – are said to be largely inspired by Sara.