Tuesday, March 1, 2011

and the silent night will shatter from the sounds inside my mind, for i’m one too many mornings and a thousand miles behind

This is a terribly depressing trend of posts, but in addition to Jane Russell, we've lost another inspiring woman: Suze Rotolo. Suze (pronounced like 'Susie') passed away on February 24th after suffering a from lung cancer. She was 67 years old.

Born and raised in Queens, Suze was the daughter of liberal Italian-Americans who flirted with Communism and left-winged political activism, describing herself as a "red diaper" baby (a term for the children of radicals during the age of McCarthyism). She was just seventeen years old when she met Bob Dylan in the summer of 1961 at a folk concert (some say it was at Riverside Church, others state that the meeting occurred at Gerde's Folk City in the West Village), just shortly after Dylan moved to New York City. Of meeting her, Dylan wrote in Chronicles, "From the start I couldn't take my eyes off her. 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." Far less romantically, Rotolo described her first impression of him as "oddly old-time looking, charming in a scraggly way."
Over the course of the three-year relationship that ensued, the young couple continued to inspire one another, though what Suze inspired in Bob was what has earned her the title of "muse" over the last half-century. The leftist political leanings of herself and her family is credited as a huge influence in Dylan's "political awakening" in his songwriting. Rotolo was heavily involved in the civil rights movement, having participated in the Youth March for Integrated Schools in 1958 led by Harry Belafonte in DC, and the protests of the travel ban against Cuba, a mission that brought her (along with a group of other students) to the country in 1964, where they were welcomed by Che Guevara. In addition to his leftist leanings, Dylan's interest in Bertolt Brecht, Artaud, Verlaine, and Rimbaud, painting and sketching can be traced, at least in part, back to Rotolo.
In June 1962, Suze left Bob - who had been her boyfriend and living companion for over a year - and traveled to the University of Perugia in Italy with her mother, to study for six months there. In her absence, Dylan wrote many of his best songs - channeling his feelings of sadness, longing, love, and restlessness into his music, coming up with such tunes as "Boots of Spanish Leather," "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," "One Too Many Mornings," and "Tomorrow is a Long Time."
Upon her return to New York, their relationship resumed, though Dylan had already begun seeing Joan Baez before Rotolo came back stateside. This, coupled with Suze's disapproving family (her sister Carla had a major fallout with Dylan) and Dylan's growing fame, put stress on the already-strained relationship. In her memoir, she wrote, "Bob was charismatic: he was a beacon, a lighthouse, he was also a black hole. He required committed backup and protection I was unable to provide consistently, probably because I needed them myself."
Despite this, the duo were photographed together for the now-famous cover of his 1963 album, "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan." The couple is captured walking down snowy Jones Street in Greenwich Village, arm-in-arm, wandering in the middle of the abandoned road. Despite the symbolic nature the photo has garnered over the years as a perfect encapsulate of a certain moment in music history of the 1960s, Suze had her own very different feelings about the picture that has stayed in the pop consciousness for over forty years. Of Dylan in his light suede jacket, Suze has said, "He wore a very thin jacket - because image was all." Of her own part in the picture, Rotolo explained it as this: "Our apartment was always cold, so I had a sweater on, plus I borrowed one of his big, bulky sweaters. On top of that I put on a coat ... I felt like a sausage. Every time I look at that picture, I think I look fat."
By that point, Dylan's affair with Baez was public knowledge, and - with the encouragement of her sister and mother - Suze moved out of the apartment she shared with Bob. The relationship was coming to its breaking point when Suze learned she was pregnant with Bob's child, opting for a secret abortion, which she revealed in her 2008 memoir.
Still processing her split from Dylan, Rotolo left for Italy again, and, in 1970, married Enzo Bartoccioli, a film editor whom she first met when studying at Perugia several years before. Together, they settled in the East Village of New York, a safe distance from the haunts she and Dylan visited together during the folk scene. In their forty years of marriage, Enzo worked for the UN and Suze continued on as an artist, moving from illustrating to painting to jewelry-making, before focusing on creating book art while incorporated found art. In 1980, they welcomed a son, Luca, who has followed a similar path into the music industry, making guitars.
Though Suze created a fulfilling life for herself beyond her time with Bob Dylan, he still remained a significant part of her life. He helped her out when, several years ago, she lost all of her possessions - including her famous green coat from the Freewheelin' cover - to an apartment fire. After refusing to speak of their relationship for years, she finally consented when asked by Martin Scorcese to appear in his documentary No Direction Home, discussing Dylan's career from 1961 (when they met) to 1966. Encouraged by the reception of the film, Rotolo published her memoir A Freewheelin' Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties in 2008, to great response.
Reflecting on the songs Dylan wrote about her, Suze admitted, "I can recognize things. It's like looking at a diary. It brings it all back. And what's hard it that your remember being unsure of how life was going to go - his, mine, anybody's. So, from the perspective of an older person looking back, you enjoy them, but also think of them as the pain of youth, the loneliness and struggle that youth is, or can be."

Title: from "One Too Many Mornings" (Bob Dylan)


    Summer.B said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

    2011 is so disappointing, everyone is disappearing :( ... beautifully put together Alexis xx

    Raquel said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

    What an interesting life she had-- I really enjoyed reading this. I love the story of when they first met and he had such elegant, romantic things to say about her, then she was so blunt with her fist impression!
    Loved this post, x

    Raquel said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

    And oh my goodness, she was gorgeous! The collage is fantastic! The looked so good together...

    Alexis said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

    Thanks Summer.B - and it's so true, all the great people I admire and respect are passing away. Especially recently. That's the trouble of loving people who aren't of the Disney crowd... :(

    Alexis said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

    Hi Raquel - Suze was really really beautiful. And you can see how a young Bob (fresh to New York City) would go absolutely wild when he first met her, such romantic things would be so appropriate.
    She looked so fresh, so timeless too. I saw a photo of her and had to figure out whether or not it was really her because something about her made me think that this was a photo of a girl around my age today.
    I like that she was one of the few girls that Bob was ever openly affectionate about. Now, he's the man who has had secret marriages, but back then he was proud to walk with his girlfriend for the Freewheelin' album, and kiss her nose in public, just be affectionate!
    She must have been an incredible person to know