Over the weekend we learned of the passing of Suze Rotolo, a talented New Yorker who might not have been a household name for music fans, but who had an enormous influence on contemporary pop music.
Rotolo was Bob Dylan's girlfriend in the early 1960s and introduced the just-arrived-to-NYC Minnesota folk singer to the world of left-wing politics, avant-garde literature, and the thriving cafe society scene that linked his work to the bohemian cultural circles of past generations.
Their relationship, including several stormy breakups, contributed to Dylan's shift from traditional material and topical songs to more personal, intimate writing, which culminated in the Rotolo-inspired genius session that resulted in the Another Side of Bob Dylan album.
Rotolo and Dylan are pictured huddled together in the New York snow on the iconic sleeve of breakthrough album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.
After Dylan met and married his first wife, model Sara Lownds, around 1965, Rotolo disappeared from the limelight into a very private life. She was happily married for 40 years to Enzo Bartoccioli and had a fruitful career as an artist and educator.
Fans were surprised and thrilled when Rotolo reemerged in 2007, offering a bemused, kind counterpoint to Dylan's self-mythologizing for Martin Scorsese's PBS documentary No Direction Home. Around that time, Rotolo published her memoirs of the period, A Freewheelin' Time, a remarkably astute complement to Dylan's Chronicles. Vol. 1.
J. Hoberman has a heartfelt obituary at the Village Voice site:
Susan, as we called her, was intensely loyal. She retained many childhood friends, even while guarding her personal life. She was a woman of strong opinions and fierce standards (a demanding connoisseur of inexpensive table wine, a cook whose pasta was never less than perfect). She had no use for religion and deeply appreciated political theater–not just Brecht but the Billionaires for Bush, with whom she was affiliated during the 2004 election. She had a healthy sense of the absurd. She listened to jazz on WKCR and was delighted by her son's career as a musician and luthier. She thrived on spirited talk. (A sign pasted to her TV screen read “Conversation!”) She was, to the very end, a person of enormous cheer.