Just read and very much enjoyed “A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties,” written by Suze Rotolo — who was the young woman seen walking arm-in-arm down Jones Street with her young boyfriend in the cover photo of “Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” his second album.
Lots of colorful and very specific memories of the folk-music and art scene in the Village of the early 1960s, lots of very warm and human anecdotes about her several years living with the very young Dylan and the heartbreaking end of their love affair. And lots of interesting trivia and esoterica. I didn’t know Gerde’s Folk City was first called The Fifth Peg. I did know that Dylan played at Cafe Lena in Saratoga Springs, New York (my friend Christian Bauman, the novelist, was a traveling folkie in an earlier incarnation and played at Cafe Lena — and just a few weeks ago I ate lunch at a restaurant across the street from Cafe Lena — and will the circle be unbroken?…Apparently not). I didn’t know the Bill Lee, bass player for the legendary singer Odetta, was the father of filmmaker Spike Lee!
Rotolo drops names like breadcrumbs. Her list of friends and acquaintances includes John Lee Hooker, Dave van Ronk, Phil Ochs, Richard and Mimi Farina, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Wavy Gravy, the Fugs, Carolyn Hester, Bill Cosby, Jose Feliciano, Odetta, LeRoi Jones…the list goes on and on and on — after all, she was Bob Dylan’s girlfriend and a full-fledged member of that downtown bohemian community in her own right.
Anyway, reading “A Freewheeling Time” also reminded me of my proudest moments as a father. A few years ago, my son and I were walking along Bleecker Street in the West Village and I stopped at a corner, pointed up a side street, and asked “OK, what happened here?” He looked for a few seconds and replied with a grin: “This is where they shot the photo for “Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” right? Yes, that’s right. And my guitar-playing son was barely in high school and already could identify this cultural landmark. Stand on Jones Street with Bleecker Street behind you and looking toward West Fourth Street. There go the freewheelin’ ghosts of young Bob and young Suze, shivering in the cold and strolling into the future.