Freewheelin’

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.

Suze Rotolo and her then-boyfriend

Suze Rotolo and her then-boyfriend

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.

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2 thoughts on “Freewheelin’

  1. Oh Odetta, sing for me
    Take me across that deep blue sea
    Back to the Garden whence we came
    Back to the spring of your sweet refrain
    “All the way to freedom land…
    All the way to freedom land”
    Across the skies and back through time
    Back to the cradle of humankind

    Oh Odetta, sing for me
    Take me across that deep blue sea

    She¹s a force of nature, second to none
    Earth, wind and fire rolled into one
    Rolling thunder across the sky
    Sweet Black Angel from on high
    Mighty river crisscrossin’ our land
    Inviting everyone to stand hand-in-hand
    To gather ’round and sing a song
    Of hope and redemption–it won¹t be long

    Oh Odetta, sing for me
    Take me across that deep blue sea

    You can trace her song to the heart of the South
    One New Year¹s Eve and the cry from a mouth
    Of a big baby girl, strong and sweet
    To a tear of joy on a Mama¹s cheek
    What¹s in a name? Father Time do tell
    So her folks made sure to choose a name well
    The name Odetta, once akin to melody,
    Foretold a future–a destiny

    Oh Odetta, sing for me
    Take me across that deep blue sea

    Odetta, she could sing before she could talk
    Odetta, she could dance before she could walk
    The gift of music flows through her veins
    And bursts at the seams like a runaway train
    Classically trained right from the start
    Along came the music that stole her heart
    Music of the people, music of the land
    Pure and simple–noble and grand

    Oh Odetta, sing for me
    Take me across that deep blue sea

    Straight from the “Bam” she moved out to L.A.
    Then it was on to the ‘Frisco Bay
    She joined a theater, and started to sing
    Then picked up a guitar and let it ring
    Her Fate was sealed when she was still young
    A folk musician she would become
    To souls of the past she¹d lend her voice
    May their spirits arise–and may they rejoice

    Oh Odetta, sing for me
    Take me across that deep blue sea

    With an Afro like a halo, she could be seen
    All decked out like an African Queen
    And just about the time she was being discovered
    The glory of her people was recovered
    People flocked in to catch the new sound
    As it traveled by train from town to town
    Guided by a spirit that beamed a light
    Black Is Beautiful–Right Is Might

    Oh Odetta, sing for me
    Take me across that deep blue sea

    Arriving in the Village, she was given the keys
    And greeted with bows on bended knees
    Within weeks she was proclaimed
    The Queen of Folk, and to this day she remains
    The Mother Hen of folk musicians
    The guardian angel of a sacred tradition
    Casting her spell both day and night
    Bridging the gap between black and white

    Oh Odetta, sing for me
    Take me across that deep blue sea

    One fine hour back in ‘63
    Odetta sang her famous Freedom Trilogy
    By her side stood Martin Luther King
    His “I Have A Dream” speech about to take wing
    And to the whole world she sang with pride
    Of freedom sought and freedom denied
    As centuries of trials, troubles and tribulations
    Gave rise to the dream of a… United Nation!

    Oh Odetta, sing for me
    Take me across that deep blue sea

    Oh Odetta, sing for me
    Take me across that deep blue sea
    Back to the Garden whence we came
    Back to the spring of your sweet refrain
    “All the way to freedom land…
    All the way to freedom land”
    Across the skies and back through time
    Back to the cradle of Humankind
    …Humankind
    …Humankind

    And before I¹ll be a slave
    I¹ll be buried in my grave.

    — “Ode To Odetta”
    Words and music by Stephen Alcorn ©2008

    We love you, Odetta.

    Be better soon!

    Stephen and family

    The Alcorn Studio & Gallery
    112 West Main Street
    Cambridge, New York 12816
    Telephone: (518) 677-5798
    e-mail: stephen.alcorn@verizon.net
    http: http://www.alcorngallery.com

  2. Actually you need to FACE Bleecker Street with West 4th at your back to get the perspective repreesented on the album cover.

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