Like many Dylan fans, I had always been aware that Suze Rotolo played a pivotal role in Bob’s meteoric rise on the New York folk scene.
As well as being a major topic of debate, having been featured on the cover of Freewheeling in 1963, the subsequent release of a series of unpublished photos from the sessions for the album’s cover emphasised the closeness of a happy, young couple.
The publication of Suze’s memoir, A Freewheelin’ Time, in 2008 proved to be a valuable, if long overdue, insight into the chemistry of Bob and Suze as strong minded individuals and a dynamic couple.There was a lot more to Suze than just being Bob’s muse, as her book showed.It was also a revealing account of life at a time of great changes in American society.
After reading the memoir in Autumn 2010,I was curious to find out more about Suze’s life five decades on from Freewheeling.A Google search showed that she was a tutor and successful ‘bookartist’ in New York.I emailed her contact address to say how much I had enjoyed the book.I also mentioned that I had recently seen The Yellow Bittern, the excellent documentary about Liam Clancy.Knowing of her links with Liam, I asked if she had seen the film.I was surprised and delighted to receive a reply a few days later.Suze was modest in receiving my praise, interested to know more about the film and amused at the link with Liam Clancy as, to her pleasure, they had shared the same editor for their respective biographies.
I researched the US distributor of The Yellow Bittern and emailed the details.Again, there was an immediate reply of thanks.During Winter of 2010/11, I watched the Clancy documentary several times and occasionally thought of Suze and hoped she had managed to get a copy.These pleasant musings crashed to a halt in February 2011 when I heard a throwaway comment on the radio saying that Suze had died.I felt a cold shiver and dived for the computer to find out more. I don’t know what I expected to read, I was so sad that such a vibrant person had gone .
Numerous tributes were already on the internet.Glowing praise from family and many friends-mentions of her death being a release from a long illness.I thought back to my emails and felt bad that I had probably signed off with ‘take care’ or ‘all the best’…….oh God-there had certainly been a ‘Happy New Year’……….I knew then that suffering from a ‘long illness’ she must have been in a bad way at the time we exchanged messages and hoped that she had enjoyed the temporary distraction of messages from a fan and a quality film, The Yellow Bittern .
Suze’s description of her bookart is a poignant reminder of her insight and talents……’I think of my artworks as repositories for the ideas,obsessions,personal stories and philosophy of life’.Sounds like Suze and Bob shared many similarities-albeit with different means of expressing them.
RIP Suze Rotolo 20/11/43 – 25/2/11
Picture of Suze (Washington Square Park 2009) by Frank Beacham, copyright of the photographer.