One of Bob Dylan’s former paramours remembers Greenwich Village in the ’60s.
Rotolo begins with a chronicle of her adolescence in Queens, where her education in folk and protest music began with her working-class Italian parents. “Most of us were children of Communists or socialists,” she writes, “red-diaper babies raised on Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, and Pete Seeger.” The author graduated from high school at the age of 16 and spent the remainder of her teen years working odd jobs, hanging out in Washington Square Park and building an interest in politics, music, literature, art and especially theater (particularly Bertolt Brecht). When a planned move to Rome was indefinitely postponed after the author suffered a violent car crash, Rotolo began attending classes at the School of Visual Arts and taking jobs building sets and props for small-theater productions. She gradually became more active in the Village’s burgeoning political and cultural scene and attended concerts at venues including the Bitter End, Café Wha? and the Gaslight. Rotolo—the woman featured on the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan—first saw Dylan on stage at Gerde’s Folk City in 1961, and the two formed a quick bond. Rotolo insightfully noted the musician’s “uncanny ability to complicate the obvious and sanctify the banal—just like a poet.” Unfortunately, many of the author’s other observations about this tumultuous time period fail to capture the zeitgeist of the era. (A short anecdote about Charles Mingus, however, accurately portrays the jazz musician’s notoriously stormy temperament.) In language that is occasionally poetic, but more often bland and stilted, Rotolo meanders through her memories, stopping to comment on the endless procession of quirky characters that made that specific time and place so special: John Lee Hooker, Dave Van Ronk, Izzy Young, Albert Grossman, Tiny Tim, Hugh Romney (aka Wavy Gravy) and countless others. Dylan receives better treatment, and Rotolo offers a carefully considered assessment of the mercurial musician’s work, personality and many faults (“Bob was charismatic; he was a beacon, a lighthouse. He was also a black hole”).
Full of tantalizing tidbits for ’60s junkies, but too scattershot and awkward to merit a wide audience.