Suze Rotolo, 1943-2011

Categories: Featured, Goodbyes

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The Village lost a life-long partisan and a true voice last Friday, with the passing of Susan Rotolo after a long illness, at home in her Noho loft and the arms of her husband of 40 years, Enzo Bartoccioli.

Suze Rotolo was a talented artist (the maker of artist books and delicate book-like objects), as well as an illustrator, a sometime activist, an erstwhile East Village Other slum goddess, a devoted wife, a proud mother, a poet's muse, a good comrade, and late in her too-short life, a published author. She was intensely private but as the radiant young woman on the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, she became a legendary figure and even a generational icon. Just writing that I can hear her annoyed chortle--although she did humorously allow, after years of dodging rabid Dylanologists, that she was some sort of "artifact."

Growing up in Queens, a few years later than Suze and a few neighborhoods east of hers, I knew her name (although not how to correctly pronounce it) long before I met her, just a mom in the park. Our kids, Luca and Mara, went to the same Sullivan Street playgroup; our families were friendly, both in New York and on Cape Cod where, thanks to a network of her late parents' leftwing associates, she and Enzo always managed to find the most amazing Wellfleet Woods cabins or ocean-overlooking shacks.

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.

In her memoir, unavoidably titled A Freewheelin' Time, Susan calls Dylan "the elephant in the room of my life" but the book (subtitled "A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties" and prefaced with a Village street map) is essentially about her youth--how it felt to be a working-class red-diaper baby, the child of Italian-born anti-fascists living in Sunnyside Gardens, a teenager in love at the epicenter of the folk revival, an art student in Italy, a tourist of the revolution in Cuba, an off-off Broadway stagehand. The story is hers and so is the voice (no ghost writing allowed). She signs off with the words "we had something to say, not something to sell."

Goodbye, Susan. Ave atque vale. Love, Jim


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40 comments
Robert Petrick
Robert Petrick

She was beautiful, inspiring, my friend, and will remember the times with her and feel very fortunate there are some small memories I can keep and don't have to share.Love always Robert

Sherrill Shaw
Sherrill Shaw

I lived in Greenwich Village (Bleeker Street) during the 60's. Though we were involved in the art scene and not folk music, we knew many of the people and places Suze mentioned in her book, a beautifully written memoir that brought back many poignant memories. I was struck by the remembrance of how the women were expected to be silent, serving the men and being decorative. We did not dare to even go to a movie alone for fear of being harassed. The downside to an otherwise glorious time.

D_g_burrows
D_g_burrows

A fitting tribute by someone who knew her.I live in Manchester,England and am a long time admirer of Suze's work and roles.In late 2010 we had an exchange of e mails regarding the late Liam Clancy.I was so pleased to receive Suze's responses and had no idea of her illness .It was a massive shock to hear about her death.Suze and her family are in my thoughtsDave Burrows

Stephanpickering
Stephanpickering

Tzeteh' LeShalom VeShuveh' LeShalom, Susan. Go in peace, return/be in peace in Spirit. Susan Rotolo, zikhronah livrakha...during the 1974 Dylan tour (I attended all of the concerts, with Bill Graham's help, and Bob's knowledge), when I arrived in New York, I wanted much to telephone Susan...but was actually afraid to do so. She was very private, and even though I have over the years talked to several Dylan friends, I much wanted to talk to her while writing my BOB DYLAN APPROXIMATELY (1975)...so many wanted a part of her soul, to vicariously be part of Dylan's 'world' through her...that didn't interest me. He betrayed Susan, Joan Baez, Sara Dylan, his mother, his family...the 1979 apostasy cannot be excused. I remember sitting a few feet from Bob in 1965 at Newport, the dim spotlight on him and the Butterfield band, knowing history was being made. Much of what I heard that night -- the seering word paintings he was creating -- owed everything to her original loyalty and love. Susan Rotolo was forgiving of him...on several levels, she was more 'holy' than RAZ. On his never-ending tour, sitting alone in the big bus which is his home, Shabtai Zisel ben Avraham v'Rachel Riva needs to look back, look inward, and atone to her, and so many others, for what he did. The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of his face. STEPHAN PICKERING / Chofetz Chayim ben-AvrahamHeretic Jewish Spiritist

John_Herald
John_Herald

I was 14, about five years younger than Suze, when I bought my first copy of Freewheelin', the year it was released. Being a typical teenage boy, I was smitten by the gorgeous young girl on the snowy Village street, cuddling next to my first anti-hero. Over the years, I read a great deal about Dylan - every one of his biographies - and was always touched by the accounts of Suze's plight, the misfortune of a truly fine person crossing lifepaths with an undeniably great artist whose own personhood offered qualms by comparison. It was a joy, then, to hear from her at last in Scorsese's No Direction Home and again, a few years later in her outstanding memoir. If it means anything at all to her family (and my deepest condolences), from afar Suze still shone through, just as vividly as that image of her back in 1963. For those who would like to hear Suze's voice, here's her NPR obit, which includes a link to Suze's Fresh Air interview in 2008: http://www.npr.org/templates/s...

MertonHayford
MertonHayford

Three indications that the Beatles' famouss Abbey Road zebra sleeve is a parody of The freewheelin' cover picture:

1) Both album sleeve have a Volkswagen on the left side of the road;2) both have a cab on the right side;3) both depict people walking in harmony, with their feet in the same position.

Nell 90 90 90
Nell 90 90 90

Suze, your creativity and memory will live on. RIP

Harold Meiehofer
Harold Meiehofer

I was very saddened to hear of Susan's death. I read her book a couple of years ago. Admittedly, I got it originally because of the connection with Dylan but, well a short extract from my review at the time sums it up.Suze Rotolo lived in a remarkable time, in a remarkable place amongst remarkable people. It is quite easy from the comfort of 2009 to forget just how different the world was in the late 50s/ early 60s.

Suze’s generation believed it could change the world, and some of its aspirations may seem naïve now; but in fact they DID change the political, social and cultural attitudes of the entire planet.

Suze was at the centre of an incredibly creative and volatile “scene” in Greenwich Village. Her observations and memories, as a full participant, are insightful, intriguing and entertaining.

For anyone who wants to understand the transition from the essential conservatism of the 1950s West to the cultural changes and political freedoms established in the subsequent decade this book is essential reading.

It is a shame that she died so young but it is comforting to hear that she did so at home with her husband.

My condolences to all her friends and family.

"Goodnight sweet princess.Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!"

Harold Meiehofer, Glasgow, Scotland

Splintercottage
Splintercottage

Something to say. Not sell. Yes. Then, the village was a magic place. Particularly when it snowed. With 10 buck p- coats and songs in the heart.

Catbird17
Catbird17

A sad and lovely story. I only hope that we all are as well-remembered. The 60s are passing quickly.

Samm Bennett
Samm Bennett

My mind has returned to this news of Rotolo's death on and off throughout the day, and it's made me think about aging. Specifically, it makes me think about the very particular kind of sadness that one must feel (in this case, that Bob Dylan must feel) at the passing, in old age, of one's first or very early love. The heady, exciting and promising days of youth, just starting out, with broad vistas ahead: those times are often, in memory, personified in one's first romance. When such a person dies, one's own mortality is surely thrown into a harsher light.

Markmellinger680
Markmellinger680

I remember her sweet smile in Mr. Chartock's home room at Bryant HS. I am terribly saddened by her passing.

Norma
Norma

I never met Suze, on through the pages of her book "A Freewheelin' Time". Even so, I feel sadness that she has passed on too soon. She seemed like a very caring, loyal and extremely spirited lady with a great sense of humour and of family. Since I heard the sad news this morning, I have been looking at her wonderful artwork.Reading her book a couple of years ago, inspired me once again to walk the streets of Greenwich Village and to feel (imagine) what it must have been like in those early 60's years. I was also a teenager then too, on this side of the pond - and love the way that Suze's memories and stories, invoked a really strong feeling of actually sharing and being there. What a great talent she had, to write in such a warm, funny and heartfelt way.Love goes to her family and close friends. Thanks goes to Suze.Norma, UK

ChungWong123
ChungWong123

"For Luca so he will know and Enzo who always did." ~ Suze Rotolo (dedication in book).

10 days ago while i was reading her book on Jones St at Caffe Vivaldi ...someone near me wanted to read it too and gave me her address to mail the book to her in Brooklyn when I was done. It's being mailed today. She worked on Jones St. http://www.twitpic.com/44qdr5

Suze Ramolo's son works around the corner on Bleecker and i bought the book one block over Ttwice! - someone else took the 1st copy on Jones St). We were talking about her book all week long on Jones St.

After I mail my only copy - i'll have no more copies - only great memories of the whole Jones St experience two weeks ago.

Martin Pulaski
Martin Pulaski

Thanks for the fine tribute. I read her book, and was moved by it. Her story of Greenwich Village was so vivid, it felt like you had lived there yourself during those years when "there was revolution in the air".

Martin Pulaski, Brussels, Belgium

Willie Nininger
Willie Nininger

So sorry to hear about Suzie; she was a good person.Willie Nininger

ChungWong123
ChungWong123

Was just on Jones St...talking about her and her son who is luthier nearby. Bought 2 copies of her book and just finished reading. So well written.

Keith Barnett
Keith Barnett

I too was deeply saddened to hear of her passing. As a tremendous fan of Dylan for many years, I always knew through his songs about the very special relationship he and Susan had during those early years in Greenwich Village and always admired how they tried to keep things normal once stardom was thrust upon Dylan. I recently read her beautiful account of those very exciting times and as a reader, I felt that I was there with them as they strolled the streets, hung with friends or listened to the music of the times. By all accounts, Suzan was not only beautiful, but extremely talented and a very loving and giving person. I am certain that she will be greatly missed and I am very grateful for her love and support for Dylan as she surely had a incredible impact on his life and body of work. She will not only be long remembered for her connection to Dylan, but also for her wonderful book which more then captured an important time in music and for New York City.

Gerald Howard
Gerald Howard

Thank you for this, Jim. I was the guy who saw Suze in the Scorsese documentary, was struck by her grace and generosity of spirit, and managed to get her to write her memoir. In the process my wife I became friends with one of the most interesting women we have ever encountered. We own three of her lovely artworks and will cherish them always as mementos of a wonderful and vivid presence on our planet.

Gerald Howard

Swan
Swan

Sad. It's too soon. I loved her book so much.

Lou P
Lou P

My condolensences to friends and family....R/ Lou P

Christine Lavin
Christine Lavin

I loved her book, too, and recently emailed her that I hoped she would be doing an audiobook. I didn't realize she was so ill -- what a shock. I remember one year going to her New Year's Day party, running to the subway, riding the train, running to her apartment in the hopes that what I baked would still be warm by the time I got it to the table. No such luck. She was such a good cook, when you brought food to her house you took it very seriously.

I was just up in Toronto at her friend George Auerbach's place -- he proudly displayed the German and Japanese versions of her book "A Freewheelin' Time" -- how lucky are we that she left behind this book -- and her beautiful art -- for us to enjoy forever.

If you haven't read her book, now's the time.

Vincenza Van Gopher
Vincenza Van Gopher

I am so sorry, I loved her book and was hoping she would write a sequel. Her descriptions of people and places are so vivid.

Liamy
Liamy

A lovely tribute. Sweet may she rest. Blessings. Oscar

Andy
Andy

What a beautiful tribute.

bobby sneakers
bobby sneakers

never knowing her name we still knew who she was. rip.

Americano
Americano

'We had something to say, not something to sell.' What a great line to end on. Good for her. She will rest in peace.

Larry LeBlanc
Larry LeBlanc

I heard yesterday from a mutual friend. I knew her a bit from recent years and her and Enzo were wonderful to me and my family. Publicly the Dylan album cover art might have defined her but she was far, far more than that. She has a piercing intelligence & wit that is unmatched.

Larry LeBlanc, Toronto

Marc Bridge
Marc Bridge

I never even thought who that was on the cover of "Freewheelin" with Bob. Now I'm intrigued and will have to read her book.

Jean-marc Lantz
Jean-marc Lantz

She will always be the young lady holding Bob's arm in that snowy village street ! Her book is so delicate you follow them thru' the streets of this once magic place !Farewell to you Suze JMarc

Chrsrun
Chrsrun

I read her excellent memoir about 2 years ago and felt like I was actually there with her.Been to the village many a time's hoping to run into to her.I'm shocked to read about her passing,Did'nt even realize she was ill.May God rest her soul.Sh e will be missed!!

Desmond John
Desmond John

not too long ago I got an email from her. I'd written to her and she graciously wrote back. I told her maybe one day we could meet if I get back to Manhattan. I told her I'd been to the Village many times. and had met Bob. She was real neat. I'm very sorry to hear this. And give my condolences to her family. This is really sad. She lives forever on the cover of that wonderful record.

Paulshaw
Paulshaw

Thanks for a very warm and accurate portrait of Susan. We will all miss her.Paul Shaw and Bronwen Job

Pauline
Pauline

I can't believe this either. Really a shock to hear this news. What a genuine, dignified and private person you were, Susan. I saw the interview in 'No Direction Home' and warmed to her, loved her book too. It should be more widely read, not just by curious Dylan fans. What a lovely lady. My thoughts are with Susan's family.

Brian
Brian

Thank you for this sad news. I never knew Susie and knew OF her only through Bob Dylan. I have always admired her as an valued individual, and shared very much her political viewpoint. I think her book was so warm and honest and only confirmed my high opinion of her. She knew, I hope, how much she gave to a mid-west boy of much promise, and how much she deserves to be admired. Rest dear Susie .....

n. contini
n. contini

I knew Suze from the Cape and later, with Enzo, in NY and agree,it's a good portrait of an extraordinary person.

BTW, Bronwen Job not being a very common name I was wondering if it's the same one who spent a summer in Montana as a kid. I knew a Bronwen Job then and there. it would be strange how different worlds collide every now and then...

Pauline
Pauline

Sorry - that was meant to be 'in reply to Charlespoetry'

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