This is the story of the girl snuggled up against Bob Dylan on the iconic album cover from the early 1960s. Suze Rotolo, a sensitive young artist living with the aspiring folkie when he recorded “Freewheelin’,” has mostly kept quiet about their relationship over the years, but decided to write about it after her former swain started revisiting his past in a number of projects. Resulting tome doesn’t add anything startling to existing Dylanology — she’s far too reserved for that — but should satisfy those curious about what it was like to be That Girl, especially at That Moment.
Rotolo, a Red Diaper baby from Queens, was still a teen when she met Dylan, but far more cosmopolitan than he was, and she exposed him to politics and the arts he never knew about in his Minnesota childhood. Not that Dylan was especially forthcoming about his background: Rotolo writes about the moment she discovered his real surname in a typically roundabout manner.
“I found out for sure that his name of Robert Allen Zimmerman when I saw his draft card,” she writes, after first establishing her quest for a distinctive nickname. “In spite of myself I was upset that he hadn’t ever said anything about it.”
In spite of myself? It is at moments like these that you wish Rotolo was less circumspect. For an artist, she doesn’t dig very deep: Rotolo grazes over emotions and anecdotes so elliptically that the reader often isn’t sure what she’s trying to convey. This may soothe her conscious, and help her maintain a modicum of her cherished privacy, but it does not make for a satisfying, or overly illuminating, memoir.
Rotolo’s relationship with Dylan falls apart after a few years — victim, she says, of their shared sensitivity — and the book falls short for similar reasons. In an age of too many tell-alls by former groupies, Rotolo tells too little.