Suze Rotolo și Bob Dylan. Intimitatea pierdută

Când Bob Dylan a sosit în New York, avea 20 de ani și își șlefuia imaginea de artist vagabond – the original vagabond, cum îl ironiza Joan Baez în „Diamonds and Rust”, mulți ani mai târziu. Era 1961, Kennedy se instalase la Casa Albă, țara era divizată din cauza rasismului și a paranoiei anticomuniste, iar folkul era la mare modă printre tinerii frumoși și urbani. La unul dintre concertele din Greenwich Village, la care se adunau câteva zeci de oameni hip – folkiști, beatnici și tot felul de artsy people – Bob a cunoscut-o pe Suze. Iată povestea lor, în propriile lor cuvinte.

Right from the start I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She was the most erotic thing I’d ever seen. She was fair skinned and golden haired, full-blood Italian. The air was suddenly filled with banana leaves. We started talking and my head started to spin. Cupid’s arrow had whistled by my ears before, but this time it hit me in the heart and the weight of it dragged me overboard. Suze was seventeen years old, from the East Coast. Had grown up in Queens, raised in a left-wing family. Her father had worked in a factory and had recently died. She was involved in the New York art scene, painted and made drawings for various publications, worked in graphic design and in Off-Broadway theatrical productions, also worked on civil rights committees – she could do a lot of things. Meeting her was like stepping into the tales of 1001 Arabian nights. She had a smile that could light up a street full of people and was extremely lively, had a particular type of voluptuousness – a Rodin sculpture come to life. She reminded me of a libertine heroine. She was just my type.
For the next week or so I thought of her a lot – couldn’t shut her out of my mind, was hoping I’d run into her. I felt like I was in love for the first time in my life, could feel her vibe thirty miles away – wanted her body next to mine. Now. Right now. […]
As fate would have it, I ran into Carla again and asked about her sister. Carla asked me if I’d like to see her. I said “Yeah, you don’t know how much,” and she said, “Oh, she’d like to see you, too.” Soon we met up and began to see each other more and more. Eventually we got to be pretty inseparable. Outside of my music, being with her seemed to be the main point in life. Maybe we were spiritual soul-mates.

Inside jokes, 1961. Foto: Ted Russell

Oriunde era Suze, vagabondul cu identitate falsă își făcea apariția:

Whenever I looked around, Bobby was nearby. I thought he was oddly old-time looking, charming in a scraggly way. His jeans were as rumpled as his shirt and even in the hot weather he had on the black corduroy cap he always wore. […]
We started flirting and talking backstage at Riverside Church early in the day and didn’t stop until the day was done. He was funny, engaging, intense, and he was persistent. These words completely describe who he was throughout the time we were together; only the order of the words would shift depending on mood or circumstance. If I drew a portrait of him, it would consist of words morphing into different shapes and sizes. He was not linear; he was quirky and jumpy, receptive to what was around him. As inexperienced as I was in the ways of love, I felt a strong attraction to this character. It was as if we knew each other already; we just needed time to get better acquainted. And so we did over the next four years.

Bob și Suze pe la o petrecere de apartament, 1961. Foto: Joe Alper.

Suze și Bobby au rămas nedespărțiți. Dar mai era un detaliu care nu fusese rezolvat: Bob îi ascundea adevăra sa identitate până când într-o seară i-a căzut portofelul cu livretul militar în afară. Cu cât bagateliza acest lucru mai mult, cu atât mai tulburată era ea de lipsa lui de sinceritate. În fine, a trecut destul de repede peste asta, încercând să-i înțeleagă strădania de a-și crea o nouă viață departe de Duluth, Minnesota. Ea îi arăta trăirea artistică a New York-ului, îl ducea la Met să îi arate Guernica și îi povestea despre năzuințele sale pentru drepturile civile, pentru dezarmare și pentru desegregare rasială. Bobby lua notițe mentale cu pofta unui midwesterner privat de marile idei ale umanității.

Suze and I were spending more and more time together, and I began to broaden my horizons, see a lot of what her world was like, especially the Off-Broadway scene. […] I went with her to where the artists and painters hung out, like Caffe Cino, Camino Gallery, Aegis Gallery. […] A new world of art was opening up my mind. Sometimes early in the day we’d go uptown to the city museums, see giant oil-painted canvases by artists like Velázquez, Goya, Delacroix, Rubens, El Greco. Also twentieth-century stuff – Picasso, Braque, Kandinsky, Rouault, Bonnard. Suze’s favorite current modernist artist was Red Grooms, and he became mine, too. […] About that time I began to make some of my own drawings. I actually picked up the habit from Suze, who drew a lot.

În cuibușorul lor pe West 4th Street, 1961. Foto: Ted Russell

Când foarte curând a venit vorba să se mute împreună, s-au lovit de prejudecățile și de legile care făceau iubirea dintre un băiat de 20 de ani și o fată de 17 ani imposibilă. Cu toate acestea, Greenwich Village era locul cel mai safe pentru toți cei care ieșeau din tiparele societății rămase în mentalitatea deceniilor trecute.

Bob and I had been talking about living together when he found an apartment of his own, but I could not officially move in with him until after my eighteenth birthday in November. There had been many discussions and much speculation about my moving in. Terri Thal and Dave Van Ronk were the oracles. I was underage and Bob was not; therefore he could be charged with something or other with a minor, they said gravely. But he wasn’t twenty-one yet. We were both minors in that case and I would have to wait until I was twenty-one for us to be able to live together—eons away. Marriage was way too serious an option, not to be trifled with at our age. Once it was established that at eighteen I would be safely legal, all was well, and within a month or so I would be able to move in. To be on the safe side, Terri suggested, I should wait one day past my birthday. […] In those archaic times, couples living together without being married really were considered to be living in sin. If they had a child out of wedlock, the child was considered a bastard. If a single young woman got pregnant, it was a serious issue. Either the couple was forced to marry or the young woman was sent away somewhere until the baby was born and the infant was put up for adoption. To be a single mother was rough going, to say the least. Abortion was illegal and a highly risky choice. Women died. To choose to live in Greenwich Village meant more than just freedom to be an artist and run wild. Couples living in sin could rent an apartment, interracial couples had an easier time of it, and homosexuals, albeit still called fags and dykes, were pretty much let alone.

Punch drunk love, 1961. Foto: Joe Alper.

Apartamentul de pe West 4th Street, în Greenwich Village, era decrepit și înghesuit, dar asta nu i-a descurajat și l-au transformat în cuibușorul lor de nebunii.

The apartment had a tiny bedroom, more like a large closet, and kitchenette, a living room with a fireplace and two windows that looked over fire escapes and small courtyards. […] During the summers there was more like an oven full of suffocating air that you could just about chew and swallow. In the winter, there was no heat. It was biting cold and we kept each other warm snuggled under blankets. 

Every man wants a Suze in his life. Foto: Ted Russell, 1961.

Dăduse și norocul peste Bob. Casa de discuri Columbia dorea să îl lanseze. Suze era prima care credea în talentul lui.

Suze was there by my side when I began recording for Columbia Records.

După un an, Suze a hotărât să plece în Italia pentru a-și continua studiile la Universitatea din Perugia. Era un plan mai vechi, care fusese suspendat din cauza unui accident de mașină. Bob nu s-a opus, cu toate că în absența ei și-a exprimat furia față de o astfel de decizie. Au întreținut o relație la distanță cu multe scrisori de dragoste.

The letters Bob wrote to me in 1962 during the eight months I was away are letters written by a young writer on the rise who is in love. They are very personal, full of pain, humor, and storytelling.

I had another recording session you know—I sang six more songs—you’re in two of them—Bob Dylan’s Blues and Down The Highway (“All you five & ten cent women with nothing in your heads I got a real gal I’m loving and I’ll lover her ’til I’m dead so get away from my door and my window too—right now”). Anyway you’re in those two songs specifically—and another one too—“I’m in the Mood for You”—which is for you but I don’t mention your name….

După șase luni, dorul a adus-o înapoi în New York și nu s-au mai dezlipit unul de altul tot anul următor (1963). Venise și vremea ca Bobby să lanseze al doilea album al său, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, iar fotograful de la Columbia a urcat în apartamentul lor ca să facă niște poze pentru coperta albumului.

Bob chose his rumpled clothes carefully. I put on a sweater and on top of that a sweater that was a bulky knit belonging to Bob. As usual, the apartment was cold. It had snowed a few days earlier and it was one of those damp New York City winter days that chill to the bone. The apartment was tiny and there really wasn’t anyplace to go to get out of the way. […] Don took some shots of Bob with and without his guitar, sitting on the big, faded gold-colored stuffed armchair that was a street find. It could have been Billy or Don, or possibly Bob, who suggested I get in the picture while Bob played and sang. I felt self-conscious and a bit silly, but Billy knew how to make an awkward situation feel natural, and I relaxed some. In any case, Bob and I related to each other intensely; that was hard not to pick up on.

Foto: Don Hunstein, 1963.

We were all having a good time, and after a bit Don suggested we go outside. Bob put on his suede jacket. It was an “image” choice because that jacket was not remotely suited for the weather. I don’t care that he was from the cold North Country—he was bound to freeze going out in that—but maybe we wouldn’t be outside for very long. When I was in Italy I had bought a loden green coat that I loved dearly, even though I knew it wasn’t suitable for a New York winter. I put it on over the big bulky sweater and tightly tied the belt of the coat around me for warmth. I felt like an Italian sausage. Out we all went.

„Uite, acolo o să fie un Starbucks peste 50 de ani”. Foto: Don Hunstein, 1963.
Foto: Billy James, 1963.

I huddled next to Bob as we walked up and down Jones Street per instructions from Don and encouraging smiles from Billy. Bob stuck his hands in the pockets of his jeans and leaned into me. We walked the length of Jones Street facing West Fourth with Bleecker Street at our backs. The snow on the streets was slushy and filthy from the traffic. The sidewalks were icy and slippery, but at least there wasn’t much of a wind blowing. To keep warm we started horsing around. Don kept clicking away. A delivery van pulled up and parked, so we turned onto West Fourth Street. In some of the outtakes it is obvious that by then we were freezing; certainly Bob was, in that thin jacket. But image was all.

Poza câștigătoare. Foto: Don Hunstein, 1963.

Încă de pe vremea când era în Italia, Suze se confrunta cu ambivalența față de Bob și viitorul ei cu el.

I tried to sort out the feelings I had as a female in a man’s world, without having any of the vocabulary to do so. I tried to figure out this guy who was calling me to come home to him, writing letters full of love; yet when I was with him, he seemed to take my presence for granted. I was expected just to be there by his side as he went about his business. […] I loved him and he loved me, but I had doubts about him, his honesty, and the way life would be.

Când s-a întors la New York, a fost întâmpinată cu răceală de prietenii lor, care vedeau în Bob o victimă a insensibilității unei femei cu ambiții. Cu timpul, devenise clar că în the folk scene, ca în mai toate „scenele” artistice de atunci, femeile aveau rol de susținere a bărbatului.

In my youthful confusion I was still struggling for permission to be. All that was offered to a musician’s girlfriend in the early 1960s was a role as her boyfriend’s “chick,” a string on his guitar. And in the case of Bob’s rising fame, I would be a gatekeeper—one step closer to an idol. People would want to know me just to get closer to him. My significance would be based on his greater significance. That idea did not entice. […]

Alan Lomax also gave me what was intended as a compliment. He believed I was exceptional because, in so many words, I stood by the poet, the genius. I unselfishly tended to his needs and desires. I put him first. I was a rare girl for these times. I was offended and found nothing complimentary in that description. I didn’t see myself as subservient to my boyfriend or anyone else—nor was this what I aspired to be. I seriously doubted Bob saw me that way, either.

Foto: Jim Marshall, 1963.

Treptat, Suze s-a depărtat de sursa propriei sale alienări. Din august 1963, a locuit în alt apartament, încercând să dea un impuls benefic relației. Dar pe lângă problema de fond a misoginismului din anii 60, au apărut și probleme punctuale: a trebuit să facă față bârfelor și gafelor care dezvăluiau aventura lui Bob cu Joan Baez, să treacă printr-un avort (ilegal) și în cele din urmă să cadă în depresie. Faima rapidă a lui Bob – cu toate efectele ei în plan personal – a adăugat încă o milă la distanța dintre ei doi.

The alliance between  Suze and me didn’t turn out exactly to be a holiday in the woods. Eventually fate flagged it down and came to a full stop. It had to end. She took one turn in the road and I took another. We just passed out of reach other’s lives, but before that, before fire went out, we stayed together a lot at the West 4th Street apartment.

Suze e mai puțin evazivă:

He saw right from his side and I saw right from mine, and we wore each other down for it. We talked a lot but told little. We both had overly sensitive personalities with nerve endings exposed. Outside of us were other pressures: He’s no good, she’s not right. Time to move on but unable to let go.

Foto: Jim Marshall, 1963.

Bob nu a ezitat să facă din relația lui cu Suze și familia ei subiect de interes public. Piesa Ballad in Plain D (1964, varianta integrală e doar pe Spotify), oricât de confesivă ar fi, expune familia Rotolo cu un soi de cruzime resentimentară. Chiar Bob a regretat-o mai târziu: „I must have been a real schmuck to write that. I look back at that particular one and say, of all the songs I’ve written, maybe I could have left that alone.”

All is gone, all is gone, admit it, take flight
I gagged in contradiction, tears blinding my sight
My mind it was mangled, I ran into the night
Leaving all of love’s ashes behind me

Bob avea nevoie de Suze, dar Suze dorea să iasă din „proximitatea zeului” și „să-și recupereze pronumele” (I wanted to claim my pronoun).

It was like an addiction—he needed to know I would be there for him and I would be, in spite of my attempts to do otherwise. […] Bob wanted me to stay where I was, to be there when he got back from wherever he went without me, and to be with whomever he pleased while he was there. He’d plead with me to marry him, which made no sense to me the way things were; nor did I believe he was sincere.

Despre altă despărțire – de data asta de Joan Baez – Bob Dylan afirma ceea ce Suze Rotolo văzuse deja în el:

Bob’s desire to get married to Sara surprised me. I asked him about it. “Why Sara?! Why not Joan Baez?” He responded with, “Because Sara will be home when I want her to be home, she’ll be there when I want her to be there, she’ll do it when I want her to do it. Joan won’t be there when I want her. She won’t do it when I want to do it.” (Victor Maymudes, Another Side of Bob Dylan)

Foto: Jim Marshall, 1964.

În final, vă las cu concluziile lui Suze:

People close to me felt I was defending his bad behavior, but I saw things in another light, even though I was more than grateful for their loyalty to me. Yeah, he was a lying shit of a guy with women, an adept juggler, really; and when he was on his “telling it like it is” truth mission, he could be cruel. Though I was never on the receiving end of one of his tirades, I did witness a few. […]

We loved each other very much, and when it ended it was mutual heartbreak. His way was to do as he wished and let things sort themselves out without making decisions that might hurt. Yet that hurt more. He avoided responsibility. I didn’t make it easy for him, either. My mounting confusion and insecurities made me mistrust everything he said. I was difficult and unreasonable. He tried hard to reach me, but I was too far gone to hear him. I made him crazy.

I could say he took the easy way: let it be, let her do what she wants, and I’ll ride with it. We both knew it was over, but he left it to me to make it so. He would accept the action I took, whenever I chose to take it. But then when I did, he ignored it. He made me crazy.

Suze și Bob s-au despărțit în 1964, după vreo 3 ani. Ea s-a întors în Italia, ca să-și termine studiile, și s-a implicat în nenumărate proiecte artistice și civice, în New York.

***

Citate din Suze Rotolo, A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties, 2008 și Bob Dylan, Chronicles: Volume One, 2004.