Suze Rotolo, 67; Bob Dylan's muse helped symbolize 1960s folk revival

The cover for the Bob Dylan album 'The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan', released by Columbia Records in 1963. The cover features Dylan and his girlfriend Suze Rotolo walking near their apartment in Greenwich Village, New York City. (Photo by Blank Archives/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
The cover for the Bob Dylan album 'The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan', released by Columbia Records in 1963. The cover features Dylan and his girlfriend Suze Rotolo walking near their apartment in Greenwich Village, New York City. (Photo by Blank Archives/Archive Photos/Getty Images) (Getty Images)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 4, 2011; 6:47 PM

Suze Rotolo, whose love affair with a young Bob Dylan shaped his early songwriting and who appeared with him on the cover of his first hit album, died Feb. 25 of cancer at her home in New York. She was 67.

Ms. Rotolo was just 17 when she met the raspy-voiced Dylan, then 20, at a Manhattan folk festival in 1961. Their attraction was immediate.

"Right from the start I couldn't take my eyes off her," Dylan wrote in "Chronicles: Volume 1," his 2004 autobiography. "She was the most erotic thing I'd ever seen. She was fair skinned and golden haired, full-blooded Italian. The air was suddenly filled with banana leaves."

Dylan, Ms. Rotolo later recalled, was "charming in a scraggly way."

Over the next three years, as Dylan rose from obscurity to become a countercultural figurehead, Ms. Rotolo became closely identified with his music, especially after she was featured walking arm-in-arm with the singer on the cover of "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan."

That image - Dylan's shoulders hunched against the winter cold, Ms. Rotolo leaning toward him and smiling shyly - came to symbolize the freedom and thrill of the 1960s folk revival.

The 1963 album established Dylan as a folk music star with songs such as "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," a lovelorn tune he wrote when Ms. Rotolo was thousands of miles away, studying art in Italy.

"I once loved a woman, a child I'm told," he wrote in "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." "I gave her my heart, but she wanted my soul."

Ms. Rotolo was widely credited as his early muse. A native New Yorker with communist parents and cosmopolitan tastes, she introduced Dylan - a recent transplant from the Midwest - to avant-garde poetry and art, including the work of French writer Arthur Rimbaud and paintings by Picasso and Cezanne.

She also helped prompt Dylan to sharpen his political edge.

"She'll tell you how many nights I stayed up and wrote songs and showed them to her and asked her: 'Is this right?'" Dylan told his biographer, Robert Shelton. "Because I knew her father and mother were associated with unions and she was into this equality-freedom thing long before I was."

Their relationship, which had begun as a partnership between equals, shifted as Dylan's fame grew. The couple parted in 1964 after revelations of his affair with the folk singer Joan Baez.


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