Top Menu

Suze Rotolo, Bob Dylan, and the Woman Question: The Virtues of Thinking Twice

Suze RotoloSusie Rotolo, Bob Dylan’s lover in the early sixties, died last month, and NPR recently played an excerpt from a 2008 interview with her. I was very moved by the interview, and felt that it gave me a startling and fresh perspective on an important part of Dylan’s early work—his love (and hate) songs, and perhaps the role that women play in his songs in general.

Rotolo is known primarily as the woman walking with Dylan on the famous album cover photo for “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.” But in the interview she shows us how much more than that she was. She was someone who loved and understood Dylan better than he did himself, someone who never lived her life as “Bob Dylan’s Girlfriend,” but rather as a free and independent person, someone who was cruelly and publicly punished for causing Dylan heartbreak, and yet someone capable of remembering and retelling it all with warmth, humor, compassion, and, incredibly, in a tone free of resentment.

Growing as the daughter of New York left wing intellectuals, Rotolo was exposed to so much of what would make up Dylan’s world: left politics, the civil rights movement, the struggle for authenticity in a twisted commercial culture, poetry, art and music of all kinds. She enthusiastically recalls exposing him to these things, and the joys of immersion in them amidst the excitement of young love. For example, as she was helping stage a production of one of Brecht’s plays she introduced Dylan to Brecht’s work and Weill’s, which had a large impact on him. It’s easy to attribute a lot of Dylan’s politics in the early sixties to her. It’s probably not an accident that her departure from his life occurred as he left the political arena for the more interior, surrealist songs post 1964. In a voice full of warmth and kindness she described the thirst for life and the curiosity that she and Dylan shared. And later, as she explained why and how she left him (twice), there was no animosity or resentment or critique.

Rotolo left for a trip to Italy in 1962, something she had always wanted to do. Thrilled with meeting international students with the same artistic ambitions and interests, she stayed eight months because she “was out in the bright fresh air . . . It was just thrilling.” She contrasted this with the increasingly suffocating atmosphere of living in the folk music culture in Greenwich Village. She didn’t talk about what was wrong with Dylan that made her leave, but rather how she know what was important for her to do with her life, and that this wasn’t it.

The breakup with her caused him to write some of his most appealing early songs, such as “Boots of Spanish Leather” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s all Right”. When she left for the trip to Italy, he wrote these songs and sung them around the village and out into the world. When Rotolo returned from her trip, she was astounded and deeply wounded by how public the personal story of their relationship had become, and she felt that all the musicians and all their social circle seemed to have blamed her for being cruel and hurting Dylan. She would go into a club and the performers would sing those songs, pointedly, at her, and even sing all kinds of other ‘she-did-him-wrong’ songs to punish her.

But Rotolo had not left Dylan in order to hurt him, nor did she see it as the end of their relationship. She left him because she had wanted to go to Italy for a long time, and the opportunity presented itself, and she didn’t think of herself as Bob Dylan’s girlfriend, someone obligated to assist the great man’s famous career, but as herself, someone who knew what she wanted. When she came back, they resumed their relationship, but she saw now again that this isn’t what she had wanted—he was now in a world circumscribed by the structures of fame, a man who apparently thought he could have a girl in each of several cities, and she was reduced to just being ‘this chick’, that he could come back to after adventures on the road. As she says about his girl-in-every-port privilege, “Men could do that”. So she walked away from it. And judging from her tone in the interview, she never regretted doing this, nor did she waste her precious time resenting him.

What startles one is the contrast between her graciousness in describing these events and what he expressed toward her, and about her, in his music. Whose feelings, whose life, really matters? That of the super-rock star, or the soon to be unknown private woman? The artifice and extraordinary conceit of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” makes this clear.

“Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right” feels like a remarkably perfect folk love song (lyrics here). When I heard Eric Clapton sing it on the 30th Anniversary Bob Dylan Celebration Video, I was struck by how traditional it sounded—after listening to it for over thirty years, hearing so many covers (notably by Joan Baez), the song doesn’t sound like something written in modern times—more like something you expect to find John Hurt or Muddy Waters doing. A song that’s always been there, part of the canon, if you will. It’s perfectly constructed, the rhymes and chords and emotive qualities of Dylan’s voice melding perfectly in a sad song of lost love. Yet when placed in the context of Rotolo/Dylan story, one can see it as a perfect mirror image—an inversion—of genuine love and genuine longing, rather as a way of showing off one’s sensitivity and plaintively expressing how hurt one is, yet blaming that hurt on someone else. This is an early Dylan masterpiece of a genre he perfected, if not created: one of blaming his unhappiness on a woman’s failings, while parading his superior sensibility, honesty, and intellect.

What follows is a rough, unkind, yet I think accurate prose version of what Dylan tells his ex-lover in this song.

He tells her that there’s no point in thinking about what went wrong, since she should have known by now—some lack of caring, or selfishness, or insensibility has caused her to not see where she went wrong, so there’s no point talking about it. Contradictorily, he later says “We never did too much talking anyway.” He’s forced to leave, he says, and it’s because of her—but that’s ok (we are asked to believe), I’ll just talk about it this way, singing and telling you and the world of how badly you hurt me.

Even though I gave you my heart, that apparently wasn’t enough, you wanted my soul, you wanted to own me, to give you some part of myself that no one can turn over to someone else. Even as Dylan asserts this, he is simultaneously demanding from her exactly what he is denying her—he wants her soul and her destiny under his thumb, she had no right to leave, because he needed her, on his terms, here.

He tells her that she’s been less than kind to him (the clear meaning of “I ain’t saying you treated me unkind/you could have done better but I don’t mind”) and that she’s wasted his precious time (it’s hard not to imagine that Dylan thinks her time less precious than his), but that she needn’t think about, it’s all right. And so the message of this song is exactly backwards to what happened between them (and also backwards from how the song is usually understood). In this song, Dylan is the true and hurt one, not the possessive and egotistical one. But as Rotolo said about the life Dylan was leading when she got back from Italy: “I saw it as a small, cloistered, specialized world, that I just didn’t belong in it.”

And so she left it for a private life, one that remained politically and artistically active, one that remained true to the values they had shared. Now and in the future, there will be many thousands of references to Bob Dylan for every reference to Suze Rotolo. But I suspect, that at end of their days, she was able to look back on a life of virtue and decency, something that I think will be impossible for him.


, ,

44 Responses to Suze Rotolo, Bob Dylan, and the Woman Question: The Virtues of Thinking Twice

  1. Jyrone Denny March 15, 2011 at 6:19 am #

    If you want my opinion, you and Suze Rotolo (God rest her soul) are assuming that “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” is about her. Do you know this to be a fact? Has Mr. Dylan ever stated as such? Also, as far as I can tell, you are only getting one side of the story. Finally, by stating that it will be impossible for Bob to look back on a life of virtue and decency, how dare you! Everyone has, or had, skeletons in their closets (Ms. Rotolo included) and for you to make this kind of statement about Mr. Dylan sounds like you are judging his life by mostly hearsay. Sounds a little self-righteous to me.

  2. Kevin Vance March 15, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    songs I played for Suze Rotolo on my show on KALW San Francisco Saturday March 5…

    5:15 PM

    Martin Simpson

    Boots Of Spanish Leather 6:17

    A Nod To Bob: An Artists’ Tribute To Bob Dylan On His Sixtieth Birthday 2001

    5:21 PM

    Lisa Moscatiello & Rosie Shipley

    Girl from the North Country 3:57

    Well Kept Secrets 2003

    5:25 PM

    Bob Dylan

    Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right 3:38

    The Freewhellin’ Bob Dylan 1963


    5:29 PM

    Henry Thomas

    Honey Won’t You Allow Me One More Chance 2:51

    Various Artists: The Roots Of Bob Dylan – Down On Penny’s Farm 1928

    101 Distribution (UK)

  3. Stephen Pate March 15, 2011 at 11:10 am #

    Everyone knows Dylan is a misogynist. who has peppered his songs with sarcasm and put-downs of women.

    “Just Like a Woman” – give me a break, oh that’s what little girls do.

    Nothing could be nastier than the putdown in Like a Rolling Stone, which apparently about Edie Sedgwick a person with a mental disability who committed suicide. Steal her from someone, sleep with her and pass her on to your friends. How pleasant.

    However, Dylan’s songs are not reality but songs created from pastiches of Dylan’s experiences, poetry and other songs he heard.

    Rotolo, according to her book, was always kind to Dylan’s memory and privacy. It’s a nice read.

    Like Dylan said “Don’t follow leaders, watch your parking meters.”

    He’s just an artist not a GOD.

    • Rowland Scherman October 16, 2015 at 5:42 am #

      I was told many years ago, by a musician sibling in NYC, who travelled in Dylanesque circles, including Suze, that “Just Like a Woman” was about a gay or transvestite lover, and not about Suze.

  4. Stephan Pickering/Chofetz Chayim ben-Avraham March 15, 2011 at 4:19 pm #

    Tzeteh’ LeShalom, Susan, VeShuveh’ LeShalom…may you go in peace, and return in peace. 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 very much wanted to telephone Suze. I was actually afraid to do so, and didn’t; I knew what he had done to her. She was very private, and even though I have over the years talked to several of Bob’s friends, she was a voice I wanted to hear when writing my BOB DYLAN APPROXIMATELY (1975). So many wanted a part of her soul, to vicariously be part of Dylan’s ‘world’ through her; this never interested me. Bob betrayed Suze, Joan Baez, Sara Dylan, his parents, his children. The 1979 apostasy can never be excused for what it was. I remember sitting a few feet in front of Bob in 1965 at Newport (and, later, with Ralph Gleason in the San Francisco Bay Area when Bob arrived with The Hawks), the dim spotlight shining down on him and the Butterfield Blues Band…I knew Jewish poetic history was being made. Much of what I heard that night — the seering Brechtian word paintings he was creating — owed everything to Susan Rotolo’s original loyal, love, and her unparalleled honesty. She was forgiving of Bob — on several levels, she was more ‘holy’ than RAZ. On his never-ending tour, sitting alone in the giant bus that is his home, Shabtai Zisel ben Avraham v’Rachel Riva needs to look back, look inward, and atone to her, and to so many others, for what he did. I personally don’t think it will happen. He is a pathetic crucifictionist. The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of his face.

    STEPHAN PICKERING / Chofetz Chayim ben-Avraham

    Heretic Spiritist

  5. inthealley March 16, 2011 at 3:45 am #

    Dylan says somewhere that great songs stop time, and this great song does just that. It stops time at a point when he was treating Suze really badly and thinking he had the right to do so. Not long after this he wrote in a poem something that went along the lines of: ‘never again will I hold another in the prison house of my own longing’ (that’s the gist). If you stop time, you freeze all the inconsistencies of the moment right there; it is the point at which we are all caught being dishonest. What is honest and vulnerable about Bob is that he is prepared to take the consequences of doing that. He remained in contact with Suze; she understood and forgave him, and they remained as friends till the end. She appeared in the 2008(?) film of his work in the 60s ‘No Direction Home’, warmly. He’s not to be seen much right now – I can assure you he is grieving the loss of a great and honest woman he loved and loves dearly, for all his (and her) faults.

  6. Franklin March 16, 2011 at 5:44 am #

    I really think that Dylan can already look back at his life so far as one of virtue and decency.

    Critics should not be so presumptuous.

  7. atticus finch March 16, 2011 at 6:47 am #

    thanks inthealley, your words are like balm after the previous rather poisonous diatribe. We cannot know the pain of others, private lives cannot be known by those observing from the outside.

  8. Jyrone Denny March 16, 2011 at 8:47 am #

    This is to Stephan Pickering, the self-proclaimed “Heretic Spiritist.” You appear to be very judgmental and mean-spirited; I’m going by the hateful bile you spewed towards Mr. Dylan. And you call yourself a spiritist! No one knows the heart and soul of anyone but our maker, and I do not believe that you qualify for that position. Granted, Dylan was and is no angel, but neither was Ms. Rotolo, although she appeared to be a gental and forgiving person (emphasis on forgiving). You claim to know a lot about how Dylan betrayed everyone and is a “pathetic crucifictionist.” I find it fascinating that someone as yourself has the authority to judge someone. Maybe you should “look inward” and take a page out of Ms. Rotolo’s book. We have enough hypocrites in the world.

  9. Stephan Pickering/Chofetz Chayim ben-Avraham March 16, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    Shalom & Boker tov, Jyrone Denny…

    I shall not succumb to the temptation to ask who taught you, a Jew-baiter, such big words (you mis-spelled ‘gentle’, by the way)…I first heard Bob in early 1961. For you to lecture a Jew about ‘hateful bile’ etc. is nothing short of ludicrous; the smoke of Auschwitz hangs over your empty crucifictionist tomb. Fifty years later, and having listened and read all that Bob has written (I wrote 5 books on him), I have not changed my opinion since that 1979 night when a Lubavitcher rabbi telephoned me. Sitting in his office was Bob’s sobbing girl-friend, who didn’t need a dumptruck to unload her head of what Bob had surrendered to. As a Jew, I am not being ‘judgmental and mean-spirited’ in describing what Bob has done. The 1979 betrayal was his attempt to mask once again the (in)visibility of his manipulating lying. ‘inthealley’ on 16 March iterates interesting points. I would disagree with one interpretation: yes, Bob remained in sporadic touch with Suze, but he NEVER sat down with her, and apologized; he NEVER accepted the consequences of what he had done. Contrary to the spitballs of rhetoric from Jyronne Denny, I do not ‘judge’ Bob. I still remember the 1979 night in San Francisco, when Bill Graham. and my wife and I, stood in the theatre lobby, and I listened to Bob try to proselytize me about the mythical fabrication of a Graeco-Roman revelatory death cult. There was a blankness in his eyes, the realisation that he was, on one level, ‘possessed’ by a protofascist hate of (M)Other…it shattered Bob’s mother, and lead to a still unhealed chasm between he and his children. Mr Denny, you really should take a deep breath, and silence yourself. This is 2011, not 1933.

    STEPHAN PICKERING / Chofetz Chayim ben-Avraham

    Heretic Spiritist

  10. Jyrone Denny March 16, 2011 at 1:10 pm #

    So, you are the type of person that slings racial labels at someone who does not agree with you. Tsk, tsk, how pathetic. I, sir, am not a Jew-baiter and you have a lot of gall to mention something as horrible as Auschwitz when we are discussing you judging Mr. Dylan. It appears that you wear your faith on your sleeve. It seems to me (and correct me if I’m wrong) that you are upset with Mr. Dylan because you feel that he turned his back on his faith; is that part of your disdain towards him? Oh, and just because you wrote 5 books on Mr. Dylan does not make you an expert on the man’s heart and soul. Your diatribe just proved my point; you are a hypocrite. You judged me as a “Jew-baiter” just because I do not agree with your analysis/opinion on Mr. Dylan. Maybe you should silence yourself and be more gentle (did I spell it right?) towards other people.

    • Reality Sandwich September 28, 2015 at 2:19 am #

      Writing 5 books is not publishing them. All Stephen Pickering’s books are vanity pubished, no real publisher has ever published anything of his. Why would they? His sole purpose is to incite racial hatred. Does what he writes here make any sense if that was not the case?

  11. Stephan Pickering/Chofetz Chayim ben-Avraham March 16, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    Shalom & Boker tov, Mr Denny:

    Twice now, you have embarassed yourself with salacious, antisemitic nonsense: 1) your extended contexts illustrate your Jew-baiting; 2) for me to point this out to you (with far more civility than you are capable of, it appears), does not mean I am using ‘racial labels’; 3) in none of your screeds do you reveal anything approaching familiarity with Bob’s work. You appear to be lost in thought — perhaps because this is unfamiliar territory to you? If you had a creative thought, Mr Denny, it would perish from loneliness. I am not ‘upset’ with Bob (‘you feel that he turned’ is solipsist ignorance on your part; I witnessed the events of 1979); you are projecting your phantasies where they have no validity. Disagreeing with someone is the fulcrum of dialogic thinking, Mr Denny. Thus far, you are unable to sit down, and coherently address your own perfunctory scribbling (please, Mr Denny, don’t fall on your crayons).

    STEPHAN PICKERING / Chofetz Chayim ben-Avraham

    Heretic Spiritist

  12. Bob Mason March 16, 2011 at 4:29 pm #

    I would humbly ask that the argument about Jewishness, etc be moved to some other venue. It does not seem to have much to do with the piece that I wrote. Please.

    Regarding those who took offense at the morally judgmental last line of my piece, I agree that maybe it was too harsh. My overall point was to praise Suze Rotolo, rather than denigrate Dylan. I wanted to point out how women are treated so often so poorly by the famous men in their lives, and that Rotolo had gone on to live a wonderful, humble, and creative life. This is something to celebrate. It does seem to me, though, that there’s a real question about this genre of songs that Dylan has written, addressed to women, that assume the kind of superiority and consequent condescension that “Don’t Think Twice” does. “Like A Rolling Stone”, one of the most important songs ever written in America, a brilliant composition ( as was Don’t Think Twice) often brilliantly performed by Dylan with different configurations of terrific musicians, is nevertheless also full of this stuff, call it sneering or spite or hostility or whatnot. One of Dylan’s better biographers calls Don’t Think Twice “Dylan’s first great put-down song”.

    While it’s true that I can’t know too much about what kind of pain Dylan was going through at any given time, and that he famously told us to not follow leaders( such as him), that doesn’t change my mind. We are all responsible for what we do, even if we are suffering( as so many people are, so much of the time). As Lou Reed once sung about Valerie Solanus, “I believe that being sick is no excuse”. Artists are responsible for the works they put out into the public sphere, for the attitudes that they express or validate or engender.

    I wanted to raise the issue of moral judgments in this arena – famous male singers and how they portray the women in their lives – and I’m glad that some are willing to discuss it, even though they disagree with me.

  13. shastadaisy March 16, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

    Suze Rotolo and Bob Dylan deserve better than what’s going down here. I’m sure she would not be pleased with the writer’s final declaration. Bob is so astute when he observes that so many people think they know him and spend so much time analyzing him when they should stop wasting their own lives. RIP Mrs. Rotolo. One of the most beautiful songs ever written (imo), Boots of Spanish Leather, evokes the beautiful depths of two fallible human beings.

  14. Raph Cohen March 16, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    Actually, Dont think twice is a traditional Bob arranged to his style. So it is DEFINITELY NOT about Suze. It is just a song His Bobness though would sound good. Obvously the author of this inane article did not think twice about it.


  15. Raph Cohen March 16, 2011 at 6:09 pm #

    And you’ve got to be kidding about “But I suspect, that at end of their days, she was able to look back on a life of virtue and decency, something that I think will be impossible for him”

    Why woudl that be impossible for Him? He has led an examplary life, as a human being and as a Jewish icon. And this is a COHEN expressing his opinion on the innumerable mizvah Bob kindly spread around, never intentionally hurting anyne, apologizing for Ballad in plainD, and simply being a good person whenever he could and whenever nobody was watching. Not just like the Gates of this world, using his generosity for a public image boost. I am sure the Gates of Eden are wide open for Bob.

  16. Stephan Pickering/Chofetz Chayim ben-Avraham March 16, 2011 at 7:59 pm #

    Shalom & Erev tov, Mr Mason & Mr Cohen…I read your entries with much interest, although Mr Cohen’s last paragraph is in serious need of revision. He has no personal knowledge of Bob, and doesn’t know what he is talking about. Re-read Robert Shelton’s NO DIRECTION HOME (which I helped with years ago). Mr Mason, I agree with what you are saying about anti-womanist poets, and Bob has had decades of not being able to balance much. I am reminded of what Jorge Luis Borges wrote in his ‘Everything and nothing’ (1960):

    ‘There was no one inside him; behind his face (which even in the bad paintings of the time resembles no other) and his words (which were multitudinous, and of a fantastical and agitated turn) there was no more than a slight chill, a dream someone had failed to dream’.

    This has been an interesting discussion. One final word: I have always believed that Bob has deserved a Nobel Prize for Literature, especially for his 1964-1967 poetics.

    STEPHAN PICKERING / Chofetz Chayim ben-Avraham

    Heretic Spiritist

  17. Franklin March 17, 2011 at 5:55 am #

    I wonder if Google has an “Un-search” or “Anti-Search” feature, where you can only select links that have no contributions from a particular individual.

  18. Jyrone Denny March 17, 2011 at 8:51 am #

    So, Mister Know-It-All is spewing his endless, ignorant propaganda, thinking that everyone is wrong but him. I looked up your “books” on Mr. Dylan, and most of them received bad reviews, mainly because no one likes to read the ravings of a pompous jerk such as yourself. Also, I can’t believe that you actually thought you were civil when you wrote to me, and I quote: “The smoke of Auschwitz hangs over your empty crucifictionist Tomb.” You also called me an anti-semite, which means, as usual, you do not know what you are talking about. It must be lonely on top of your superior, egotistical As for being familiair with Bob’s work, I have been listening to his music since I was a child (my mother was a huge fan) and he was my main inspiration when it came to writing poetry. Yes, I have read books on Mr. Dylan and have seen interviews. I have also seen him in concert numerous times. I do not know him personally, as you claim that you do. But you still fail to grasp the gist of what I’m trying to say

  19. Jyrone Denny March 17, 2011 at 9:24 am #

    Sorry, Mr. Pickering, my computer malfunctioned. What I’m trying to enlighten you about is, once again, no one knows the heart and soul of anyone, and we should not judge someone’s life until we look into the mirror. And throwing words such as “Jew-baiter” and “antisemetic” does not help your argument. Although I do not know Mr. Dylan personally, I’m sure he was and is a difficult man with miles of bad road behind him. But don’t we all? I do know by watching interviews with him that he detests people who try to put him into one category and people that feel that he should be a certain type of person just because he is Bob Dylan. Also, the changes one makes in one’s life will upset others, but it is their choices, not ours. It has been fun sparring with you, but I feel that you and I both have hurled enough “putdowns” and jabs at each other. I wish you well; we will just agree to disagree. I’m putting my crayons up now.

  20. Stephan Pickering/Chofetz Chayim ben-Avraham March 17, 2011 at 12:14 pm #

    Shalom & Boker tov, Mr Denny:

    There is nothing I do not find offensive about you. Bob is one individual I have never attempted to categorize. I told him, 3 January 1974, while we were sitting in the freezing Chicago stadium — and Barry Feinstein was snapping pictures — that Reb Nachman of Bratzlav once taught: the irony of existence lies in that moment between seeing and recognizing, when we want to label (i.e. define/confine) the (in)visible. Virtually every sentence coming from you remains a deliberate, knowing, Jew-baiting attack. Yes, I have been civil with you.

    L’Shanah Tovah

    STEPHAN PICKERING / Chofetz Chayim ben-Avraham

    Heretic Spiritist

  21. Matthew Lasar March 17, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    Pickering and Denny, enough! No more!

  22. James Abbot March 17, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    So many songs,so little time to analyze. Try “IDIOT WIND”. It fits the story of Mr. Dylan’s attitude towards women and the people making comments. Me included.

  23. James Abbott March 17, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    Actually most of the songs on “BLOOD ON THE TRACKS” apply.

  24. Bob Mason March 17, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    I agree that Suze Rotolo and Bob Dylan deserve better than what’s going down here. I meant to discuss Dylan’s songs, not his interior life. I don’t want to analyze him, but I want to understand what he’s singing. I don’t agree that such an attempt is futile. I definitely agree on the beauty of Boots of Spanish Leather.

    I don’t think it is inane to try to discuss the tone Dylan takes toward woman in so many of his songs, and how that relates to the denigration of women in the part of the culture in which Dylan performs. Dylan has been over the years associated with the folk song movement, the lefty politics of the early sixties, the counterculture of the sixties and seventies, and, most importantly, the rock/pop music industry. One thing that unites all 4 of these is blatant sexism, i.e. the marginalization and objectification of women. Dylan produces extremely public art – both in studio and endlessly on tour. The things he says and the emotions he evokes matter. I don’t know if anyone else is interested in discussing this issue.

    I in fact did think a lot more than twice before writing this article. Which doesn’t mean I’m right about anything, but I did take it seriously. I was not aware that Don’t Think Twice is a arrangement of a traditional song. Can you give me more information on this?


  25. Steve March 17, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    i think it’s unfair to criticize an artist for “denigrating” the opposite sex in their work. (Whether they do so in their lives is another story). Who wants to hear about someone’s relationship from a neutral point of view…you HAVE to take sides. That doesn’t mean the other side is evil, it’s just the other side or the relationship.

    You give Suze points for wanting to live her life her way, and not be one of Bob’s chicks. That was her perspective. If she wrote a great song about that, it wouldn’t make “Don’t think twice” or “spanish leather” any less great, or any less true. Just because someone wrote a great song doesn’t mean they think their perspective is right.

    To me, Dylan’s work is never mean-spirited, even when it’s venemous (which these songs aren’t). The venom poisons HIM, it’s not intended for the victim. That’s how i hear it, anyway.

  26. Sachin Dev March 18, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

    Give us a break Pickering. What a load of nonsense! A “crucifixionist” hey? You gotta lotta nerve you parasite. “Betrayed” hey? How in God’s name would you know? Are you in possession of all the facts? Even if you were how can you presume to make a judgement?… A nobody leech like you. And to think I used to read Praxis. Did I say parasite?

  27. Sachin Dev March 18, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    Hey Mr Pickering why do you dress up everything Bob wrote in Judaic terms? It is legitimate to draw reference to Judaism; but you could also highlight his references to Zen (“Lets talk this Over”) and Taoism (alternative original rendition of Idiot Wind); his references to Christianity of course are clear. Yeah Bob is Jewish and like Cohen has done a lot for promoting a positive image of Judaism. But you Mr Pickering with your jingoistic chauvinism actually contribute to anti-semitism. You do not own Bob nor Judaism of course any more than I own Hinduism because I am Hindu. You really make me sick. God bless Bob Dylan a great man who happens to be Jewish. Judaism is a great and profound religion but you Pickering are not helping….ugh! “betrayed his parents and children” you say. I am going to throw up you judgemental fool. Listen to Positively 4th Street… you are in it!

  28. Sachin Dev March 18, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    Mr Denny did no Jew-baiting at all Stephen. Your claim that he is a Jew-baiter as you say is as outrageous as it is stupid. He is defending a Jew you imbecile. How is he a Jew-baiter? For all you know he may be Jewish himself. Thou dost protest too much methinks. I am going to discard my Bob Dylan Approximately right now. You have lost all credibility with me. Your attack on Jyrone is nonsensical, in fact idiotic.

  29. Gwen March 18, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    Who knows whose point of view he’s using in his songs. And he has said he changes point of view in a single song (“I give ‘im? ’em? my heart, but she wanted my soul” – is the first part of that line from the woman’s pov?). Jakob Dylan has been quoted as saying that Nashville Skyline and Blood on the Tracks is ‘my parents talking back and forth to each other.’ Boots of Spanish Leather changes pov in each verse. Sometimes I think when people think he’s singing about someone ‘who did him wrong’, he’s really singing about when he did wrong. And, he was so young when he wrote some of his timeless songs! Don’t Think Twice, to me, is a great kiss-off song, I fantasize playing it for my boss if I ever quit my job. But it doesn’t make me think he’s a mean person any more than I’m a mean person for my fantasy. He’s just ‘putting into writing what’s in ALL of our minds.’

  30. Bob Mason March 18, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    I’m interested in what Steve says about people singing songs about their relationships, and that they always have to be on one side of the other. Some descriptions are more accurate and less biased than others. There was a lot of unabashed sexism in those times. Women who felt that they were treated as inferiors, as ‘just chicks’, weren’t imagining it. It’s possible that Rotolo is exaggerating that, but I think it’s unlikely — because her book is so generous and forgiving toward Dylan, always willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    I not sure I understand this statement:

    “To me, Dylan’s work is never mean-spirited, even when it’s venemous (which these songs aren’t). The venom poisons HIM, it’s not intended for the victim. That’s how i hear it, anyway.”

    I don’t understand who is the venom intended for, if not the victim.

    We may reasonably disagree on any given song, but surely there is a fair dose of mean-spirit in Dylan’s work. How about “Positively 4th Street”?. It seems to me to be a masterpiece of pure hostility. And the notorious “Ballad in Plain D”, with its cruel characterizations of Carla and Maria Rotolo, is a song that Dylan has publicly apologized for.

    But defending or attacking Dylan is surely an activity in which too many people, many smarter and more informed than I, have engaged.

    I’d like to ask what I think is a more subtle and possibly important question: can a song to be angry and cruel, perhaps mean, and also be a great song? (Examples: “Like a Rolling Stone”, “Ballad of a Thin Man”). I’m wonder whether we, the audience, find these songs so compelling, satisfying and inspiring because of their outsized anger, because Dylan is being so emotionally explosive and transgressive — stepping over a line we stay this side of, though in our fantasies and censored wishes we often go there.

    Thanks to everyone who has contributed to this discussion without rancor.


  31. Sachin Dev March 18, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

    Bob Mason maybe you should get The Sound of Music Soundtrack. You won’t find Mr Jones or the mystery tamp or Einstein disguised as Robin Hood but it will be suitably innocuous enough for you. Your righteous pontifications censoring Bob Dylan’s supposed mysoginy are in fact sexist in themselves. You seem to presume women themselves are not capable of rancour towards men. Would a woman be sexist if she expresses disdain for some of the characteristic faults men display?

    How about people like Madonna who use sexy women in their videos- something Mr Dylan never engages in. “Just like a Woman” is a compassionate song that is actually respectful of women (unlike many rap songs). Its like characterising Shakespeare as sexist because Ophelia and Desdemona happen to fall apart.

    Hey Mr Mason if you make a b/s attack on Dylan I do not see that I have a particular responsibility not to show any rancour. Life is not The Sound of Music. Bob Mason may I suggest another album for you? How about the Singing Nun? You will love it.

  32. Sachin Dev March 18, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    Mr Mason ‘Positively 4th Street” is not an exercise in hostility- especially since we do not know who it is about. It is an expression of disgust towards a tiresome backstabber. It is a response to hostility rather than an expression of it. Bob the other Bob was only 24 at the time anyway. It could well be about Pickering anyway who makes acquaintanceship with Dylan and then cruelly turns on a defencelessly famous man by stabbing him (metaphorically) in the back… this is after making money out of books about him. I would love to get my money back for Bob Dylan Approximately but I bought it back in ’76.

  33. NancyGene March 20, 2011 at 7:01 am #

    Pickering is an Internet troll acting as Forrest Gump. His “books” were all self published. He claims to know everyone (always making the claim after a famous person has died). Anyone who disagrees with him is called an anti-Semite.

  34. Bob Mason March 21, 2011 at 10:40 am #

    I think Bob Dylan is a great artist. I value his brilliant songs.

    I tried to ask a question about whether angry songs, even mean songs, can be great. Great art challenges our feelings, perceptions, etc. It makes us ask questions about ourselves. I’m interested in understanding our reactions to these songs. I never said I didn’t like them – they stir up strong feelings and thoughts in me, that I want to think and write about.

    On the web many people seem to operate on a logic like this: I love Bob Dylan. Bob Mason criticizes Bob Dylan. Therefore Bob Mason must be a fool, someone full of it, someone who should listen to vapid happy songs only.

    Bob Dylan himself has criticized certain periods in his career( Chronicles Vol I), and has apologized for at least one mean song( see my last comment).

    I’m doing something likewise contained to specific aspects of specific songs. I am sorry if this is offensive to people.

  35. Bob Mason March 21, 2011 at 10:55 am #

    The original 25 minute inteview between Terry Gross and Suze Rotolo( not the 17 minute excerpt linked to above), which has more about the ‘woman

    issue’, is at

  36. PPP March 22, 2011 at 6:19 pm #

    Bob Dylan has a lot to offer to his listeners. Whenever I hear “Forever Young” I turn up the volume. Then there’s the car commercial. I want that song soooo bad. Yeah, about his lyrics: they’re great. It is exactly about the baby boomers. I mean I feel (so what) about so many things like in school in 1956 I was one of 40 students in one classroom. I didn’t have to do anything and all I wanted to do was to be transparent. That’s where Bob Dylan comes in, he sort of allows you to allow the feeling to manifest. What happened to Bob and Suze is not uncommon even for “ordinary people” it’s just that Bob has captured it so well and has a genius ability to express it. I personally do not like the idea of distancing oneself from ones mother or children but who am I to judge. Just like Dylan says “don’t hate anything but hate itself.” I only wish I could be half as talented as Bob and chosen a mentor early as Bob seemed to have done. I feel that some of my best connections with myself are thru music and surely Bob is one of the greats I choose to tune in to. Every good deed deserves favor and I add sacrifice. Bob has experienced both, more power to him.

  37. Jyrone Denny March 23, 2011 at 6:13 am #

    This is my opinion on Dylan’s writings and how they have impacted me and others

    Voice (To Bobby)

    His interpretations of life are insightful

    Knowledge of the human condition immeasurable

    Not impressed with the praise bestowed

    He was shoved, kicking and screaming

    Into an impossible position of generational savior

    a reluctant spokesperson

    For the disenchanted and downtrodden

    “Prophet” and “icon” are meaningless labels

    The word that clearly defines him is poet

    An ageless troubadour that recites his verse

    Through music and song

    The words his brush and canvas

    Painting the world with his voice of truth

    Enough Said.

  38. Nancy Hood March 28, 2011 at 7:00 am #

    Dylan offensive? No. Pickering offensive? Yes. It is very odd that these entries from men talk about how offensive Dylan’s songs are toward women. As a woman, I don’t feel that way at all. Just like a woman is a beautiful song . And, don’t forget in Idiot Wind,…in the end he changed you’re a idiot babe, to “we” are idiots, babe. Dylan knows the score.

  39. wayne phillips August 13, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    ——– is stephan pickering the same person who edited praxis one ’75 and who worked with me at bargetto winery ? stephan = stephen ? . . .

  40. Marcelo Varney June 2, 2013 at 3:55 am #

    Love songs can be found in the histories and cultures of most societies, though their ubiquity is a modern phenomenon. A highly controversial and startling explanation of the genesis of love songs can be found in Denis de Rougemont’s “Love in the Western World”. De Rougemont’s thesis is that love songs grew out of the courtly love songs of the troubadours, and that those songs represented a rejection of the historical Christian notion of love. “`**

    Our very own webpage

  41. Heather June 24, 2013 at 12:25 am #

    I think if you step back and think about the times in your life when you have been hurt by someone, no matter how well-intentioned, you relate to the lyrics that have come under fire. This is a song that captured the emotion of a time in Dylan’s life where he was hurting. Most of us have thought or felt many of the things he expresses in these songs…we just don’t verbalize them. Maybe these were his way of processing. I don’t hate men, but I certainly have written some scathing pieces when in the very midst of painful emotions as the result of a relationship gone bad. Mr. Dylan has been raked over the coals countless times for his lyrics, his public image, his politics…with wild assumptions being put forth as fact. And, to be fair, she chose to leave him…twice…whether or not it was a good decision for her doesn’t change the fact that when someone you care about and trust leaves you, it sucks and you run the gamut of emotions. It’s easy to take the “high road” when you’re the one that left.

  42. leah March 1, 2015 at 12:58 am #

    i have just stumbled upon these comments via an indirect path. i am reading stephan pickering’s comments and posts with great interest and awareness. he has true insight and first hand, direct knowledge.there is no disrespect here, only truth. none of what he says negates in anyway dylan’s worth as an artist nor does it stain ms. rotolo’s memory in any way. he is simply feeling it time to step forward and clarify who bob dylan is and the great moment of cowardice – yes it was cowardice – that turned his face from the path his soul walks upon. mr. pickering, may i suggest that mr. dylan is beginning to make those amends now.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes