I'm finally getting around to reading the new autobiography by Suze Rotolo, A Freewheelin' Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties. Rotolo is probably still most famous for being Bob Dylan's girlfriend who appeared with him on the cover of the Freewheelin' album. Rotolo has lived a pretty interesting life, and her book, which admittedly I have only just begun, is interesting as well. But as I'm reading it, I'm taken with the preconceptions we bring to autobiography, or better, who we think warrants an autobiography in the first place. In the chapters I've read so far (not sure there are chapters, to be honest, I'm reading it on my Treo and formatting is quirky), she details her childhood as a Red Diaper baby in the 50s. Like I say, interesting stuff ... it's a good period to learn more about, and she was there, as they say. These sections stand on their own. Except ...
When you read a biography, everything is designed to explain the subject. When you read that Mr. or Ms. Famous Person did X when they were 9 years old, you interpret that in the context of what they later did that made them famous enough for you to want to read their biography. Suze Rotolo's life is as worthy of its telling as any. But the feel, at least in the pre-Dylan parts, is very immediate. It's not "here are the things that made me who I am," although that's present, but rather "here are things that happened, and they are important all by themselves." We don't hear her stories about Greenwich Village in the late-50s as a precursor to a more interesting future ... we read the stories and they are interesting, or not, without worrying about the future.
Perhaps it's only marginally famous people who can pull this off. The stories of the pasts of the truly famous are burdened by our knowledge of what is to come. I had a teacher long ago who once traveled with Dylan from, I think it was Chicago to New York, around 1960 or so ... whenever it was that Dylan was heading to NYC. The teacher would tell that story ... it constituted an entire lecture in a pop culture class ... there was nothing noteworthy about the trip they took, except that one of the travelers was BOB DYLAN. Even the teacher who went on the trip, and who did not know the man he was with would become BOB DYLAN, remembers it not as something he did, but as something he did with BOB DYLAN. The subsequent fame of his traveling partner is all that made his story interesting.
Rotolo's story is interesting on its own. But we can't help but wonder what will happen when she meets up with that freewheelin' guy. Her relationship with Dylan is surely the primary reason she was able to get her autobiography published, is the main reason I am reading her book, and everything in the book is thus filtered through our thoughts about her ex-boyfriend. Which means we miss the essence of her story, which is about a lot more than her ex-boyfriend.