Bob Dylan has had countless lovers that, at some point throughout his life, have acted as a creative muse. His chaotic relationship with Suze Rotolo, for example, laid birth to much of his early work, pushing Dylan through the masses of hopeful musicians that flocked to Greenwich Village.
In his memoir, Chronicles: Volume One, Dylan recounted how, after his eyes caught the attention of Rotolo, it was love at first sight. From the moment he caught a glimpse of the American artist, he became infatuated and unable to escape her libidinous aura. “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,” he remembered.
“The air was suddenly filled with banana leaves,” Dylan added. “We started talking and my head started to spin. Cupid’s arrow had whistled past my ears before, but this time it hit me in the heart and the weight of it dragged me overboard”.
Dylan was 20 at this point, and under the belief that he was no stranger to love. However, his intense feelings for Rotolo were more intoxicating than anything he thought was possible. Having first met at a folk concert at the Riverside Church in Manhattan, where they were introduced to one another by a mutual friend, their relationship immediately blossomed.
Rotolo, who was remarkably socially conscious, opened Dylan’s eyes to issues that dripped into his songwriting. Conversely, her family were disgruntled about the relationship from the off-set, and Bob’s evergrowing fame also helped weaken their bond.
“Bob was charismatic: he was a beacon, a lighthouse, he was also a black hole,” she later remembered. “He required committed backup and protection I was unable to provide consistently, probably because I needed them myself. I could no longer cope with all the pressure, gossip, truth and lies that living with Bob entailed. I was unable to find solid ground. I was on quicksand and very vulnerable”.
Months after they began living together, Rotolo left Dylan and New York City behind. For half a year, they had no contact, as she studied in Italy at the University of Perugia, where she could escape from the claustrophobia of Dylan’s hectic life. When she returned to New York City in 1963, their relationship would resume. Sadly, the reasons why she sought solace in Europe in the first place would rear their head once more. They’d permanently split that summer following Rotolo falling pregnant and opting to have an abortion.
Dylan, understandably devastated in the interim period between the two chapters of their relationship, unsurprisingly channelled his heartbreak through his songwriting, and ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’ captures his misery about Rotolo’s departure from his life.
Despite the knowing sense that their romance was doomed, the eternal love Dylan expresses in ‘Don’t Think Twice’ accurately exhibits why he was determined to give it another shot with Rotolo, even though it was destined to fail. The final nail in the coffin of their relationship would come in 1964 when Dylan released ‘Ballad in Plain D’. The track covers their initial honeymoon period, his infidelities and a brutally scathing attack on her sister, who he labels a “parasite”. The song then concludes by detailing a fight between them on the night that they split.
Uncharacteristically, Dylan publically apologised for releasing the song years later, proving that Rotolo continued to occupy a special place in his heart after their split. “I look back and say ‘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,” he admitted.
Rotolo was able to cast a potent spell on Dylan, a feeling that made him look at the world in a whole different light. Without her, he potentially would never have had his political awakening, inadvertently making him the voice of a generation. On ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’, a despondent Dylan expresses his gratitude for Rotolo’s cameo in his life, even if it was more fleeting than he imagined when they first locked eyes under a Manhattan sky.