Slum Goddess From The Lower East Side: A Review

June 20, 2008

 

A Review

Slum Goddess From The Lower East Side

Some Thoughts On The Autobiography Of Suze Rotolo:

A Freewheelin’ Time

by

R.E. Prindle

 

1.

Sandoz The Great

Hoffman Holding LSD Model
Hofman Holding LSD Model

     In 1938 Albert Hofman, a Swiss chemist working for Sandoz isolated LSD-25.  In 1938 young Tim Leary was 18 years old.  It was in 1943 that Albert Hofman discovered the effects of LSD.  Seventeen years after that LSD burt onto the world through the agency of the now, Dr., Timothy Leary, a psychologist with Harvard University.

     LSD was adopted by the Bohemian society and all its offshoots as the appearance of the new chemical Messiah:  Better living through chemistry as the slogan was.  Its use quickly spread through the folk music community of Greenwich Village in New York City.

Timothy Leary Is Dead

Timothy Leary Is Dead

Goodbye Tuli. Died 7/12/10

     In 1923 a fellow by the name of Tuli Kupferberg was born and his partner Ed Sanders came along in 1939 a year after I did.  Kupferberg and Sanders were poets who became influenced by the folk scene forming a band sometime in 1964 originally called the Village Fugs, later the Village was dropped and they became simply the Fugs.  In 1965 they released their first LP on Folkways.  Now, cut one, side one was little number entitled Slum Goddess From The Lower East Side.  Sort of OK as a song, funny, as were a lot of Fugs songs.  Like Dylan they searched for social significance rather than write trite love songs.  Unlike Dylan you could easily understand the meaning of the lyrics.  Slum Goddess was one and then there was a song that many of us thought significant in the social sense back in those days entitled:  Boobs A Lot.  ‘Do you like boobs a lot?  Gotta like boobs a lot.’  As I said deep and intense meaning.  This was followed by a song eulogizing jock straps.  ‘Do you wear your jock strap?  Gotta wear your jock strap.’  So the Fugs were with it.

     At some point after 1965 the Village Voice decided to run a feature depicting some East Village lovely as the Slum Goddess From The Lower East Side.  Suze Rotolo had the dubious honor of being selected as the very first Slum Goddess.

     To what did she owe this honor?  Well, she was famous on the Lower East Side for being featured on the album cover of Bob Dylan’s second LP, The Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan.  She was at that time, 1962, I believe, Bob’s girl friend or, at least, one of them, perhaps the principle one but one can’t be sure as Bob had others as ‘part time’ girl friends.

     Thus one has to go back to the summer of 1961 to discover how Suze Rotolo began her odyssey to become the very first Slum Goddess.  Suze tells her story in her autobiography issued in May of 2008 called A Freewheelin’ Time.  It is a bitter sweet story not lacking in charm.  Bob was born in 1941 while Suze was born three years later.  All the disparate elements in our story born at separate times were slowly moving to a central focal point in New York City from 1961 to 1965 or so.

     Suze and Bob were of that age when freewheelin’ seemed possible while the psychological social moment was about to congeal and then vanish before it could be realized as psychological moments do.  Some catch the golden ring as it come around, some don’t.  Bob did, Suze didn’t.

     Suze was born in Queens, over there on Long Island, as a red diaper baby.  In other words in the romanticized Communist parlance her parents were Communists when she was born.  She was brought up in the faith.

     Bob described her as a libertine dream or some such epithet.  I’m not sure Suze saw herself in the same way.  I think she expected a little more of Bob than to be his sex toy.  As a Communist she should have had a more freewheelin’ attitude.

     Suze seems to have been brought up completely within the Red religion much as a Christian might be a Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran or as Jew in whatever stripe of Judaism it might be.

     She edged into race agitation at a young age.  She met Bob when she was seventeen while she had been working for CORE  (Congress Of Racial Equality) for  a couple years before that.  She would have been fifteen or sixteen.  Whether she had sexual experiences with the Africans she doesn’t tell us.  In her search for a raison d’ etre for her life she found herself in Greenwich Village in the Summer of ’61 where she met the twenty year old Bob Dylan just in from the Iron Range of Minnesota.  They were mutually attracted, quickly forming a sexual relationship.

     Bob as everyone knows was and is Jewish.  He came not only from a Jewish background but from an orthodox background.  Hibbing, Minnesota, his hometown, had a Jewish population of about three hundred families with their own Jewish establishment and synagogue.

     According to Beattie Zimmerman, Bob’s mother, Bob was a good boy who attended services regularly while investigating the nature of the various Christian churches.  As a mother Beattie’s version of things must be interpreted through the eyes of mother love.

     Father Abe was not only a practising Jew but the President of the Hibbing chapter of B’nai B’rith and its terrorist arm the Anti-Defamation League.  In addition Beattie, Bob’s mother, was the President of the Women’s auxiliary, Hadassah.  So Bob isn’t just Jewish but comes from a very committed Jewish background.

     As the President of the Hibbing chapter, Father Abe would have attended statewide gatherings in Minneapolis, regional meetings wherever they were held and possibly if not probably national meetings in NYC and elsewhere.  Now, within the international Jewish organizations heavy hitters attend various levels of meetings where they meet and learn something of the various local and regional people.  Thus, it may be assumed that Abe Zimmerman as a name at least was known on the national Jewish level.  Kind of the Jewish Who’s Who, you know.  Bob says that he had contacts to help him when he got to New York.  Those contacts would have come through Father Abe while being part of B’nai B’rith and ADL.  Bob wasn’t entirely alone out there.

     Bob’s Jewish name is Sabtai after the last acknowledged Jewish Messiah, Sabbatai Zevi.  There have been many that filled a Messianic role since Zevi not least of which was Sigmund Freud and possibly Albert Einstein.  Bob may have been encouraged to take the role for himself.

     At any rate when Bob approached thirteen and Bar Mitzvah time Abe brought in a special Rabbi from Brooklyn to instruct Bob.  Now this is really signficant.  He was probably a Lubavitcher or ultra-orthodox Jew.  When Bob publicly expressed his Judaism after his Christian stint he chose to do so as a Lubavitcher.  Very likely that was no coincidence.  Having received his crash course in orthodoz Judaism Father Abe next sent his son to a Zionist summer camp for ‘several ‘ weeks for each of four successive summers ending at the age of seventeen.  This would have the effect of introducing him to young Jews not only of the region but from around the world while at the same time estranging him from his fellow Hibbingites giving him his strange cast of character.

     Camp Herzl was named after the originator of Zionism, Theodore Herzl.  the camp with a spacious hundred and twenty acres is located on a lake near Webster, Wisconsin.  Herzl is not your basic summer church camp but a national and international gathering place where young Jews from around the US and the world can meet and get known to each other somewhat.

     The camp is conducted exclusively for Jews along Jewish lines eliminating as many goyish influences as is possible.  At least when he was seventeen Bob was playing the Wild One showing up in a mini biker cavalcade.  One may assume that many national and international Jewish figures made appearances over the four years to both instruct, encourage and look over the upcoming generation.

     The post-war years were very traumatic for the Jewish people.  The death camps of the Nazis dominated their minds.  They were psychologically devastated and unbalanced looking for Nazis under their beds before they went to sleep at night.  One may safely assume that Bob and his fellow campers had to watch extermination movies over and over lest they forget.

     The State of Israel was founded in 1948 while the first of Israel’s successful wars occurred in 1956.  The ’56 war was a seminal event bolstering the spirits of the Jews turning them aggressive as they now believed they could fight.  After ’56 they began to come out of themselves.

     For whatever reasons as Bob entered high school his personality began to disintegrate.  Perhaps he had to cease being Bobby Zimmerman to become what his people expected of him which was a probable religious leader who then became Bob Dylan.  As always Bob would combine two cultures, Jewish and Goyish.

     After an extremely rocky year in Minneapolis where Bob shed the remnants of his goody goody image of Hibbing he became the dirty unkempt Bob Dylan of his rush to fame of the Folk years.

     Thus as Bob and Suze met in the Summer of ’61 they were both searching for something to be.

Part 2.

Why Do Fools Fall In Love?

Just We Two

Just We Two

     The question now that Suze and Bob have gotten together is to sort out the various accounts of what happened.  Bob says everyone has gotten it wrong.  However his own account in Chronicles I is no more factual than the accounts of his biographers and commentators.  Suze doesn’t provide us with much more clarity.  While Bob tells it like he wanted it to have been Suze on the the one hand protects her memory of what she wants to keep as a beautiful memory while glossing over her own actions at the time to keep it so.

     Bob goes through the romantic notion of constructing their bed with saw, hammer and nails.  This is a charming story and I’m embarrassed to say I took him at his word.  You simply can’t.  Chronicles came out four years ago so Suze has had plenty of time to read it and mull over Bob’s ruminations.  Thus she must be aware of Bob’s story of the bed.  She says it was an old bed the landlord left from another tenant.  Another beautiful tale of Bob’s down the tubes.

     Suze rather unflatteringly depicts Bob as a rouster and fairly heavy drinker.  She was offended that Bob, who was posing as Bob Dylan, not yet having officially changed his name, didn’t level with her and confide that Dylan was a pseudonym that looked better on a marquee while his real name was Zimmerman and that he came from Minnesota rather than being an orphan from New Mexico.  Coming home one night, as Suze tells it, Bob, stumblingly drunk, dropped his ID and she discovered the truth as she picked it up.  Even then she had to drag the truth out of Bob.

     These problems mounted up.  There was immediate hostility between Bob, Suze’s mother and her sister Carla.  The mother seems to have instinctively seen through Bob, while I’m sure Carla soon learned that Bob was doing her sister wrong.

      As we know from Chronicles Bob had other ‘part-time’ girl friends, pick ups and whatever.  As the folk crowd was a fairly tight knit group even if Suze didn’t want to hear the obvious Carla who was employed by the Folklorist, Alan Lomax, could hardly have been unaware that Bob had a laissez faire attitude toward romancing the girls.

     Indeed, Bob’s understanding of Suze was that she was his Libertine belle.  As a libertine therefore he could hardly have believed fidelity was a necessary condition.  I don’t know if Suze considered herself a Libertine but as a Communist both fidelity and jealousy were forbidden by the dogma so speaking consistently with the belief system neither mother, Suze nor Carla had grounds for complaint.   Nevertheless both mother and Carla wished to separate Bob and Suze.

     Bob records his side of the conflict in his song Ballad in Plain D.  In his usual high flown language Bob says in his song:

“The tragic figure!” her sister did shout,

“Leave her alone, goddamn you, get out.”

All is gone, all is gone, admit it, take flight.

I gagged twice, doubled, tears blinding my sight.

My mind it was mangled, I ran into the night

Leaving all of love’s ashes behind me.

     Within a few months he was married to Sara who he kept waiting in the wings.  Subsequently he tried to keep Sara and his growing family in Woodstock and the Slum Goddess Of The Lower East Side out on the side.  Suze, apparently not quite as Libertine as Bob supposed, declined the honor.

     Just as Bob blithely romanticizes his early NY years in some sappy Happy Talk that belies his songs and what nearly everyone has written about him so Suze adopts a near virginal girlish pose.  Her story of how she left for Italy and her true blue yearning for the perfect love of Bob who sent those charming letters purloined from old country songs is also belied by the various biographers.  To hear Suze talk she never looked at a boy in Italy and certainly never dated one let alone kissed or petted.  Yet by her religious Communist ideology that would have been no sin, even would have been a virtue.  In fact she did have an Italian boyfriend who was apparently dropped down the memory hole at autobiography time.

     When she did return the road of romance was much more rocky than she lets on.  Carla who stayed home where she could watch Bob was privy to his doings which were much more libertine than anything he accused Suze of.  He had to have slept with Liam Clancy’s live in somewhere in there.  He’s accused of being a womanizer and you can’t be a womanizer without a lot of women.  So whatever Carla knew it was somewhat more than an earful and I’m sure that between Carla and her mother Suze heard it all.

     Suze out of respect for this young love which, after all, must still occupy a sacred spot in her life never expresses but the mildest resentment of Bob but letting her sister speak for her she says that ‘she (Carla) felt I was better off without the lyin’ cheatin’ manipulative bastard.’  Right on all counts I’m sure except for the last although as Bob claimed to have no parents Carla could justly so surmise.

     At any rate if Suze couldn’t make up her mind her mother and Carla could.

     Ballad In Plain D again:

Beneath a bare light bulb the plaster did pound

Her sister and I in a screaming battleground,

And she in between, the victim of sound,

Soon shattered the child ‘neath her shadows.

—–

The wind knocks my window, the room it is is wet.

The words to say I’m sorry, I haven’t found yet.

I think of her often and hope whoever she’s met

Will be fully aware of how precious she is.

     And then Bob married Sara and ruined her life.

     While Suze and Bob talked marriage there is no reason to take that seriously; he talked marriage with Echo too.  I don’t think Bob had any notion of marrying aouside his faith.  The mother is the culture carrier; Bob is firmly within the Jewish culture so there could have been no chance that he would have taken other than a Jewish wife.  Even then he may have married only to fulfill the commandment to be fruitful and multiply.  Once he had fulfilled that duty he broke the marriage apart.

3.

The Slum Goddess

I'm Leaving Town Tommorow

I'm Leaving Town Tommorow

     Suze was now a young woman of twenty or twenty-one alone adrift in New York City.  While she and Bob were having their tempestuous romance the times they were a changin’.

     Tim Leary, up in harvard, had embraced psychedelics.  Once in love with LSD he wanted to share his love with everyone.  He became the High Priest of his psychedelic religion.  I can recommend both his autobiography and his volume of reminiscences: High Priest.  The latter is a spectacularly well written book if tending toward tediousness.

     Leary’s experiments attracted the dark angel of the Hippie years, Allen Ginsberg.  Ginsberg also attached himself to Dylan tying the Beat and Hippie decades together.  Vile man.

     Bob had introduced Suze to Marijuana and what else I don’t know, perhaps LSD.  He himself was into the pharmacopeia also undoubtedly dabbling in heroin although if he did he is still an addict or was successful in kicking the habit after his retreat from fame in ’66.  That whole thing about the motorcycle accident may have been just rehab.  He sure needed it.

     As Bob notes the effect of LSD on the Greenwich Village folk scene was to turn people inward destroying any sense of community.  Suze then was attempting to navigate this terra nova.  Along with turning people inward, LSD, the drug scene, turned the scene sexually rasty in ways even the Communists couldn’t have imagined.  The Pill coming along at this time certainly was as influential as LSD in changing sexual mores.

     Suze, if aware of this, makes no mention of it in her auto.  The Fugs released Slum Goddess in 1965 although they may possibly have been playing it around the Village for a year or two earlier.  The Slum Goddess is not a savory woman.

     That Suze was selected as the first Slum Goddess strikes my sensibilities as a negative compliment.  Her presentation of it implies a souring experience.  Shortly after her selection she chose to withdraw from Village life.  She gives as the reason that her earlier relations with Bob caused upleasant curiosity and that was certainly true.

     The scene turned absolutely rotten after 1968 when between drugs, profound negativity and the progressing degradation of the Hippie movement anyone with any sense of dignity was driven out.

     Suze must have been one of us for she left the scene behind.  There are few today who choose to remember it.  As for me, life is life, there it was and there was I.  I was who I was; je ne regret rien.  I hope Suze doesn’t either.  Bob?  He just stays on the bus and doesn’t get off.  Reality can be such a drag.

Forget About Yesterday

Forget About Yesterday

 

11 Responses to “Slum Goddess From The Lower East Side: A Review”

  1. Jan Sevastakis Says:

    It sure must be hard to handle the constant pressure of always being puy under a microscope.Due to what is medically called a chemical imbalance in my brain I’ve been tripping for years.Nature is,what nature is.Thank the Lord my past love life isn’t a topic of public interest,what a disservice that would be to those that would like to leave well enough alone.As far as Bob needing “rehab”,it’s a miracle the man lived past his twenty seventh birthday.The public didn’t exactly give him an easy road to walk.

  2. reprindle Says:

    Jan: Sorry about your condition. Don’t know exactly what you mean be ‘tripping’ but I do know a little bit about outer space myself.

    The deal with Dylan’s situation is that back in 1960 he decided to influence my life by becoming a recording star. My life and a couple two or three generations by now. You forfeit something by doing that; there is a high price to pay. Part of it is that you voluntarily subject yourself to the scrutiny of those you have affected just as I leave myself open to your criticism by voluntarily placing my thoughts before you.

    I have no right to complain about your objections nor does Bob have any right to complain about writers investigating him. He’s published a memoir for gosh sakes. There is no excuse for people showing up in his bedroom while he’s sleeping but then ‘sometimes even the President of the United States must have to stand naked.’ It’s just what Bob bought into.

    I am half angry at Bob because to a lesser extent than Toby Thompson I bought into Bob’s rhetoric. Now I’m looking for Something Of Value in what he said and I’m not finding it. All I can do is repeat Bob’s words:

    Nothing was delivered
    And I tell this truth to you
    Not in spite or in anger
    But simply ’cause it’s true.

    Best to you, Jan.

  3. Jan Sevastakis Says:

    reprindle-Thank-you for your kindness.I am sorry to hear that you are”half angry”or should I say disappointed with Bob.For me he has been nothing short of a blessing,it all has meaning.But then maybe we’ve been dealt a different hand,and because of my life’s trauma I see things in a way that you are not yet able.Listen with an open mind and an even opener heart,(which you apparently already have)and maybe things will come together for you.Bob has helped me to see things in a way that would have been impossible to find anywhere else.Don’t give up on him,you both deserve better than that!Thanks again for your kindness.-jan

  4. Ralph Hitchens Says:

    “Judge not, lest ye be judged” is one of my mantras, and it applies above all to artists. I came late to the party and to hear “Highway 61 Revisted” contrasted with what I listened to back in the day is to see what a huge revolution Bob Dylan had wrought. It’s therefore presumptuous of me or anyone else to judge him on any score.

    As for what sort of womanizer he might have been back in the day, it’s interesting that two of the three women who figured most prominently in his early life — Rotolo as well as Joan Baez in her two autobiographies — have mostly good things to say about him. Only Sarah has kept her silence.

  5. reprindle Says:

    Ralph: Cue up Aaron Neville’s Tell It Like It Is, follow that with Sly And The Family Stone’s Different Strokes For Different Folks, then seque into Subterranean Homesick Blues- Don’t Follow Leaders. I come from that era and I follow such precepts so I take Bob’s advice and don’t make him a leader.

    Just because you don’t judge don’t mean you won’t be judged. Ask me. I’ve got so many unsatisfied judgements out against me I’ve grown callous. Life is a paint ball shoot out. Dig it.

    Just because you’ve got yourself a Revolution doesn’t mean you’ve got a good revolution. That’s one thing I hold aginst Latter Day Bob, he has us waist deep in the Big Muddy with no way across the channel. Bob’s got bill’s to pay.

    Baez was a doormat. If you’ve read her latest ranting about Obama, I think ER highlighted it a couple days ago (this is 8/7/08), she’s slipped off the deep end. Two or three years younger than me too. Hard to the lovelies age and harden up. If you read Freewheelin’ Times carefully there’s a lot of concealed bitterness in there, check out the drunken driver’s license drop again. Suze’s got some hard feelings but why should she be vicious? I’m not going to say any hard things about the girls I’ve dated but I wouldn’t date most of them again. When Bob called recently Suze ignored him. Are those hard feelings?

    I’m sure Sara has been taught if you don’t have anything good to say about someone don’t say anything at all. She just got a plain raw deal but more on that later.

    And, Ralph, Dylan is a public figure who has made, as you say, his impact on the world. He’s made his impact on me. So whether he wants to be analyzed or not, it’s his due as public figure. He sould be more than flattered that high quality writers take time out of their lives to analyze him. Call it a tribute. It was either Bob or Tiny Tim. I just don’t tiptoe through the tulips with anyone, that’s all.

  6. Jan Sevastakis Says:

    Lord have mercy I think the tides just come up over my boots.Maybe I oughta take them off and do the doggy paddle across the mississippi,or better yet,wait for Bob Dylan to pay his dues so I can afford to buy me a boat.I don’t have a clue where ya’ll are coming from,but wherever it is I don’t want to go there.

  7. Michelle Says:

    I am looking for a copy of the centerfold Slumgoddess, printed in the Village Voice, around 1967, of a naked girl holding a bunch of bananas covering her crouch area. That is me. I would love to have a copy of that. Photo taken by Joey Kay.

  8. reprindle Says:

    If I had one, Michelle, I’m sure I’d have it pinned up somewhere. But I don’t. Can anyone else supply one?

  9. fred Says:

    I adhere that the two greatest groups of the 60’s were THE BEATLES AND THE FUGS!!!

    KICK ASS!!!!

    Fred6969

  10. Robert Says:

    Anybody would be smart to follow a famous quote:

    “Judge the art and not the artist!”

  11. reprindle Says:

    Bob: Don’t know exactly how to apply your comment. While the art is an expression of the artist it is not separate from the artist. Art and artist are one. You can’t understand the one without the other, so they have to be viewed as a whole.

    Besides it’s now beyond mere art into history. Different rules now apply. Don’t you think? What do I care about a song or picture?

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