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Classic Album covers : The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan - Bob Dylan

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan is the second studio album by Bob Dylan, released in May 1963 by Columbia Records

On a snowy, crisp day in February 1963, in the heart of Greenwich Village, photographer Don Hunstein set up on West 4th Street and shot down Jones Street as Bob Dylan and his then girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, walked towards the camera. Bob thrust his hands deep in his jeans pockets, Suze clung on to his arm – and the result is one of rock music’s most famous album covers

The photograph encapsulates a remarkable time and place. For a period nearly half a century ago this grid of streets, barely a couple of square miles in total, generated a buzz of creative energy that forged Dylan’s artistic sensibility. “The air was bitter cold, always below zero, but the fire in my mind was never out,” he recalls in his memoir, Chronicles

Bob arrived in the city that would ‘shape’ his ‘destiny’ with a ready made back catalogue of tall stories about himself, and what he believed to be a mind that ‘was strong like a trap.’ Although the Village is a different place today, there still remains an architectural mixture of tenements and grander Federal-style townhouses, a spirit of the ‘original vagabond’ who set up camp in January 1961, including the White Horse Tavern on Hudson St at West 11th (where Dylan Thomas drank his last before dying and where Norman Mailer conceived the radical Village Voice newspaper), ‘basket houses’, where performers passed around a hat for money, particularly Cafe Wha? on MacDougal Street and Hotel Earle, where Dylan lived for a while and which Joan Baez, in her bittersweet love song about Dylan, Diamonds and Rust, refers to as “that crummy hotel over Washington Square”

Dylan wrote in Chronicles: “Everything was always new, always changing. It was never the same crowd upon the streets”

In her memoir “A Freewheelin’ Time” Rotolo spoke about the photo:

“It is one of those cultural markers that influenced the look of album covers precisely because of its casual down-home spontaneity and sensibility. Most album covers were carefully staged and controlled, to terrific effect on the Blue Note jazz album covers … and to not-so great-effect on the perfectly posed and clean-cut pop and folk albums. Whoever was responsible for choosing that particular photograph for The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan really had an eye for a new look”

The critic Janet Maslin describes it as “a photograph that inspired countless young men to hunch their shoulders, look distant, and let the girl do the clinging”

Suze Rotolo died on February 25, 2011 aged 67. She was Dylan’s girlfriend/muse in the early sixties. Of her, Bob Dylan wrote:

“I couldn’t take my eyes off her… The air was suddenly filled with banana leaves. 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.”

“Meeting her was like stepping into the tales of 1,001 Arabian nights. She had a smile that could light up a street full of people and was extremely lively, had a particular type of voluptuousness—a Rodin sculpture come to life. She reminded me of a libertine heroine. She was just my type.”

She lived almost her entire life in the East Village, where she lived almost her entire life

Listen to this interview with Suze from Fresh Air on NPR , and as Bob Dylan sings in “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” (a song he wrote about breaking up with Suze): “Goodbye’s to good a word, babe. So I say fare thee well”

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May 10, 2012

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