Former Girlfriends Dish On Dylan, Lennon

It is one of the most iconic photographs ever to grace a rock and roll album: A young Bob Dylan walking down a Greenwich Village street. But who's that girl? CBS News Sunday Morning Contributing Correspondent Serena Altschul visits with rockstars' girlfriends.


The year was 1963. And she was Bob Dylan's girlfriend. The image of them together is one of many from a Columbia Records publicity shoot.

"And the photographer said, 'Bob, sit here. Move here. Pick up your guitar. Put down the guitar.' And then he said, 'Suze, get in the picture.' So, I said, 'Okay.'"

"You had no idea?" Altschul asked.

"No idea, and was very surprised that they chose that one to be the cover," Rotolo said. "I thought they'd take one of Bob by himself."

Forty-five years later, Rotolo has written a memoir, "A Freewheelin' Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village In the Sixties" (Random House), putting her in tune with a new trend. From Eric Clapton's ex, Patti Boyd ... to John Lennon's girlfriend May Pang ... to Nancy Lee Andrews, Ringo Starr's former fiancée, a genre has evolved: Books by rock star love interests.

"What can we learn about Bob Dylan from your book that we're not gonna learn from all of the others?" Altschul asked.

"It was through my eyes," Rotolo said. "Anyone could write about that period. But through my eyes, it's personal. It was my personal history, my personal story, in seeing this man who became an icon."

He may be an icon now, but his first Greenwich Village apartment - which he shared with Rotolo in 1961 - was anything but grand. She took CBS News Sunday Morning to the building.

"We were on the top floor, in the rear," she said. "It was hot in summer, and cold in winter."

"Little apartment?" Altschul asked.

"Very little apartment," Rotolo said without hesitation. "One tiny bedroom, and a tiny kitchen, and the main room. We used to eat a lot at The Bagel, which was across the street. And there was a guy who made wonderful hamburgers. He was in the window grilling the hamburgers. So we'd go there a lot."

Rotolo first laid eyes on Dylan only a few blocks away, at a club called Gerde's Folk City. He was playing back-up harmonica. When they met she was 17, he was 20. A romance ignited quickly, fueled by their mutual love of poetry, and lasted almost four years.

"So within that first year of knowing him, he became very famous," Altschul said.

"Uh-huh."

"That's so much pressure on a relationship, too." Altschul added.

"Yes," Rotolo answered. "Well, I think it's very difficult for the artist, too. People would take him as gospel - that he could give the word on anything. And why would that be? He was basically an entertainer."

An entertainer obsessed with writing lyrics.

When not penning songs, Dylan wrote romantic inscriptions to Rotolo, like this one in a poetry book he gave her as a gift. And he was still penning words of affection about her four decades later, in his 2004 memoir.

"He characterizes you in a particular way that's quite moving," Altschul said. "He says, '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, a Rodin sculpture come to life.' How does it feel for him to say that and to characterize you like that?"

"That's nice, no?" Rotolo said.

"Were you his muse?" Altschul asked.

"That makes sense," she answered. "Yes. I could say I was a muse."

Rotolo is not the only rock star muse with a book. There's also May Pang's new volume of John Lennon photographs, "Instamatic Karma: Photographs of John Lennon" (St. Martin's Press).

(St. Martins Press)
She was Lennon's mistress between 1973 and '75, when he was separated from Yoko Ono. It was known as his "Lost Weekend," and he was rumored to be depressed, but Pang says just the opposite: Those were years of re-birth.

"It was the most productive time in his solo career," Pang says, which was marke dby the release of "Walls and Bridges." "And that was his number one album with his only number one single in his lifetime, 'Whatever Gets You Through the Night.'"

"What do we learn about him from these photographs that we haven't known?" Altschul asked.

"I guess the vulnerability," Pang answered. "He was like you and me, you know? When he was away from all the cameras, he just liked to do the normal things. His favorite thing in life was just to sit around, take in the sun, and go swimming. I couldn't swim; that's why I took the pictures instead."

Pang took pictures of just about everything, in both New York and Los Angeles, where the couple split their time:

There's Lennon's reunion with his young son Julian after several years apart, and the signing of the papers that officially disbanded the Beatles.

"Was he resolved about it?" Altschul asked.

"Yeah, he was resolved," Pang answered. "I mean, he took a deep breath. You know, if you look at that picture, he's the last one to sign it, you know. He started it and he's ending it. And his signature was the last one."

Pang has since been married and divorced, but she's always kept her Lennon photographs stowed away at home, a home that at times feels more like a John Lennon museum.

There are pieces of history …

"This is my 'Walls and Bridges' gold record which I treasure a lot," Pang said.

And there are personal mementos.

"This was John's favorite poetry book, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning," she said.

And then there's a larger item you'd never expect to see firsthand:

"This was the bed that John and I bought together," Pang said. "This was in our apartment. So when you look in the book and you see us laying in this bed, where he's looking at TV, this is the bed."

And if you look hard enough, you can almost see the world through Lennon's eyes.

"He wore these," she said, holding a pair of Lennon's eyeglasses.

"So he had very poor vision?" Altschul asked.

"He was really, like, almost blind," Pang answered.

"When was the last time you spoke with him?" Altschul asked.

"Well, 1980, memorial weekend," she said. "I had some friends over, and the phone rang. And all I heard was, "Hi, May." My heart just skipped a beat and I said, 'John.'"

John Lennon died later that year.

Pang says his legend - and that of The Beatles - will always remain.

"They changed the world, not of only music, but they changed the world of how we dress, how we look, how we talk," she said.

As for Suze Rotolo, she is now a visual artist exhibiting her work at a Manhattan gallery. Married, with a grown son, she says she tries to avoid nostalgia about Bob Dylan. But it's hard not to look back and reflect on a decade of such profound cultural change.

"It was a very fruitful period, in all the arts," Rotolo said. "And also, socially. The civil rights movement was going on. The war in Vietnam was firing up. So it was a hot bed of all these different things. And Dylan became kind of the mover and the shaper of the period."
  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.

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