DATE May 14, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Author Tim Shorrock on his new book "Spies for Hire"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
The CIA and the National Security Agency are famous for their secrecy, so it
may surprise you to hear that they've outsourced many of their core tasks to
private contractors. According to the new book "Spies for Hire: The Secret
World of Intelligence Outsourcing," tasks that are now outsourced include
running spy networks out of embassies, intelligence analysis, covert
operations, and the interrogation of enemy prisoners. My guest, Tim Shorrock,
is the author of "Spies for Hire." It's about what he describes as the
intelligence industrial complex, the agencies it serves, and the revolving
door between the government intelligence community and its contractors.
Shorrock is a journalist who's written about the intersection of business and
national security for more than 25 years and has been published in The Nation,
Mother Jones, and Salon.
Tim Shorrock, welcome to FRESH AIR.
You say that the private companies are now involved in the analysis of
intelligence, and you say in your book that there are private contractors
involved in putting together the president's daily briefing and the threat
matrix, which are both pretty secretive documents, aren't they?
Mr. TIM SHORROCK: They're very top secret documents, highly classified; but
yes, any company that's involved in interpreting signals that the National
Security Agency picks up or any contractor that's involved with the CIA in
analyzing the information it gets from its agents and sources around the world
will be writing reports that are passed up the chain of command to, you know,
high levels of the US government, high levels of the intelligence community.
I quote someone in the book saying, you know, "The president's daily brief
should look like a Nascar race with corporate logos over it." I think that's a
pretty accurate description.
GROSS: What are some of the concerns that critics of this level of
outsourcing have of it?
Mr. SHORROCK: Well, I think the biggest concern and one that's being voiced
now in Congress, and has been for over the last year and a half or so, is the
involvement of contractors in very sensitive operations, such as the
interrogation of enemy prisoners. I actually got into my own reporting on
this after the Abu Ghraib scandal was unearthed, and you know, started reading
about the fact that there is some private companies that were involved in not
only the interrogation but some of the abuse that occurred in Abu Ghraib. And
so this is one area that there's a lot of concern about having, you know, this
being done for profit by private companies.
But I think--and the whole area of analysis, which we just, you know, talked
about in terms of things like the presidents daily brief or these terrorism
briefings that occur every day from the National Counterterrorism Center, the
fact that we have, you know, private companies involved in this raises a lot
of questions because some of these companies, as I mentioned before, are
actually, you know, advising these agencies on, you know, their future budgets
or where to go in terms of technology, that kind of thing. They're writing
reports for the agencies that talk about, you know, how to spend money, how to
allocate their resources, yet they have a stake in what's going on; and I
think there's a lot of questions being raised by critics about, you know, the
whole objectivity of these contractors and can they really do a fair job of
assessing the intelligence needs of the country when they themselves will
profit from the policies that they help implement.
GROSS: So critics fear that the profit motive will interfere with
intelligence and the analysis of intelligence and the analysis of what kind of
intelligence programs are needed?
Mr. SHORROCK: Well, first of all, a lot of these contractors are there in
different agencies--say, the CIA. They're there for maybe, you know, under a
one or two or three-year contract, so they're very different than these sort
of like a lifetime employee of the Central Intelligence Agency. They're there
temporarily to do a certain job, a certain task that the intelligence agency
needs done and doesn't have the personnel inside to do it. But, you know, is
a contractor, say who was assigned to a CIA station in Lebanon or Iraq or
someplace in the Middle East, is that contractor going to go out, risk his
life, risk his career, risk his earnings to infiltrate an organization that
the CIA needs organize, needs, wants to infiltrate? Say, for example,
Hezbollah. Former agents that I have talked to don't think so. Don't think
that an agent is going to, a contractor is going to take that kind of risk.
If you're a lifetime, you know, CIA agent you want to move ahead in the
agency, you want to prove to your superiors that you're really an excellent
asset for them and you want a future in the intelligence community, I think
you'll take greater risks than a private sector contractor would.
GROSS: Now does Congress have the same amount of oversight over private
contractors as it does over the CIA or the NSA?
Mr. SHORROCK: Well, they should. The problem is that the great majority of
intelligence contracts are classified. They're secret and so they're known
only to the agencies themselves, high level people in the agencies as well as
high level people in the companies who have security clearances. And until
now, Congress has had very little information about the degree of outsourcing.
You know, what companies do for the different agencies, the breakdown. What
are the largest contractors? What are the largest contracts? Over the last
couple of years there's been numerous attempts to pass legislation that would
force the intelligence community to divulge more information to Congress about
contracting. This legislation has never passed for various reasons and I
think that Congress just doesn't know how much outsourcing is going on; and
you know, as I report, something like 70 percent--that's seven-oh--of the
intelligence budget goes to private contracts.
GROSS: Another aspect of the outsourcing of intelligence is there aren't
standards yet on what can be outsourced and what is too sensitive to be
Mr. SHORROCK: Well, what's really stunning is that, you know, after all this
time, you know, we've had seven years of the Bush administration, of big
increases in the intelligence budget and therefore big increases in
contracting, and it goes back to the late years of the Clinton administration,
so maybe 10 years of big expansion of outsourcing.
Through all that time, the government has never stopped and said, `OK, which
of these functions should we outsource? What is inherently governmental?
What should stay within the government?' They've never done that study.
They've never made that kind of oversight in terms of, you know, what is OK to
contract and what is not. And that's something that I think we, the American
people, need to start doing through our lawmakers is setting some rules. I
think there is, seems to be general consensus that interrogation is not
something that should be outsourced. But what about the whole, you know,
high-level intelligence analysis? Do we want to have corporations, you know,
writing the president's daily brief?
GROSS: Do private contractors get this same type of security clearance as
people working for the NSA or the CIA would?
Mr. SHORROCK: Yes, they do. In fact, that's one of the ways you get work
is, you know, you go work for an agency like the NSA. You get very high up
there and you have your security clearance. You retire. You leave the
government, you keep your security clearance, and then you go to work for a
contractor. And so, you know, with these intelligence contracts being
classified, only certain people within the companies can see them. You have
to have security clearance to even talk about the contracts, to even bid on
them, so it's, you know, it's very important to keep that security clearance.
And they do have basically the same clearance system that people in the
government do, yes.
GROSS: But probably people with the private companies get paid more than
people in government?
Mr. SHORROCK: Oh, yes, they do. In some cases they get paid double, as much
as triple, and so you have this phenomenon where you have people leaving
agencies, going to a private company like, say, Lockheed Martin or CACI
International, and they come back and they work for the same agency as a
contractor and only they're making, you know, double the pay and the company's
also getting part of that payment as well. So, you know, in terms of like is
it worth our money, is it a good investment for the government? I think this
is a real serious questions about that.
GROSS: I guess that's one of the things that I'm really confused about. If
you're paying higher salaries for the people who are doing intelligence work
but working for private contractors, how is outsourcing saving money? Because
that's always been one of the goals of the outsourcing of military or
intelligence work is to, you know, downsize government and save money.
Mr. SHORROCK: Well, that's a really excellent question and I frankly don't
have the answer to it because I think it lies somewhere in the government
because if you are paying someone double or triple, you know, what's the
point? Why not hire, you know, someone to do that for the government for
one-third of what the private contractor is making? For the agencies, though,
I think there's also issues like, OK, say you're at the CIA and you have a
lifetime employee and that lifetime employee has a serious drinking problem or
something else like that, it's very hard to get rid of them because they're
government employees. If you have a contractor who has a drinking problem,
you know, they're out the door the next day. So in some ways, it's easier to
deal with contractors from that perspective. But in terms of saving the
government money, I don't think it does; and I think we need a change where
the agencies really begin, you know, hiring internally and building up the
government cadre of intelligence officers.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Tim Shorrock and he's the
author of the new book "Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence
Outsourcing," and it's about how a lot of the United States' intelligence
functions have been outsourced to private contractors.
One of the things you write about in your book is the revolving door between
government intelligence agencies and private contractors doing intelligence
work. One example is the director of National Intelligence, Michael
McConnell. You say this is the first time that that job has been held by a
former contractor. He formerly chaired Booz Allen Hamilton, which is an
intelligence contractor, but before going into the private contracting world
he directed the National Security Agency during the Clinton administration.
So, in his case, why is the revolving door for him between government
intelligence work and private contracting work a concern of yours?
Mr. SHORROCK: When he was at Booz Allen Hamilton, he ran their military
intelligence programs, which are extensive, so he had much contact with the
NSA and all the other major collection agencies, the agencies that collect
imagery and the agencies responsible for military satellites, and he was a
consultant to all those agencies as well as to the military high command and
the various combat commands. But, OK, so he came from, you know, he was the
NSA director in the early years of the Clinton administration, and then he
went over to the private sector and to Booz Allen, where he had involvement
with all kinds of programs and some very sensitive programs that were being
run by the Bush administration after 9/11. And then he goes back and now he's
running the whole intelligence community. And so I think the problem is he's
so close to all these companies, so from the perspective like, you know,
efficiency, that's great; but from the perspective of someone really being in
charge of the whole US intelligence policy, I think he's too close to the
private sectors and the companies. I don't think someone like that can make
objective judgments about what should be outsourced and what should not be
outsourced, and I think that his relationships over the years to all these
companies over the years and individuals within the industry is highly
questionable in terms of how we want our intelligence system to be run.
GROSS: Let's look a little bit at the history of how we've reached this level
of intelligence outsourcing. You say that this privatization was set in
motion during the Reagan and Clinton administrations. What did Reagan do?
Mr. SHORROCK: Well, actually, what Reagan did was sort of start this whole
process of privatization and outsourcing of government services; and actually,
you know, while he was kind of a champion of doing this, people may remember,
you know, how he established a commission to go through government and see
what functions could be done by private companies as opposed to the
government. Reagan actually didn't get very far with it even though he was a
very big proponent of privatization; but under Clinton and Vice President Al
Gore, their whole take was, `Let's make government more efficient.' And there
was this re-inventing government program that Gore actually ran as vice
president which methodically went through all the different government
agencies and, you know, made them more efficient by operating as a business or
outsourcing or even privatizing, selling entire agencies, subagencies, to
private companies, and much more privatization in general was done under
Clinton than under Reagan. And that had to do with all kinds of functions of
government, you know, from defense to, you know, public safety to the
This also combined with budgets being cut and resources being cut for the
intelligence agencies as part of the end of the Cold War, as part of the
so-called peace dividend, and towards the latter part of the Clinton
administration where you had this ongoing policy of outsourcing and
privatization. Then when there was an uptick in the need for intelligence,
officers in the wars in Bosnia and elsewhere, those issues come up in the
second half of this administration where there was a, you know, big push for
intelligence, greater intelligence spending. And by that time a lot of people
had left the agencies, had gone into the private sector, and so there was
almost nowhere else to turn except the private sector. So through a
combination of circumstances, it really expanded greatly under Clinton.
GROSS: Did reliance on private contractors for intelligence increase a lot
after September 11th?
Mr. SHORROCK: Oh, yes. It was just, you know, as the intelligence budgets
grew drastically, the increases were just phenomenal in terms of spending.
And also, you know, the government created new agencies, you know, say, the
National Counterterrorism Center, where I kind of start the book in the very
first chapter, just saying what it does and then how much of its functions are
contracted out. There's, you know, they created new institutions out of whole
cloth and so there was a--all these institutions needed to be filled with
intelligence analysts and officers; and like I said, there was, by that point,
so many people had left the agencies and had gone into the private sector that
sort of the institutional knowledge of the intelligence community was in the
private sector, and so that's where they turned.
GROSS: You also say that Donald Rumsfeld's vision of net-centric warfare led
to a lot of subcontracting of intelligence work. What's the vision and how
did it lead to more subcontracting of intelligence?
Mr. SHORROCK: Well, there's actually two things that went on. One was, you
know, Rumsfeld and his people really pushed this idea of network-centric
warfare, which is basically, you know, highly computerized warfare, you know,
military operations where intelligence comes in and people--there's a a
computer network, basically, that distributes the intelligence to commanders
and also just war fighters, soldiers on the ground. And the whole idea is to
get as much intelligence as possible to the people actually doing the fighting
and do it all electronically. And so, you know, when that became, you know,
it was a big push by Rumsfeld in the early days that he was secretary of
defense, you know, who does this work, who does the integration, who sends the
intelligence reports electronically to other military commands, to other
agencies? That's the contractors. It's huge business of integrating all this
military intelligence into this kind of network. And so that's become a very
big business, particularly for the large, what are called system integrators,
these big defense contractors that tie together various military agencies and
intelligence agencies through their computerized information networks. And
then, just if you look at--read the military budgets, if you read the budget
supplementals in particular to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you can
find all kinds of items that are clearly designed for contractors.
GROSS: Do you think it's possible that in the era of information, you know,
where there's so much information and so many specialized networks, that it's
no longer possible for the government to be up to speed on all of the
information collecting that's required for national intelligence. In other
words, maybe specialization and information collection and analysis has
reached the point where you can't expect government agencies to handle all of
it. That you have to rely on these specialized companies who've developed
their own networks and develop new technology.
Mr. SHORROCK: I think we have to make a separation between, say, you know,
building a computer network, providing information technology systems, that
kind of technology that obviously is not going to be produced by the
government, that's going to be provided by private sector companies to the
government. I think we have to make a differentiation between that and the
intelligence analysis, you know, running covert operations, writing reports
that get to the president, that get to national security leaders. You know,
the people that are paid by us as taxpayers to do that kind of analysis, I
think, you know, and within the system of oversight, that should be done by
the government. I think, clearly, there's lots of technology that the
government can't provide that they have to rely on the private sector.
I mean, I, as a journalist, I've been, you know, working as a journalist for
more than 30 years. I started out, you know, on typewriters, of course, like
everybody else and now I'm working on a, you know, sophisticated computers
myself. You know, and everyone's gone through that kind of change in the way
that they handle information, and of course the private sector's going to
provide the key technologies there. But in terms of like doing the analysis,
you know, doing the reports, making important strategic decisions that are
being--that have to be made by intelligence officers, that is part of the
government. That's what our government, our public sector is for, to serve
the people, to serve the interests of the nation. Not as a for-profit
GROSS: Well, Tim Shorrock, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. SHORROCK: I really appreciate being on your show. Thank you.
GROSS: Tim Shorrock is the author of the new book "Spies for Hire: The
Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing."
I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Suze Rotolo on her book "Freewheelin' Time" and Bob
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. BOB DYLAN: (Singing) How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: You probably know that song. It's the opening track from the 1963
album "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan." If you're a Dylan fan, you also know the
cover of the album, a photo of a young Dylan, and his even younger girlfriend,
walking arm in arm down a Greenwich Village street. Lots of people have
wondered about that woman's story. She tells it now in her new book "A
Freewheelin' Time." My guest is Suze Rotolo. She met Dylan when she was 17
and he was 20. They were a couple for about four years. She'd moved to
Greenwich Village from Queens, New York, on her own after graduating high
school. Dylan moved there soon after. At the time, the Village was the
center of the urban folk scene. Rotolo is an artist and teaches at the
Parsons School of Design. She lives in Greenwich Village with her husband.
Suze Rotolo, welcome to FRESH AIR and thanks for being here.
Ms. SUZE ROTOLO: Thank you.
GROSS: You met Dylan at a marathon folk concert at the Riverside Church in
New York in 1961. He wasn't well known yet. He'd only recently arrived in
Greenwich Village. You'd already been living there. What attracted you to
him then? What did you know of him when you first started seeing him?
Ms. ROTOLO: Well, there was a folk music club, Gerde's Folk City in the
Village, and I used to go there, and he was performing with other people, or
he'd play backup harmonica for other groups. And it was--the kind of place
where musicians played with other people, and then he gradually started
playing with this one other folk singer, Mark Spoelsta. And so I would see
him around and I enjoyed his harmonica playing. I thought he was really good
in a funny kind of way. He'd sit in the back and really get into playing the
harmonica. But we didn't actually talk to each other or see each other person
to person until that folk concert at Riverside Church, where he was playing by
himself. And he was playing also with Jack Elliott, and that's when we kind
of got to know each other.
GROSS: In Dylan's biographical book "Chronicles, Volume I," he writes about
you at the end of the book, and I want to read some of the things he says
about you. He says, "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. The air was suddenly filled with banana leaves.
We started talking and my head started to spin. Cupid's arrow had whistled by
my ears before but this time it hit me in the heart and the weight of it
dragged me overboard. Suze was 17 years old, from the East Coast, had grown
up in Queens, raised in a left-wing family. Her father had worked in a
factory and had recently died. She was involved in the New York art scene,
painted and made drawings for various publications, worked in graphic design
and in off-Broadway theatrical productions. Also worked on civil rights
committees. She could do a lot of things. Meeting her was like stepping into
the tales of "1001 Arabian Nights." And then he compares you to a Rodin
sculpture come to life and says, "She reminded me of a libertine heroine. She
was just my type." How does that description sound to you? Do you hear
yourself in that description?
Ms. ROTOLO: I think that's wonderful and generous and a lovely thing that he
wrote, and he captured that sense of being young and meeting somebody and
being overwhelmed by feelings for them. And that's what young love is, he did
GROSS: Everyone knows now that Bob Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman and he
grew up in Minnesota. What did he tell you about his past when you met him?
Ms. ROTOLO: Well at that time when I met him, I think it was the time when
we all were--people were coming to the Village to find or lose themselves, and
you lived very much in the present, so I don't think any of us really talked
about where we came from and what our parents were like. But there were
rumors that that was his name because he had to get a cabaret card, and then
you had to have documentation, so rumors started flying that it wasn't his
real name. I think a lot of people suspected it wasn't his real name but it
didn't make any difference. But for me, once we were a couple and we were
together, I was hurt that he didn't tell me. It was OK he didn't tell
GROSS: But there were other things he told you about his past. That he was
abandoned at a young age in New Mexico and went to live with a traveling
Ms. ROTOLO: Yes, he used to tell those stories. Well, everyone used to tell
stories like that, only his were wilder and funnier and they would contradict
each other, and people would wait around to see what the next installment
would be that would contradict the other one that he had told a few days
GROSS: So how did you find out that his last name was actually Zimmerman?
Ms. ROTOLO: He was--we had come home--we were living by then together on
West Fourth Street, and we had come home one evening, and he was a bit in his
cups, and he took his wallet out of his pants and everything fell on the
floor, and I saw his draft card. There were draft cards in those days. And I
saw his name, and I was really--that's when I was hurt. I said, `You never
told me that this was your real name? I understand you didn't tell anybody
else but you could have at least told me.'
GROSS: Now, you said that, you know, just as he didn't want to be too
forthcoming about his upbringing and his family, you felt the same way too;
but you were from Queens, New York,and your folks were both communists and you
Ms. ROTOLO: Yes.
GROSS: ...grow up with some secrecy because you grew up during the McCarthy
Ms. ROTOLO: Exactly.
GROSS: You couldn't very well go around talking about your communist parents.
Ms. ROTOLO: No, I couldn't, until 1989 I didn't feel comfortable saying
that. So that was why, to give you an idea of how secrecy would make sense in
something like that. I could understand people not wanting to talk about
their story, and you didn't go around saying that your parents were communists
because what was from the McCarthy era into the '60s certainly left its mark.
And I'm sure there were many others with communist parents certainly in the
folk music world but we didn't even identify each other. You know, it was a
GROSS: Now, you write about how Dylan had to develop and present an image to
the outside world, and you write, "Much time was spent in front of the mirror
trying on one wrinkled article of clothing after another until it all came
together to look as if Bob had just gotten up and thrown something on. Image
Ms. ROTOLO: Yeah.
GROSS: I found it so amusing to read that, to think that, you know, Dylan was
trying on all these clothes, trying to look, you know, authentically like he
Ms. ROTOLO: Yes. Well, it was the image of being a rambling, gambling folk
singer so you couldn't look neatly pressed. After all, also to give him a
little credit, they all did that. You know, they all had to have their
costume, how it looked; but it was also, if you think back then, there were
folk groups that were very mannered, like the Kingston Trio.
Ms. ROTOLO: Impeccably dressed. So this--we were these new folk singers
were the anti-Kingston Trio image, you know.
GROSS: While we're talking about image, let's talk about the cover, the now
famous cover from "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan," the cover...
Ms. ROTOLO: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: ...that you're on with him, walking down a partially snow-covered
street. He has his hands in his pockets and his shoulders up because it's
cold, and you have your arms wrapped around one of his arms. You're wearing
like a green trenchcoat that's tied around the waist and you have nearly
knee-high boots over your pants.
Ms. ROTOLO: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: And you look really in tune with each other. It's such a romantic
cover. I mean, what women didn't want to be on Dylan's arm in that cover?
What woman didn't want to be in your place?
Ms. ROTOLO: Hm.
GROSS: So tell us how that cover came to be.
Ms. ROTOLO: It was all very casual. And the apartment was very small, and
the photographer came and the publicity guy from Columbia came. So then they
figured they'd start taking some pictures in the apartment of Bob sitting
around, pick up your guitar, put it down, sing something. And then Don
Hunstein said to me, `Get in some of the pictures.' So I did and he took more
pictures. And then he said, `Let's go outside and walk.' It was very casual,
completely unplanned, and it was freezing outside; and then again referring to
Bob getting dressed, he just took this thin suede jacket that wasn't good for
a New York cold winter day, and I had on a couple of sweaters, the last one
was his, a big bulky knit sweater, because the apartment was cold, and I threw
on a coat on top. So I always look that picture as I feel like an Italian
sausage because I had so many layers on, and he was freezing and I was
freezing and had more clothes on. It was very cold that day.
GROSS: Well, he was freezing, you say, in part, because he wore this light
Ms. ROTOLO: Yeah.
GROSS: ...because it looked good.
Ms. ROTOLO: Yes. Image, image.
GROSS: Even though he knew he was going to be really cold.
Ms. ROTOLO: Yeah.
GROSS: And who can blame him? It did look really good.
Ms. ROTOLO: It looked good. He had impeccable taste.
GROSS: Yeah. I mean, I don't want to sound harsh about this clothes thing
because who wouldn't want to look right on an album cover? It's like
Ms. ROTOLO: Exactly.
GROSS: ...important. I think, who wouldn't...
Ms. ROTOLO: Yes.
GROSS: ...want to choose the right article of clothing and risk being cold?
Ms. ROTOLO: Yes. It's true. Suffer for beauty, isn't it?
GROSS: How did that album cover change your life?
Ms. ROTOLO: I had no idea and I don't think anyone who had anything to do
with it thought it would be--it would have such an enormous impact, so it
became something that was, you know, was my identifier, but it wasn't my
identity. So it became something that was separate from who I knew myself to
be, which might sound odd but I thought it was a great cover, a very unusual
cover for the time. And the first time I saw it was--he was playing at
Carnegie Hall, I think, or Town Hall, and the cover was blown up and put right
outside. It was in black and white and blown up very big, and that really
made an impression. It was almost embarrassing. There we were up on 57th
Street. Huge, huge. So each time the album became more and more known as the
album became more what it is, it became an iconic album, the more I could
detach from it and just look at it, `OK, that's what that is.' But it was an
odd feeling for many years.
GROSS: I think one of the problems for young women who fall in love with men
older, even if they're just slightly older, particularly if that man becomes
very famous, is that you risk this kind of mentor/mentee relationship where,
you know, the woman is expected to be the learner looking up to the man, and
he teaches her everything he knows, and it could really to be a kind of
uncomfortable relationship as opposed to like a relationship of equals; but
when you and Dylan met, you had so much to learn from each other. I mean, you
really admired his music and had so much to learn from that. He was really
interested in learning about your world. You were working in the civil rights
movement. You were working in avant garde theatre. He learned about the
music of Weill and Brecht through the fact that you were working on a Brecht
production. and he writes in his memoir about how it really changed him to be
exposed to that music. You exposed him to art that he was unaware of, because
you're an artist yourself. I was glad to see that, to see how much you had to
learn from each other.
Ms. ROTOLO: Oh, good, good. That's nice, because it's true. We did. We
were very curious and we were both in search of poetry, and we fed each
other's curiosity. And I was--because I was from New York City also, you
know, and he was from Hibbing, Minnesota, so the fact that in New York you're
exposed to a lot more. Plus the family I came from. We were very--we didn't
have much money but we were very culturally--I always think of it as being
culturally very, very wealthy because of my, you know, books. We didn't have
a TV, but the house was filled with books and phonograph records and we
listened to the radio. I was exposed to all different kinds of music from a
very early age. My mother loved Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and Edith Piaf,
and my father, and they listened to opera, classical records we had. It was
very, very rich. And when you grow up in that, you just assume everybody else
knows all this. But I knew an awful lot about music just from listening, and
hearing and being exposed to it; whereas with Bob, he heard this music and
knew this was what he wanted to investigate, but he had a harder time finding
Ms. ROTOLO: ...and finding people. And there are stories now about he
would--when he was in Minnesota taking--stealing people's records so he could
learn the music on it. So he had a harder time finding things whereas I was
almost born into it.
GROSS: You decided to leave for Perugia, Italy. You were supposed to go
there after high school. You'd had a trip planned, but because of a car
accident you never made it, and then you moved to Greenwich Village, and then
you met Dylan and so on. But the opportunity was offered to you again by your
mother, so you decided to leave for Perugia. It was a very difficult decision
for you. What was his reaction when you told him you were going?
Ms. ROTOLO: Well, he didn't want me to go, but at the same time he didn't
want to put pressure on me; but I learned later from a friend that he was
furious when she sympathized with my--and she said, `Well, you should go
because this is a wonderful opportunity.' And then he was very angry with her
for a long time. But to me, he didn't want to come down hard. He did say,
`Don't go.' But he didn't want to restrict me from considering going at the
same time. And it was a difficult decision for me. I kept hemming and hawing
on whether I should or shouldn't or whether I wanted to or not. It was
GROSS: Why did you go?
Ms. ROTOLO: In the end, I think, I went for many reasons, and one being
because I couldn't stand the arguments anymore that were going on in my own
head of should I or should I? And it did seem like a good thing to do, a real
opportunity. And also the village was getting oppressive in many ways...
GROSS: Greenwich Village.
Ms. ROTOLO: Yes. Greenwich Village was getting oppressive. It was so much
the folk music scene, and I wasn't a musician and I couldn't keep on obsessing
about folk music the way the musicians would. So it also seemed like a nice
way to get away. And it was only going to be for three months, maximum, but I
ended up staying a good eight months; because when I was there, it was--I was
no longer in this--I kind of see it as in these small smoky taverns. I was
out in the bright sunshine with people from all over the world my age, and I
was seeing, hearing all this other kind of music and other poets, and I was
trying to read--I remember trying to read Rimbaud in French and trying to, you
know, just absorb. It was like a college experience. I hadn't gone to
college, and this time that I spent in Perugia in this atmosphere of
international students and I also found an art academy, a small art academy,
that I went to. It was just thrilling.
GROSS: Is the song "Boots of Spanish Leather" written about your leaving for
Ms. ROTOLO: You know, most of the songs that he's written, I hate to say,
`Oh, this was written about me or this one.' But that's a good example of a
song that is a fiction based on an experience he was going through.
GROSS: And the experience he was going through was the experience of missing
Ms. ROTOLO: Yes, so that's a good example of how it becomes art, your life
experience. You translate it into art. It serves a purpose for the music
your making, or the art you're making.
GROSS: So the fiction is that you weren't in Spain, you were in Italy; and
did he ever ask for boots of Spanish leather?
Ms. ROTOLO: No. I think I had a pair, though, of boots of Spanish leather
at some point.
GROSS: Well, here's the song we've been talking about, "Boots of Spanish
(Soundbite of "Boots of Spanish Leather")
Mr. DYLAN: (Singing)
Oh I'm sailing away
my own true love
I'm sailing away in the morning
Is there something I can send you from across the sea
From the place that I'll be landing
No there's nothing you can send me, my own true love
There's nothing I'm a wishing to be owning
Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled
I'm across that lonesome ocean
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's Bob Dylan, and my guest is Suze Rotolo. Her new memoir, "A
Freewheelin' Time," is about the four years she and Dylan were a couple.
GROSS: My guest is Suze Rotolo, the woman walking arm in arm with Bob Dylan
on the cover of his 1963 album "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan." Her new memoir is
about the four years they were a couple. It's called "A Freewheelin' Time."
When we left off, she was talking about leaving Dylan in Greenwich Village for
a trip to Perugia, Italy.
After about eight months in Perugia, you came back to Greenwich Village, and
you write that during your absence he suffered in public. You didn't get a
friendly reception when you returned. A lot of people, you say, thought that
you'd been cold and indifferent to someone who loved you, and that some
people--some of the folk singers deliberately sang songs that Dylan had
written about his heartache, as well as any ballad that pointed a finger at a
cruel lover when you were around.
Ms. ROTOLO: Yeah.
GROSS: And you say it was as if, "Every letter Bob had written to me and
every phone call he had made had been performed in a theater in front of an
audience." What do you mean by that?
Ms. ROTOLO: Well, I felt it was very--after all, I was--I've always been a
shy person, so to have this relationship kind of thrown right out there in
public was very horrible. I thought it was terrible that he--I was very
private. I didn't go broadcasting things around, and yet people seemed to
know how I had made him suffer. Publicly he was letting that out. But I see
that that was just his way of working through it, making it part of his art.
But at the time, I just felt so exposed. It was awful.
GROSS: Well, you moved back to Greenwich Village and you got together; but
then you eventually moved out of the apartment that you shared with Dylan.
What was the breaking point for you?
Ms. ROTOLO: Well, it was all this stuff that was going on around his fame
and there was so much pressure. I just felt that there was no longer--I no
longer had a place in this world of his music and fame; and I, more and more,
I felt more and more insecure, that I was just this string on his guitar, I
was just this chick. And I was losing confidence in who I was and the way I
felt in Italy, that I was still--I was my own self and could continue my life
and not become this object that's next to Dylan. And also the more famous he
got, there were more pressures on him; and of course, there's all these women
that were running around, and so it became something I didn't like being
involved anymore. I saw it as a small, cloistered, specialized world that I
just didn't belong in it.
GROSS: Did you feel like you were always competing for his attention with
other women who wanted it?
Ms. ROTOLO: But I didn't want to be in that kind of a situation at all. I
didn't feel there was a competition. I just felt there was just--he was
leaving for another world and another place, and he would like expect me to be
there always, this kind of as a safe haven, so he could come back from
wherever he was and whoever he was with, that he'd always have this quiet
space in New York. But I couldn't live that way. I wanted my own life and my
own way. And even with all this conflict, that tortured young love, you know,
was there. We were still attached to each other even though we were both
going in different directions and needed to go in different directions, and it
was harder for me to pull away. It was easier for him to lead several lives.
Men could, you know.
GROSS: This might be too personal, so if it is you just let me know. When
Dylan started seeing Joan Baez and that was such a kind of--there was such
public interest in their relationship because they were both famous singers,
what was that like for you?
Ms. ROTOLO: Well, it doesn't have to get personal if we just keep it at
this, like to say that she--he was singing the songs that she needed to sing,
because she was just singing beautiful ballads with that beautiful voice of
hers, and she knew that this wasn't what she could keep on singing and
maintain a career. And she heard his music and knew this is what she wanted
to sing about and what she wanted to sing, and it was a natural; it was
natural that they be together, because he was writing what she wanted to sing
and she was extremely famous. And without her help, I mean, she literally
brought him into the folk firmament, bringing him around with her on tour.
GROSS: So was that difficult for you to see him with another women in such a
Ms. ROTOLO: Well, by then it was pretty much, I was detaching from him. It
was difficult because it became so public. People could see, `Oh, God,
they're definitely going to be a couple here and what are you going to do?'
And it became very difficult then. And as I said, he could go off and be with
whoever he wanted to be with and then expect me to be there when he came back
to New York. So it was rough for a while.
GROSS: You're married. You have one child?
Ms. ROTOLO: Yes.
GROSS: And your husband's Italian. Did you meet him when you were in
Ms. ROTOLO: Initially, yes. I had met him all that long time ago. But then
we met up again many years later, so it's funny that he came from a certain
GROSS: Oh, I see.
Ms. ROTOLO: Yeah, and then we met again many years later.
GROSS: Was he your boyfriend in Perugia?
Ms. ROTOLO: I knew him then. That's when I first met him.
GROSS: Do people still recognize you from the "Freewheelin'" album?
Ms. ROTOLO: I look exactly the same, Terry.
GROSS: Yeah. Don't we all?
Ms. ROTOLO: Yes.
GROSS: But, you know, still, it doesn't mean you're not recognizable.
Ms. ROTOLO: Well, for those who notice those things, yes. I mean, otherwise
no. I mean, it's a funny kind of recognition. I mean, it's people who are
Dylanphiles. You know, Dylanophiles, or however I could say that, would know
to recognize the name. But not everybody does. So it's kind of a
funny--sometimes I'm surprised that someone recognizes me; and, you know, most
of the time nobody does. This is going to change that a bit, I suppose.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us. Good luck with
Ms. ROTOLO: Thank you. It's been a pleasure to speak to you.
GROSS: Suze Rotolo's new memoir is called "A Freewheelin' Time: A Memoir of
Greenwich Village in the '60s."
We'll close with another song from "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan," whose album
cover is a photo of Dylan and Rotolo.
You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. DYLAN: (Singing)
I already know
you sit and wonder why, baby
Iffen you don't know by now
And I know you sit and wonder why, baby
They don't ever do somehow
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
look out your window and I'll be gone
You're the reason I'm a-travelin' on
But don't think twice
It's all right.
(End of soundbite)
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