Bob Dylan later admitted he was ashamed of a song he wrote, “Ballad in Plain D.” He is right to be embarrassed by the song. He was angry when he wrote it, and lashing out. He had just lost his lover and muse, the lovely Suze Rotolo, who died on Friday and whose image graced the cover of his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (a photo that still captures perfectly the upside of living in a cold city) . In Chronicles, Volume I, he said of Rotolo:
“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 past my ears before, but this time it hit me in the heart and the weight of it dragged me overboard.”
We know, because Dylan aired his own dirty laundry in “Ballad in Plain D,” that Dylan did not get along well with Suze’s sister and mother. We can also safely surmise that jealousy issues between Dylan and members of Rotolo’s family led to a dramatic and bitter breakdown of Dylan and Rotolo’s romance. And we know for sure that Dylan’s loss of Suze Rotolo led to some seriously painful mental anguish for him:
It is beautiful and it has it’s moments, but I’ll admit I don’t really like “Ballad in Plain D.” Listening to it feels like an intrusion into somebody else’s private affairs. I can’t really identify with the bitterness. It’s all too topical and hard to remember. I understand why Dylan has expressed regret for even writing it.
Dylan has expressed no such regret about the song “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” though that song was inspired by the same woman. The song draws deeply from the well of American folk and blues traditions. It is infused with the coolness of Dylan in the 60’s. It lists the disappointments of a lover – eg, “you just kind of wasted my precious time” – and with each complaint it shrugs and adds, “But don’t think twice, it’s alright.” The song is so perfect it has made my heart go out even to Don Draper as he “sat and wondered why” at the end of the second season of Mad Men.
I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road, babe
Where I’m bound, I can’t tell
But goodbye’s too good a word, gal
So I’ll just say fare thee well
I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right
Rest in peace, Suze Rotolo.