Little is known about Sara Dylan's early life or family. She was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on October 28, 1939, to Jewish parents Bessie and Isaac Noznisky. Her maiden name was Shirley Noznisky (or, according to Beatty Zimmerman, Novoletsky). While Sara was still a child, Bessie had a stroke, and her great aunt Esther came to watch over the family. Al Aronowitz claims her father was a scrap metal dealer who had been shot to death in 1956 during a holdup. Her mother died about five years later.
As a young woman, Sara worked as a fashion model, stage actress and Playboy bunny, in film production, and for TIME. She married Hans Lownds and the couple went on to have a daughter, Maria, together.
According to her then-stepson Peter Lownds, Sara met Dylan in Greenwich Village in late 1962 while driving around the Village in her MG sports car. "Her meeting with Bob was the reason [Sara left Hans] — he was famous, and she was very beautiful," says Lownds. She was not familiar with his music, and only vaguely knew who he was. Sara introduced Dylan and his manager Albert Grossman to D.A. Pennebaker, the director who would later film Dont Look Back.
Marriage to Bob Dylan
Aronowitz claims that shortly after meeting her, Dylan told her he planned to marry her. Lownds and Dylan became romantically involved sometime in late 1964; soon afterwards, Lownds and Dylan both moved into separate rooms in New York's Hotel Chelsea to be near one another.
The pair wed in a secret ceremony on November 22, 1965, during a break in his tour. The marriage took place under an oak tree on a judge's lawn on Mineola, Long Island. The only other participants were Albert Grossman and a maid of honor for Sara. Their marriage remained a secret even to some of Dylan's closest friends until months afterwards, when the press caught wind of their union. Dylan reportedly "depended on her advice as if she were his astrologer, his oracle, his seer, his psychic guide. He would rely on her to tell him the best hour and the best day to travel."
The marriage first became strained about April 1974 when Dylan began taking art classes from Norman Raeben, a 73-year-old Russian immigrant and former boxer who, according to Dylan, had been close friends with Soutine, Picasso, and Modigliani. Raeban's teaching methods radically changed the musician's way of thinking, and he would later tell an interviewer, "I went home after that first day and my wife never did understand me ever since that day. That's when our marriage started breaking up. She never knew what I was talking about, what I was thinking about, and I couldn't possibly explain it."
The couple's bitter divorce was finalized on June 29, 1977. Tensions remained between the two for several years afterwards, but they eventually made up; in 1983, they even considered remarriage. A photo taken by Sara of Bob in Jerusalem on the occasion of their son's bar mitzvah around 1982 would later become the record cover for his album Infidels.
As subject of songs
Sara Dylan has inspired several of Dylan's songs, at least two directly. The first was "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" (from Blonde on Blonde), and the second "Sara" (from 1976's Desire), in which he called her "radiant jewel, mystical wife". This song was an attempt to reconcile with Sara after their estrangement around 1975:
- I can still hear the sound of the Methodist bells
- I had taken the cure and had just gotten through
- staying up for days in the Chelsea Hotel
- writing "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" for you
Dylan's 1975 album Blood on the Tracks is widely viewed as the most potent of Sara's inspirations, as many fans assume the songs refer to her. The album was recorded soon after the couple's initial separation. Dylan biographer Clinton Heylin has argued that Sara's influence on the lyrical content of the album is often exaggerated. Dylan himself denied at the time of the album's release that Blood on the Tracks was autobiographical. However, the couple's son Jakob says: "The songs are my parents talking". Heylin also reported that about 1977 Dylan wrote an entire album worth of songs at least partially inspired by their final separation, but only played the tracks privately for select friends, and to date has neither recorded nor performed them live.
In addition to Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks, and Desire, some critics also believe Sara inspired songs on Bringing It All Back Home, Nashville Skyline, New Morning, Planet Waves, and Street-Legal. Songs believed to be inspired by Sara Dylan include "Isis", "We Better Talk This Over", "If You See Her, Say Hello", "Idiot Wind", "You're a Big Girl Now", "Abandoned Love", "Down Along the Cove", "Wedding Song", "On a Night Like This", "Something There Is About You", "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight", "To Be Alone With You", "If Not for You", "Desolation Row", "Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)" and "Love Minus Zero/No Limit".
In pop culture
A fictionalized account of their marriage is featured in the Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There, with Heath Ledger based on Dylan and Charlotte Gainsbourg based on a combination of Sara Dylan and Suze Rotolo.
- Behind the Shades Revisited by Clinton Heylin, pp. 167
- Sounes, p. 162; p. 467
- Like A Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan fan page - "Sara"
- A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks by Andy Gill & Kevin Odegard, p. 5
- Sounes, p. 200
- A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks by Andy Gill & Kevin Odegard, p. 3
- Sounes, p232
- Sounes, Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, p. 193.
- A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks by Andy Gill & Kevin Odegard, p. 8
- A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks by Andy Gill & Kevin Odegard, p. 37
- A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks by Andy Gill & Kevin Odegard, p. 39
- Behind the Shades Revisited by Clinton Heylin, pp. 710
- Sounes, Howard. Down the Highway: the Life of Bob Dylan (Doubleday 2001; ISBN 0-552-99929-6) p333.
- Gill, Andy. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right. Thunder's Mouth Press, 1998. ISBN 1-56025-185-9