Sunday, September 14, 2014

Carla Maria Rotolo (1941-2014)

Carla Rotolo
Carla Rotolo, George A. Borgman's wife Janet's first cousin, died on August 25, 2014 in Sardinia, Italy at the age of 73. Although Carla and George were from very different backgrounds they shared a love of music and got along well. George wrote this about Carla, "she is an expert gourmet cook.  I like her, always have."

In the 1960s Carla was Alan Lomax's assistant. Lomax was the famous folk archivist who interviewed and recorded the legendary jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton for the Library of Congress in the 1940s. These recordings are still being released on CDs today and contain such a wealth of information on music and the creation of jazz that they are a must hear for anyone seriously into Traditional Jazz. 

Alan Lomax

Carla helped Lomax record traditional folk singers and also helped log the recordings. One late night as she was logging some music on the original reel to reel tape, the tape jammed and ripped right in the middle of a tune. In a panic Carla unraveled the mess as best she could flattened out the wrinkled tape and taped the two crooked ends back together. She rewound the repaired tape rethreaded the machine and pressed "play." The music started up, and as she listened intently to hear what the damaged section was going to sound like, she couldn't hear anything but the music! Miraculously the repaired portion left no discernable problems on the audio.

She can be seen in the Lomax documentary filmed in 1961 entitled Ballads, Blues and Bluegrass which was recently released.

Carla can be seen smiling in close-up.
Carla also was an early supporter of Bob Dylan talking him up to important people she knew connected with music. She opened her vast collection of folk recordings to him and he would spend hours listening to records in her apartment during the day. 

Carla had introduced her sister Susan to Dylan and they began dating. Carla would sing back-up with Dave Van Ronk and Bob Dylan in those early days before she became disenchanted with Dylan especially in how he treated her sister.

Suze is much credited with influencing Dylan and his early music. But no mention is made on Carla's influence on her younger sister. Carla was politically active and working for civil rights, she was an artist, did theater set designing, was a writer and had an affinity for Bertolt Brecht. Almost all of these things her younger sister was also in to. Suze even used the same type of pen as Carla and her handwriting was very similar. In fact, though Suze did wear long boots also, it was Carla who had the, "Boots of Spanish Leather," which were made in Madrid, that Dylan wrote a song about.

When the affair was coming to an end between her sister and Dylan, a big fight erupted between them at Carla's apartment. Carla came to her sister's aid and clashed with Dylan who refused to leave and who shoved Carla around. Dylan was finally ejected but he immortalized that night and viciously vilified Carla in the song Ballad in Plain D.
Far from the "parasite" that Bob Dylan labeled Carla, she always had a job doing something different or important. In the 70s she worked for the controversial Grove Press run by Barney Rosset and later worked for former baseball player Joe Garagiola, as his personal assistant during his years at NBC. Afterwards she'd work as a proofreader and copyeditor at various publications.

In 1987, Carla moved to Sardinia to look after her aged mother and step-father. She made two extensive trips back to the States in 1998 and 2005 staying with the Borgmans and visiting friends.

In 2005 when Carla visited the Borgmans staying with them for six months George always happily invited Carla out to the Sherborn Inn every Tuesday to hear the jazz bands that played there. She went every week, but one. Carla enjoyed listening to the music and conversing with the musicians during the break and reminiscing about her days in Greenwich Village.

Suze shut out Carla from her life as well as other family members. When she died in 2011 neither Suze's husband or son bothered to let Carla know. Carla, who was always the kindhearted one and was very caring commented that if she had known Suze were ill, "had I KNOWN I would have called - I don't hold grudges I just stay away. Far away so that when potshots are being fired I can dodge 'em. It's also called hiding out. I really prefer peace in the valley."

Living anonymously in Sardinia did help keep the worst of the Dylanites from bothering her. Dylan's character assassination followed her to the grave.

Just a month before she died she was portrayed by actress Jaime Babbitt from July 17 - August 9, 2014 in the Larry Mollin play Search: Paul Clayton - A true tale of Love, Folk Music and Betrayal at the Martha's Vineyard Playhouse in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts. Mollin's character description for Carla Rotolo was the stupidly, "cynical New Yorker."

Carla still loved her music and jazz, commenting several times recently, about Vince Giordano's Nighthawks Orchestra. She also remained politically active and took part in several conservationist rallies and other efforts to bring awareness to the plight of animals and the natural environment. She was staunchly against genetically modified foods and spoke passionately about the values of organically grown vegetables. Carla was a supporter of the World Wildlife Fund and Doctors Without Borders as well as many other causes.

She died after a bad kitchen fall in her condo in Santa Teresa di Gallura on August 25th. She is survived by many first cousins and by her beloved cat Vivaldi who had been her constant companion for over 15 years.

She was interred in a crypt at the Buon Cammino Cemetery on September 3rd on the outskirts of Santa Teresa di Gallura. George's son Eric was the only family to attend, he also rescued her cat, bringing him back to America where George's widow Janet, is caring for him.
Carla Rotolo Wikipedia Entry

If you were a friend or acquaintance of Carla please contact me as I am still researching her life.


  1. Really interesting article, a lot of valuable information.

  2. How does one have a "bad kitchen fall?" Wonder what happened. At any rate, RIP Ms Rotolo.

  3. i find it especially interesting that Suze shut Carla out of her life, that is pretty heavy, to do with a sister, they were the only children of their parents and shared some hard times growing up with their alcoholic emotionally abusive mother. Then, when she was old enough, Carla moved out and got her own place, leaving Suze alone with the mother, which Suze describes as a very hard time in her life, at 14, sitting across the table from her drunken mother screaming insults at her day after day, until some relatives intervened and took Suze to live part time with them. This is portrayed in Suze's autobiography. There was also a very bad car accident injuring both Suze and her mom pretty badly, and i wonder if her mom was under the influence at the time. I think things got better when her mother remarried. Suze met Dylan when she was 17 and when she was 18, moved in together with him. Both the mother and Carla applied a lot of negative pressure about the relationship, it was relentless according to Suze and led eventually to her going to Italy with her mother, partly to escape all the social pressure surrounding Dylan as he began to rise to fame. She was gone almost a year, and when she returned, resumed her relationship with Dylan, living together. He wrote to her almost every day while she was gone. Against this background, it struck me to learn in this memorial that there was no contact between the sisters in adulthood, apparently coming from Suze's side, not wanting her sister in her life. It makes me wonder what it was Suze was trying to avoid or escape from. I wonder if Suze was also cut off from her mother during that same period of time. I'm sure Carla was shocked to learn of Suze's death, but also, obviously, she was well aware of the complete cut off between them, and perhaps of the reasons for it. Too bad Carla didn't write an autobiography. She had an interesting and historic life.

  4. She sounds like a woman I would like to have as a friend. Family drama is such a waste of our valuable little time we have. I think I will try to rekindle something with my own sister...wish me luck.

  5. Thanks Judy for your comments. It is sad with how their relationship ended up. Although it may be true that Mary did start drinking after her husband died suddenly in 1958, she wasn't responsible for the car accident. I'm sure Suze would have included her mother had been drinking at this time if that were the case. Suze moved in with Carla for a time before she and Dylan moved in together. They even worked behind-the-scenes on theater productions together. They also double dated at the time as well, so they were mostly getting along together at this period. Carla and Dylan were the same age and after awhile, Carla's opinion of him changed. He seemed to have wanted Suze's family to bud out, but that's what Italian American families can be like. The fact that Dylan wasn't truthful about himself and had a roaming eye wanting to be free to date other woman while still going with Suze, does show that Mary and eventually Carla were right to be concerned with Suze and Bob's relationship. Apparently, this caused some resentment between her and her mother and her and her sister. It does seem pretty obvious that their relationship would have eventually failed without Mary and Carla's "pressure." Perhaps the real rift between Suze and Carla occurred when Carla was interviewed by several Dylan authors. Suze felt that she should have kept quiet whereas Carla, who always had an interest in music, would have felt that this was important information for music history. It wasn't just Carla that Suze kept at arms length, she also didn't want to allow her mother to see her son. Later, when a cousin tried to get her to have a book signing at his shop and mentioned that they were family, her response was, "Enzo and Luca are my family."`

    I did encourage Carla to write down her many stories and remembrances back in 2005, but she didn't think the written word could capture the essence of her verbal stories.