I am heartbroken to share the news that our dear friend Sean Dolan passed away this week. He died peacefully in his sleep at home.
Sean and I met as work colleagues and became friends. Not long after Sean moved into his office it became clear that his retiring persona belied a depth of intellect and feeling. His bulletin boards were plastered with colorful postcards, drawings, and photos that slowly spilled over onto the surrounding walls. As they say, bulletin boards are the windows to the soul: in this case, a startling bounty of tones, images, and ideas.
About a dozen years ago, Sean shared his writing with me. Epic doesn't begin to describe it: in the pages and pages of writings and drawings he made, Sean ruminated on Crazy Horse, imaginary pirates, haunted trains, winter roses, Sonny Liston, the Apocalypse, Easter Sunday, Henry Kissinger, Patti Smith, sainthood, and silence. He was obsessed with Scripture and Bob Dylan. The coyote was his spirit animal.
When we met I was just getting started writing songs and playing guitar in public, struggling for confidence and for words. He was so encouraging. When I asked Sean if I could adapt some of his beautiful words to music, he agreed -- and never gave me any shit when I needed to edit something to make a line scan or fit onto a commercial CD. (I'm not talking marketing here, I'm talking *fit.* Unedited, one song could easily eat up practically all the audio a CD can hold.)
I remember ruminating with him over a picture of Nina Simone. He leaned back in his office chair, tugged at the leather cords and pendants around his neck, and said, "just look at her. Just look at her face."
We went to see Emmylou Harris together, and cried. He saw an after-hours Bob Dylan show at Tramps, and gloated.
When Sean started playing guitar and singing his own songs, that was huge. He sent me recordings of what he had done. He had a beautiful singing voice, very warm. Unlike me, he didn't edit the songs down. It was like four cassette tapes and he was just getting going.
Sean loathed buffoonery. He was fascinated by his son Brian. Above his desk, he had an enormous color picture of Brian's face: a windswept little blonde boy staring straight at you. If that face didn't drive out buffoonery, I don't know what would.
Like the coyote, Sean was a trickster, showing up when you least expect and always slipping away too soon. He came to so many of our band shows but we never seemed to get enough time to talk as much as we wanted to afterward. I sense he really enjoyed hearing us play, though -- and when we played one of his songs, the guys in the band really made it sound like rolling thunder. I always felt so comforted feeling Sean's presence in the back of the room when I was singing.
Often when I asked Sean how he was doing, he would say, "forget it. I’m through. I'm going to go ride the rails."
The moment I learned of his death, a train whistle blew in the distance. Now he is riding. I'm broken but hopeful. The afterlife may be the only place that can fully realize his ecstatic, tangled visions. Travel safe.
Sean Dolan's writings live here: