A Friend Of Tucson's Skateboarders Does The Ultimate Kick Flip.
SEAN DOLAN DIED three weeks ago at the age of 23.
He was the owner of Tuff Ink, 9 North Sixth Ave., a shop that sold skateboarding items. He was also the lead singer in a rock group called MAC (Madness, Action, Cause) formed in the summer of 1993. MAC's hard, powerful music was based around the East Coast crossover metal sound. Their lyrics dealt with personal conflicts and street violence. Sean once described MAC as "a band of misfits and activists, each with a vicious tale of hardship to tell." His singing style was angry, prophetic and full of energy.
On April 8 in Reid Park, he gave his last rock concert, which was accented by the city's best skateboarders doing their ollies and kick flips, and urban spraycan painters filling four huge panels with their artwork.
All three forms of expression are assets of urban life, and the clever juxtaposition of the three made wonderful entertainment for the crowd. It was a reminder that Tucson has emerged as a city full of people with big-time energy. Sean's raspy, angry voice was very moving; he inspired many people in the audience to let it all hang out and dance until they were exhausted. The afternoon sun streamed off his tattooed chest, and though his voice seemed angry, there was love in his heart.
I remember the last song Sean sang. He dedicated it to the cops at the back of the crowd. It was called "You Bastards." He'd accused two cops of snickering at his band, but I think it was meant with good humor, and the cops just smiled when MAC began the song.
Sean had a tough life. His father died when he was seven and his mother when he was 18. His mother's death brought him down badly, says his girlfriend, Sonia Provo.
But Sean regrouped, left Silver Springs, Maryland, and arrived in Tucson a couple of years ago. He liked Tucson because of the mountains, but soon realized the real action was on the streets.
He opened up Tuff Ink primarily as a skateboard shop, but it was more than that. He wanted it to be a safe haven for kids who came from broken families; he wanted it to be a meeting place for spraycan artists (not graffiti artists, from which he took pains to distinguish them); he wanted it to be a store where kids could buy reasonably priced equipment. He told me once that it was important for him to not overcharge kids. He wanted to keep his shop afloat but he wanted to be sure that he didn't rip off the kids.
My son Max and I would come to his shop on lazy Saturday afternoons and listen to him express his philosophy on a wide range of topics--from the despair in the streets to the need to help distressed kids earn a fair living to developing a competitive skateboarding team in Tucson. Dejay, a 19-year-old skateboarder and friend of Sean's, says he spoke to all generations but most intimately to young kids.
He liked to rap to the kids, and they often listened to him for hours. Every so often a kid with a cracked board and a grim look on his face would come into the shop, contemplating how many months of allowance it would take to buy a new board. Sean would cheer him up and give him a fair deal.
Sean was something of a puzzle. He was angry about what was going down in the streets. He resented authority, and felt he had to hang together with the kids who were trying to get their act together and who found freedom of expression on a skateboard. After all, the sport has something both dangerous and creative about it. You could break your skull leaping off a concrete block downtown, yet you could do it in a unique way no one's ever dreamed about. Like Michael Jordan going in for a flying lay-up.
For skateboarders, the water fountain or the park bench are no longer a fountain or a bench, but rather a new obstacle to leap over--like the many obstacles in life. For Sean, as for most of the skateboarders downtown, taking a flying leap put him in danger and also gave him courage.
Sonia Provo isn't sure how Sean died, but she suspects it might have been too many pills and alcohol. In any case, it's a big loss for those who knew him, especially the skateboarders in El Presidio Park.
Dozens of flower arrangements have been sent to Tuff Ink in his memory. The skateboarders don't talk much about Sean's death, except to say that he was a real nice guy. There will be a memorial concert for him May 6 as part of Downtown Saturday Night.
The message of his life, I believe, was to hang together--to be kind, tough and as honest as you can be. The lesson to be learned from his death is to take better care of yourself.
And, if there's a skateboarder's heaven, I'm sure Sean Dolan is there now, jumping from one soft cloud to the next.
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