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October 2023
Vol. 23, No. 1

Featured Stories

A Walk with Mary

by Chuck SchieleNovember 2022

Mary Dolan. Photo by Gail Donnelly.

Mary Dolan arrives promptly at my place on a crisp and sunny coastal morning with her manager Anita York. We exchange greetings and hugs. We are acquaintances who haven’t seen each other in some time, but we don’t really know each other.

I pour some coffee and inform Mary that we’re going to go on a walk while we talk about the writing of this story. Her already very bright and intelligent eyes light up at the idea. And after a few sips we’re on our way. Anita chooses this moment to leave us alone with the unspoken understanding that the story will probably be more charming this way. As Mary and I decide our route, I grab my camera to take pictures along the way. And we’re off to a comfortable start.

“Beautiful day.”

“Yes, we’re lucky to live here.”

I ask Mary what’s up these days… “Haven’t seen you in a while, girl. Whats up with you?”

Mary shared her recent decision to take some time off to pursue certain personal explorations, specifically “soul matters.” With a year to go toward earning a four-year degree in religious studies, the rocker chick I saw jumping all over the stage like a rock ‘n’ roll monster at the Belly Up a few years ago was suddenly a very matured, graceful, and eloquent soul. And I find myself delighted to be in the conversation we’re in.

“I first saw you playing with Lisa Sanders. Do you still play with her?”

Photo by Gail Donnelly.

“Well, a couple of years ago, I’d been playing my own stuff and also with Lisa. I felt like I was getting kind of burned out on music, so I decided to step away from Lisa’s band to focus on my own thing. I thought that might refresh things for me. I was planning another two-month tour across the country and was actually more than half-way booked for the tour, when I just had a sense that I shouldn’t go. I just felt like it was wrong, somehow. So, I cancelled my tour and decided to finish my degree.”

She carried on. “It got to the point where the commercial limitations of the music business exceeded the motivation for why I do music in the first place. There are all these people telling you what to play, how to play, change this, change that—until I wasn’t doing what it is I do. And that’s okay, but only for a while if you enter the game with musical ideas and notions of your own. Then, there are politics at the company, while there are politics within the band itself. After a while, when it gets old, one grows tired. I lost my energy for it,” she explains.

We head through the hood of Ocean Beach, deciding to take the ocean cliff route, and were soon headed down the Santa Cruz steps and onto the craggy shoreline.

She continues, “So, I got out of the scene.”

“Yeah… it gets pretty mean out there, doesn’t it?” I empathize.

“It’s masochistic at times,” she affirms.

We both laugh, because she’s right. And we take a few moments to gossip lovingly about some of the wounded soldiers we refer to as buddies in our music scene as a means of taking note of just how mean the biz really is.

We get back on course as she explains, “So I took a break, hung it up, and enrolled myself to pursue a bachelor’s degree in religious studies and a master’s in library sciences.”

“Why religious studies? Are you on a soul search or something?” I ask.

Gal pals in 2000: (l to r) Lisa Sanders, Mary Dolan, Joy Eden Harrison, Elizabeth Hummel, Peggy Watson.

“Yes, absolutley. Religion played a big part in my childhood and formed in me a great love for the Divine. I have a fascination with religions as well—the different ways in which peoples of the world are called to interact with the Divine. I personally want to be exactly who I am called to be and find that I can get clues and insights into the right action when I read or hear the words of saints and great spiritual masters. It was time for me to ‘go there’ and explore some of the things I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’ve enjoyed my time off from music so that I can do this and get to know myself better. I’ve learned a lot and am loving this growing process,” she continues.

“But, you’re ready to get back into the mean scene of music? Is that motivated by your experience with your studies and your soul searching? What about the corporate thing?” I inquire to keep her rolling.

“Well, yeah… I’m ready for more…,” she’s rolling, “but not in the same way as before. I want to do things differently, now.”

I challenge her. “Oooh, sounds like you have something to say. Do you know what it is that you’re going to do differently?”

Saved by the bell.

“Angels All Around You,” written by Dana Leewood, 2001. With Lisa Sanders, Laura Preble, Candye Kane, Eve Selis, Randi Driscoll, Dana Leewood, Mary Dolan, Peggy Lebo, Peggy Watson, Joy Eden Harrison, Sue Palmer, Ren Zenner, Cheryl Bliss, Jill Costanzo, Andi Adair.

Mary’s phone rings, right there on the cliff, and I wonder why I can’t get no satisfaction from my own phone out here. She excuses herself to take the call. I gave her privacy to talk but decided to document the call with my camera.

She keeps it short and comes back to the conversation, apologizing for the interruption. I tell her, “Nice try. Tell me what it is you’re going to do differently.”

“Oh, yes. First of all, [I’m going to] forget the ‘man.’ I’m inspired to write new songs without corporate intervention, expectation, or influence. The last time I tried that, it drained me. I want to write about what’s in my heart and let the songs be what they are. Simply that.”

“I’ve only heard a couple of the working demos. How far along are ya?”

“I’m still writing, getting it all underway,” Mary explains. “I feel I have something to say and am ready to put it to paper…to tape.”

Right about there, we reminisce about Dana Lee Wood’s story about Lisa Sander’s attempt to locate a piece of paper, prompting both us to gesture, “Get me a paper! Get me a paper!” We have a good laugh together and revert to sharing backstage anecdotes for a bit, most of which we can’t say out loud.

She also spoke a little bit about her days playing with Lisa Sanders and her own work as well, as we hike past a homeless minstrel smoking a joint and playing guitar. Its 11 a.m. and this guy is in paradise, with the ocean 20 feet behind him.

Soon we hit Newport Avenue and stop for cappuccinos at the Ocean Beach Motel. Mary, who’s buying, tells the guy behind the counter that we just got married. I go with it, adding that it was a great ceremony and that we’re coming back to the hotel, and we needed the coffee because we’re really excited. He looks at us kinda funny and laughs although he’s not sure whether he’s laughing at us or with us. So, we made him take our picture. Author’s note: Don’t worry, we didn’t register at Neiman Marcus.

Mary with Tim Flannery and Sven-Erik Seaholm, 2004.

From there we decide to walk out onto the pier. Mary notes that this is the longest pier on the West Coast, which I acknowledge, thinking to myself how good a cappuccino tastes when my head is full of fresh ocean wind. Soon we encounter a row of gumball machines full of stale gum and weird souvenirs at the cafe/bait store halfway out on the pier. There are lots of people fishing all along the north side of the pier, but it’s the row of gumball machines that grabs her attention.

“Check these out!” she hollers, taking serious interest in a machine that dispenses crosses with images of Mother Mary and crucifixes, some of which have replaced Jesus with a Pachuco in a zoot suit.

She’s shoving in quarters and turning the handle in hot persuit of the cross with Mother Mary on it. “I’ve gotta have that. It’s soooo cool.” She runs out, so I give her more coins. After five tries or so, she gets the one she wants and it’s like Christmas on the pier. We take a few minutes to examine, discuss, and have fun with our trinkets for a minute—claiming the ones each of us wants in the same way little boys negotiate trading baseball cards.

We reach the end of the pier and stop as the conversation turns to recording her next CD.

I ask her how’s she’s gonna do it, who’s involved, if there’s a formal deal.

And all she had to say was, “I’m gonna do it myself. Old School. I have a small and modest recording studio in my home. I’m not really interested in super technical means right now, so it makes sense to go bare bones. It’s going to be my songs, my guitar, my voice. That’s it. I’m going for personal. I’m going for soul.”

“A purity thing?” I ask, trying to create the proper context for her remarks.

“Yes, exactly.”

Lisa Sanders and Mary Dolan in 2017.

We head back to my place, cutting through the neighborhood. We gossiped a bit more, shared our admiration for the Beatles and our mutual disgust for the whole “Britney” thing. We told some jokes. We talked spirituality some more.

“Oh! And can you mention that I’m into skateboarding?” Mary adds by way of a left turn.

“Skateboarding? What’s up with skateboarding? Is that your new Zen activity or something?” I chuckle.

“It’s a meditation thing,” she replies, ready to go into it further. So, I let her go a little.

We had coffee. We got married. We encountered strange people. We breathed a lot of fresh Pacific air. And we made friends by getting to know each other better.

Soon we were back, and our little walk was over. And Mary went home to write that record.

Mary Dolan passed away last month. So sad for us all. Here are a few tributes written about her on Facebook.

From Steve Poltz

This is how I want to remember Mary Dolan.
A sparkle in her eye.
A wry little knowing smile.
Crazy Catholic guilty energy.
An outrageous laugh.
A stellar voice.
Abundant energy.
A gal banging on her guitar and strutting around the stage.
A warm embrace.
A weathered voice with character in all the right places.
She didn’t need a microphone.
Unplugged? She was the epitome of unplugged. She was unfiltered and unplugged to the nth degree.
She was confident. She was shy. She was a confidant and a good listener.
Mary was a reporter checking in on the human condition.
She felt pain. Perhaps too much pain.
For a while she was a part of a burgeoning folk scene in San Diego.
We shared stages together.
We sang songs together.
She even covered a wild Rugburns song called 76 Miles.
She freaking owne that song.
She owned any stage she played.
Mary Dolan was and will always be a diamond in the rough.
The best kind of diamond.
Mary suffered from depression and had physical pain.
She took her own life and that’s what really hurts.
It’s a punch in the gut.
I was falling asleep last night after my show in Halifax and I saw the devastating news.
I’m so sad for her family and friends.
I hate hearing news like this.
I feel lucky that our paths crossed.
I feel grateful that she was here at the same time.
Oh, San Diego pals. Oh no. Please say it ain’t so.
We all bashed our guitars on those hallowed stages around town.
We were wild buskers waiting to be invited inside.
Cracked guitars and broken strings and hoarse voices and callouses. Lots of callouses. Mary had callouses.
God bless you Mary Dolan.
May your memory live on forever and your pain subside.
Your were loved.
You are loved.
May your spirit shine on forever.


From Lisa Sanders

Mary Dolan was my band and my sister before I had a band. She was a joy angel, fire cracker, a fierce and powerful performer, a loving compassionate soul and a damn good listener.
I knew she had been struggling but thought she was getting better. I had been saying I needed to check in on her but didn’t make the time. That haunts and saddens me deeply and I am deeply heartbroken. Goes to show we never know what people are going through truly, unless we’ve walked in their shoes. I told my mom I wanted to kill myself in the 8th grade and still I do not know the pain and darkness of actually feeling bad enough to do it. It is a very complicated thing, mental illness. Doctors, family, friends share the pain of not being able to help in the end and sometimes it is unbearable and yet somehow some way that pain must be endured. We all loose loved ones and each one is suffered through in the many ways that grief comes out. But Mary Dolan, my friend, my confidant, my duo partner, I believe leaves more Joy, heart, love and talent than any pain we will be going through today, tomorrow and the days and years to come. I believe while Mary was here, she took all her pain, talent and love and turned it on like a billion watt light to shine on us all. May she rest in the peace she so longed for. May her family, friends and her beautiful children know the comfort of the love she shined so exuberantly. May we come to celebrate Mary by lifting up our voices to sing, dance like jumping beans, tell all the stories of how she made us laugh till it hurt, cry because she was beautiful and how she left us awe struck and inspired by her talent because Mary Dolan left a big piece of her light and love for all of us. She’s Shinning on! We’ll celebrate her. We will…. Shine on Mary Dolan
Ps Thank you Thank you Thank you for all the Love ❤️
Please join us in celebrating the life of Mary Dolan with music and stories. Friday, November 4, 6-9pm, at the Template, 5032 Niagara Ave. in Ocean Beach.

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