Pearl Jam Community Remembers Sean Sullivan
The Pearl Jam community suffered a tremendous loss on February 6th. Affectionately known as “Sully” to his loved ones, Sean Sullivan impacted the lives of everyone he knew and befriended within these confines.
We are incredibly privileged to have been able to build special bonds connected through the music that we don’t just cherish, we live by. There’s synergy there. At first it may begin by meeting at a show and bonding over the band by sharing cherished memories and stories about what the music means to you. When a tour is announced, you check in and see if there’s an opportunity to congregate again. You end up bringing your friends, they end up bringing their friends, and before you know it, you have a considerably large group that you’re sharing these memories with.
Being at a concert releases positive endorphins. There’s something electrifying about the experience of passionately singing along to the songs you loved when you felt your best, and that you used as a coping mechanism when you struggled. You feed off the energy of the thousands of fans around you, and that passion links you together just as strongly as any bonding. When we say family around here, we mean it, because we can connect with each other on such a deeper, emotional level thanks to the incredible experiences we share.
That’s why any time we lose someone in this community, it stings. And it hits hard.
But the beautiful thing is that we can all find ways to come together and pay tribute to someone that we connected with. The people that knew Sully best wanted to do right by him, hence the Smile dedication in Chicago. That it was recognized and granted by the man who’s the most pivotal piece in bringing us all together should bring a warmth to your soul. It’s a sign of closure, a sign to tell Sully’s loved ones how truly loved he was. Even if we are nerds.
We plan to keep Sully’s memory alive to show that the bond in our community is unbreakable. That we conquer from strength and we have one another’s back in a time of need. Featured here are the stories from those who loved Sully the most. This piece will forever be ongoing and we’ll be accepting submissions whenever and from whomever. Please reach out if you would like for your story or memory to be preserved.
Friends Share Their Memories of Sean
Andrew Taylor (2/15/22):
As we get older, graduating from high school and college, blindly navigating our way through careers, marriages, kids, or any manner of life’s stepping stones, it often becomes more difficult to create bonds with one another. When we are young, life is flashing past us at unbearable speeds and the ones we have around us seem to understand how to connect and hold on at such velocities. At some point, things settle and slow. Other responsibilities take hold, and we move away from the wild moments of our youth that we look back on and shake our heads with disbelief. Occasionally in our lives, we stumbled upon someone who breaks those unwritten rules, and we find ourselves unwittingly connected as if we had always been so.
Such was the case with Sean Sullivan.
Sean was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. Simply put, CF is a disease much like a boa constrictor, slowly squeezing the life and breath from your lungs by collapsing the fibers inside their walls and linings. Over time, it becomes impossible to breathe and the only option is a lung transplant. Seven years ago, Sean received this miraculous gift from an organ donor. The surgery was a success, and Sean set out with a new life, a new perspective. When you face death, you often come away with a dark sense of humor. Sean had a quick wit rarely found, and he enjoyed puns and riddles and wordplay.
I met Sean three short years ago. And while we were separated by hundreds of miles between Charlotte and Chicago, we were connected by Pearl Jam. With modern technology, the distance between us was negated, and we could visit each other and other Pearl Jam friends through FaceTime or even through a series of ridiculous puns on a Facebook thread. Other people knew Sean more intimately than I. His brothers and sisters, his hometown friends, other members of the Pearl Jam community. They might be a better choice to tell you who Sean was. Or, perhaps Sean could give you a glimpse into his life himself, if you were to watch an interview Lila Barzegar did back in 2019, where Sean tells the unbelievable story of his journey. The time I shared with Sean was far too short, but as Brad Hightower said best, “It was packed with a lifetime of laughter and smiles.” And while we are all fallible, while we are all imperfect, and while we are all susceptible to mistakes… it is our overall life one must review and measure, and not the stumbles we had along the way.
Sean Sullivan was a good man who helped raise money for Cystic Fibrosis and championed becoming an organ donor. He loved his family, Chicago sports and music. On Thursday, February 10th, Sean received a much deserved send-off by Eddie Vedder and the Earthlings at Chicago’s Auditorium Theater.
A Chicago son, giving another wings where he had shoulders smooth as raven’s claws. I don’t know if these words are appropriate. I only know I wish I had a few moments back, so that I could have one more Guinness or sing one more round of karaoke with Sean. It is impossible, yet important, to thank Eddie Vedder for performing Smile on Thursday, and dedicating it to Sean in front of his cheering, crying, singing, hometown crowd. I also want to thank the entire Pearl Jam community for stepping up and getting word to Ed that this was something that needed to be done.
While Sean’s passing was an unfortunate, unexpected, and undue tragedy, miracles are real.
Sean’s transplant was a miracle, as was the improbable and impressive dedication and send-off. So, as we sit here today mourning the shining, missing piece of our lives we never expected to receive, we can take comfort, and we can Smile, that we knew Sean.
Amanda Yost Koutsourais (2/15/22):
You are hopefully going to get stories about everything Sean has accomplished, survived, and thrived BECAUSE of, and all of that is true, so I feel a bit selfish talking about Sully in what his friendship meant to me, and how it affected ME, but I feel I was far from the only person he made feel the way he made me. I only hope I was able to make him feel the same way.
I went deaf 20 years ago. I got cochlear implants about 5 years ago. I will never hear like I did, and yet I can finally hear music as close to how I did. Sully took more time, though it was probably easy for him. Music was everything to him. I needed to “practice” retraining my brain to actually interpret sound again. He took the time, all the time, to send me music, a ton of Chicago proper bands (HE LOVED CHICAGO!) and would even walk me through once he understood that Cochlears weren’t magic ears.
He would take the time to explain EVERYTHING he ever learned about the song (U2, Wilco, and Pearl Jam were his go-tos, but he truly appreciated and knew about basically every fucking band). He took the time to talk about what it meant to him, how it affected him. This wasn’t him saying “look at me,” this was him wanting to show you a bit of himself while connecting with you.
He made you feel SEEN and wasn’t hesitant to let you see all of him. I know I met him as a “Facebook friend,” but he immediately understood my deafness, and how society treated me, because of all the shit he had gone through with CF.
I can only say Pearl Jam had no greater fan, in the actual love of Pearl Jam and the spirit of Pearl Jam. Yet, Sean was gonna Sean, he was just fortunate to have a band in the background playing his spirit.
Bill Baker (2/15/22):
I’m pretty sure I met Sean in 2016 around Wrigley for the Pearl Jam shows. He approached me and asked me about my Cubs hat, because it was black with a red logo, and me being the hat snob I was at the time, I wouldn’t tell him where I got it because I had never seen another one like it. We got to talking about the Cubs, and I had to stop him and explain that I’m not really a baseball fan, I’m a Chicago baseball fan, the only game I really care about is the crosstown rivalry, and it doesn’t matter who wins because: go Chicago. He gave me a funny smirk I’ll never forget, because it was like I was looking at myself. I didn’t understand the importance of the statement I had made to him until I heard his brother speak about Sean’s baseball family, and the bond a single statement could make, if even for just a weekend here and there. Now it gets fuzzy from here, because well, I was a bit drunk. The only actual conversation I remember for sure is with an Uber driver telling me to get back in the sunroof. I don’t remember if we were at Murphy’s or Sluggers, or maybe the bar on the corner directly behind the scoreboard, maybe all 3.
I know I had met Sean previous to this meeting, because Sean has one of those faces that you just don’t forget, one of those faces that when you’re at a Pearl Jam concert you just look for, even if you don’t realize it. We all do it. looking around the crowd for that one familiar face even though you don’t remember his name from the last time. That was Sean. for me anyway. At a Pearl Jam concert where everyone’s family, it just happens that way. These groups keep that stoke alive between shows, and we intentionally or unintentionally find each other at the next one. That’s just how it works.
Another thing that connected us is our nicknames. He was Sully, mine is Sullen. I can remember him laughing and asking why someone would call me Sullen, and I said “well…yours is cool because you were born with it, mine is because i have ‘resting bitch face.’” I’m not sure who laughed harder. Sadly, the last actual conversation I had with him was right after the Cubs won the World Series. My brain injury happened in 2017, and I was unable to make it to the 2018 shows. I got a message from him after the shows asking where I was, and I told him what had happened, and that’s when I learned about his CF. I didn’t know Sean well. He was that person I looked for in a crowd where I just knew he probably would be, because he just made them more enjoyable. So a word of advice, next time someone asks you where you got your silly hat, tell them. When someone is as welcoming as Sean was, don’t let your friendship only happen when Pearl Jam’s in town. There’s no other group of people like the group we are all in together.
I had the pleasure of meeting Sean briefly at Ohana Encore weekend last October. I was in line with mutual friends, and he and Jill stopped by for a bit. It almost sounds cliche to say now, but I was immediately struck by the warmth in his smile. As I chatted with them both, their love of each other was palpable. Nothing over the top or grandiose, just a deeply apparent and genuine love that refused to go unnoticed. They both just radiated peace and light. That image stuck with me these last four months, and when I heard Sean had become ill with COVID, those memories came rushing back. As I learned more and more about the kind of human Sean was, the ordeal he endured throughout his life, and the effort he persistently put in to be ‘that guy’ for so many people, I couldn’t help but feel deep regret for not having gotten to know him better. Put bluntly — he’s the kind of human I wish I had the balls to be. It takes immense bravery to open your heart and welcome in so many people. I’m working on it. I’ll never forget that chance encounter and the impressions he left. Rest in peace, Sean. ❤️❤️❤️
Taylor Griffin (2/19/22):
Randy, thank you for putting this forum together and allowing the memories and stories of my brother Sean to live forever. Today, February 18th, Sean would have turned 47. For 38 of those 47 years, Sean has been in my life helping to mold me into a better person and teaching me that each day is a gift..cherish it. Before Sean and I were immersed in the Pearl Jam community, one of Sean’s first loves of music was U2. Our first concert was September 15, 1992, at the World Music Theater in Tinley Park, during our senior year of high school. The Zoo TV tour was a rocking visual spectacle that I’d never seen before. Hearing songs like Pride, Where The Streets Have No Name, and One for the first time, and closing with the Elvis cover Can’t Help Falling In Love. Leaving this concert, we were on a high and we wanted more. So the next day, we went and bought tickets to go back to see U2 on the 18th. Yes, we saw U2 twice in one week! We were on top of the world!
The following year, fall of 1993, changed my life. I can’t remember the date, but in Chicago on the radio station Q101, the DJ came on the radio and said “there is a major concert announcement at 5PM”. At 5, they announced Pearl Jam will be coming to Chicago on March 10, playing at the Chicago Stadium, and tickets go on sale in 30 minutes. Now this is well before the interweb and AOL and Prodigy. This was a moment when you needed to jump in your car, hope you had enough gas in the tank, and drive to Carson Pierre Scott. When you arrived, you had to line up outside the one window at their customer service desk dedicated to Ticketmaster. Once it was my turn to approach the window and purchase tickets, I scored 2 tickets in the 300 level for our first Pearl Jam show.
March 10, 1994, the day arrived. Sean had just turned 19 a few weeks before and this was our first concert in Chicago. We arrived early to see Urge Overkill, the opening act on the tour. This moment I remember vividly as if it happened yesterday. Sean and I were taking our time, walking in the concourse looking at all the Chicago Bulls décor inside the stadium, and we heard music playing. You can peek through the curtain into the arena to see who’s on stage, and we knew it wasn’t U/O. We could see some oddly dressed band in a costume was on stage. So, we continued to check out the 300 level of the Stadium. Then all of a sudden, we hear a change in the singer’s voice and hear the words “I only play for money, I don’t care about the fans…” Everyone in the concourse started to go into a frenzy because Eddie Vedder at that moment was on stage singing. Sean and I ran to our seats to see Eddie Vedder on stage singing with the Frogs, wearing a wig and shiny coat. Vedder finished the song, and would return later in the evening with Pearl Jam. I admit I don’t remember much of the U/O performance. However, I remember when PJ walked on stage and hearing the first few notes of Release, we knew we were in for a special evening. During the concert, we sang happy birthday to Jeff Ament, Eddie re-assured the crowd that he’s from the Chicago area by singing the Empire 588-2300 commercial, and for the first time we got to hear the songs Footsteps and Sonic Reducer. This night cemented our over-the-top fandom and was the beginning of our Pearl Jam concert journey.
Another memory is the infamous Ice Bowl at Alpine Valley. The date was October 8th, 2000. Sean used to have a Ford Explorer which meant, hey everyone, you can ride with Sean. I’m pretty sure we found a way to squeeze 8 people into Sean’s vehicle. I’m not a meteorologist, but I can tell you there was a drastic change in the weather leaving the south suburbs of Chicago and only driving about 2 hours to Alpine Valley. I remember the feeling of how cold it was when we got out of the car and being able to see my breath outside. Sean and I had Ten Club tickets with decent seats in the pavilion area; however, if anyone has ever been to Alpine, they would agree the best time you can have is in the lawn, and we wanted to be with our friends. It was so cold that night, and when the band came on stage they were wearing hats and coats to perform a rock concert. It was the only Pearl Jam concert that I can ever recall where the band didn’t close the night with Rockin’ In The Free World or Yellow Ledbetter. The closing song that night was Rearviewmirror.
These were two of many Pearl Jam concerts that I’ve seen over the years with Sean. I’m going to miss meeting up at Murphy’s before the concert and trying to guess which song Pearl Jam is going to open with that night. More importantly, I’m going to miss my brother! Happy Birthday Sean!
<h2>Remembering Sean Sullivan</h2>