Cross-dressing punk singer, party maven and ubiquitous L.A. scene-stealer Anthony Robertson, better known as Sean DeLear, died in Vienna Tuesday afternoon after a short battle with liver cancer. Arrangements are being made for transport of his remains and for official memorial services soon, but an informal gathering will take place at Taix on Sunday, Sept. 10, at 4 p.m.
If you’ve attended a hot party, art show, concert or club in L.A. over the past 30 years, chances are you encountered the brilliant bodaciousness of Sean DeLear more than once, as he always seemed to be at “the” place to be, and usually looking fierce doing it, rocking wigs, false eyelashes and pumps. Like everything he did, he did drag on his own terms, preferring an effortless approach to androgyny that nevertheless got him attention wherever he went. Even when he dressed “like a boy,” he was hard to miss in a crowd; his smile and energy were simply that big and bright, which made his chosen name — an obvious reference to the fancy lighting fixture — nothing short of luminary perfection.
Everyone in the music and art scene seems to have a sweet SeanDee/Shawndee/Shondee/Shandi (funny how his friends all spell it their own way, though he mostly used “SeanD”) story, and it usually entails a memorable music or art backdrop. Alexis Rivera (who is organizing the Taix gathering) recalled some time-standing-still moments, such as when The B-52s all dropped their individual conversations and shouted “Sean-deee!” in unison when he arrived backstage at the band's headlining show a few years ago. Such things were a common occurrence when SeanD entered the room, no matter how star-studded the scenario.
With countless video appearances (the best-known was probably as Sheena, the “girl” Tone Loc took home on the hit “Funky Cold Medina”), hosting gigs (legendary clubs such as Egg Salad and Sucker at the Garage) and arty performances under his pearl necklaces over the past 30 years, SeanD made a name for himself both on stage and off. As one of many who considered him a friend, I think the “off” part was even more significant than the on, even if he was always kinda “on,” as far as the public could see. Even when Posh Spice and Yoko Ono were kissing his ass and his band Glue was flavor of the month, playing alongside X, L7 or Nine Inch Nails, he was easygoing, loving life and making new friends everywhere he went.
Though SeanD was fun and flamboyant and seemed to know everybody, he was deeper than that, always too real for the fake-diva or drag-queen stereotype. He was no-bullshit but never a bitch. He was smart and insightful, too. I recall complaining about a man to him at a mutual friend’s kiddie party a couple years ago. He said something wise and a bit wicked that made us both crack up (his deep and hearty laugh was so droll and infectious, it didn’t even matter what was said), and then insisted I join him in the bounce house to leap about with the little ones, including my own. He was a kid at heart and I think that’s why he never seemed to age, even after some 35 years of after-dark debauchery.
Even before I met him, the name Sean DeLear epitomized everything that ever made me want to write about Los Angeles nightlife. As an avid L.A. Weekly reader growing up, I became fascinated, even a little obsessed, with the city’s underground music and art communities long before I was old enough to be a part of them. The print edition of the Weekly was my window into these wild and eccentric worlds, particularly the nightlife column La Dee Da, which celebrated the city’s punks and provocateurs in bold names and rollicking reportage of their antics. I don’t think anyone had their name bolded there more than Sean DeLear did. He was a fabulous, fantastical fixture back then, but looking back, he was a cultural boundary-breaker too, transcending sexuality, race, age, genres, scenes … everything.
Though he had done backup with Brian Grillo's and Vaginal Davis’ various projects, his profile was amplified when he fronted the band Glue and became a bona fide rock star in his own right. Like pretty much everyone who knew SeanD, Glue founding member Peter Tomlinson met him at a music show, the Butthole Surfers' ill-fated Variety Arts Center gig in 1988, which got canceled and ended in a riot. They were on acid that night but, as Tomlinson told me, it was a trip playing with the L.A. legend every day.
From the Sunset Strip to Silver Lake, Glue’s giddy and raw grooves combined with SeanD’s lyrical and vocal tempestuousness won fans of all ilk — young, old, gay, straight, punk, alternative — and they arguably broke ground for the “Silver Lake scene” in general, which in those days was less about disheveled hipsterism and more about audacious and artful sonic expression. Along with bands such as Extra Fancy, Geraldine Fibbers and Ethyl Meatplow, Glue — who were one of the first bands to play Spaceland and a favorite at the Sunset Junction Street Fair — helped put Silver Lake and Echo Park on the musical map. As the Echo's Liz Garo — who always had her door people let SeanD in free — acknowledged to me, “He was Los Angeles royalty.”
Though he was originally from the San Fernando Valley, SeanD had owned a house in Echo Park since the early ’90s. In the last few years, he recorded solo material on the dancier side with Jeppe Laursen of Junior Senior and Filip “Turbotito” Nikolic of Ima Robot; the Beni single “It's a Bubble,” featuring SeanD and Turbotito, is getting play on KCRW this week in his memory. More recently, he frequented Europe for performance gigs and as part of the art collective called Gelitin, also performing his solo cabaret show, “Sean DeLear on the Rocks.”
He had been staying with a friend in Vienna the past few months, but it’s not clear how long he knew he was ill. Like many who seek acceptance and belonging in the music and nightlife scene, SeanD wasn’t close with his real family (he’s survived by a mother and brother), but that didn’t matter. He was beloved by a bountiful creative community in L.A., and the admiration went beyond blood because he lived his life with heart and as art, inspiring us all to do the same.
Rest in peace, Sean DeLear, you shone too bright to ever fade for so many of us in L.A.
Here is the announcement of his passing, posted on Facebook by his extended family:
“It is with great sadness that the family of Anthony (Sean DeLear) Robertson share the news of his ascension with the ancestors. There was no greater spirit or more fabulous 'Queen' than Sean De! He had an incredible singing voice, stage presence extraordinaire, legs as long as the road and a smile that lit up a thousand cities! We love you, honor you and will never, ever forget you! Your truth was all that. All Is Well … and So It Is!”