Sullivan first began writing music journalism for her high school newspaper in Cupertino, California while working as a record-store clerk. At the University of San Francisco, Sullivan became a founding staff member of radio station KUSF under the DJ name Marie London. By the early 80s, the station became one of the first in the nation to program punk rock and new wave music under its new 24-hour format. San Francisco had become home to an underground art-rock scene that morphed into punk and new wave within the span of five years, starting in the late 1970s.
Sullivan would graduate from USF with a degree in media studies, going on to work several jobs in the music industry, including club DJ, publicist for 415 Records, and record-store owner. As an alternative-music marketing manager for Warner Brothers Records, touring throughout the southeast states with Faith No More and Jesus and Mary Chain, among other bands, gave her an insider perspective to the music business. She went into music journalism full-time in 1991.
Sullivan wrote “The Show Goes On” live-music column for The Contra Costa Times from 1992 to 2006. During that time she was also writing music articles for The San Francisco Chronicle, SF Weekly, SF Bay Guardian, The Express, BAM and Raygun, among others. She was a writer for Rolling Stone’s online site, as well as the popular 90s rock webzine Addicted to Noise.
In 2007, Sullivan began “The Origin of Song” column for Crawdaddy! online, where she contributed reviews, profiles and interviews with classic rock and soul musicians. She profiled rock icons in her “What Makes a Legend” feature and focused on punk and new wave in a “Class of ’77 series.” Sullivan’s interview subjects during her Crawdaddy! tenure included Bettye LaVette, Yoko Ono, Van Dyke Parks, Richie Havens, Janis Ian, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Solomon Burke. Post-Crawdaddy! she has freelanced for music magazines Paste and Blurt, as well as for the activism website, Stir to Action.
Sullivan has contributed to several music-reference books including The All Music Guide to Rock, The Rough Guide to Country Music, The MOJO Collection, and The Girl’s Guide to Taking Over the World.
Sullivan has written music biographies on The White Stripes (The White Stripes: Sweethearts of the Blues) and R.E.M. (R.E.M. – Talk About the Passion). A collection of her work, Rip It Up! Rock’n’Roll Rulebreakers, features interviews with an array of iconoclasts in the rock world, including Wanda Jackson, The Kinks, Camper Van Beethoven, and the late Ike Turner.
Sullivan’s 2011 book, Keep on Pushing: Black Power Music From Blues to Hip Hop, covers the history of African American music and its significance in the civil rights movement. As a history and analysis of roots, blues, jazz, disco, punk and hip-hop, the book focuses on popular music as a force for social transformation. Through oral history and historical research, Keep on Pushing is a guide to the music that gave rise to the black power movement, which is further linked to the gay rights and feminism. The book features a profile of folk musician and activist, Len Chandler, one of the few interviews with the singer-songwriter to appear in print.
Stephen Shames' documentary photography in his 2006 book, The Black Panthers, was the initial inspiration for Keep on Pushing. Being a self-confessed “record geek,” Sullivan found her book’s storyline in American music, noting, in a quote attributed to Odetta, “you can either lie down and die, or insist on your own individual life. Those people who made up the songs were the ones who insisted upon life and living…”. Sullivan defines music in Keep on Pushing as history, “…and when we are talking about American music for change, it is tied directly to the African American struggle for freedom and equality.” She clarifies that the book is, “…an alternative to the usual history, a people’s history, with emphasis on musicians and songs.”
The book has received mostly favorable reviews. David Ensminger, of PopMatters, praises Sullivan’s focus on women musicians linked to the civil rights movement, noting that “…Odetta and Nina Simone, hold sway and never surrender; even Billie Holiday, often associated with a bygone generation, provides her Strange Fruit as a kind of template, a way to ignore simple plaintive sentiment and jazz-spiel in favor of concerns for justice and a probe of history, with all the pain intact.” Ensminger points out that the book is not “…an all-inclusive, push-button reference,” but serves “to examine the oft-overlooked underdogs whose work is powerful and challenging.”
A pleasing survey of soul music, from Lead Belly to Johnny Otis to Michael Franti to Louis Farrakhan...Sullivan offers a welcome exploration of how African-American popular music became America’s vernacular. — Kirkus Reviews
Sullivan...combines impressive research and wide-ranging interviews in a multilayered narrative about the power of music within black liberation, civil rights, antiwar, and gender-related movements...This is for anyone interested in a thorough analysis of music as a commanding force in change as well as a continually evolving artistic presence. — Library Journal
Great book...Go get it. — Chuck D, Public Enemy
Sullivan has contributed to The Virgin Guide to San Francisco (Virgin Publishing, 2000) and Underground San Francisco (Manic D Press, 1995).