Sunday, October 23, 2005

Note: In September 2004, I published an earlier version of this article under the title "Dave, fame, and Haines: Celebrity, suicide, and the etiquette of envy" in The Hook, a arts weekly in Charlottesville, Virginia. Since then, I’ve revised the article to include stuff I had to cut out of The Hook article, new stuff I learned after the article came out, and stuff about celebrity in general. Mark Roebuck, one of the main sources for the article, was unhappy about how I recalled some of his statements and wanted to clarify his feelings about Haines Fullerton. Some of his statements in this new version of the article were culled from a letter he wrote to Haines’ mother in an attempt to set the record straight, a letter Haines’ mother received only a few weeks before her own death. In addition, I’ve included criticisms of the article from people who were close to Haines, as well as some additional reporting done by Hawes Spencer, editor of The Hook. All in all, I think it’s a more ‘complete’ picture of the story I tried to tell in the last version. I’m not sure you can ever uncover the ‘whole truth’ about something...but you can keep working at it, you can keep trying to get closer to the truth.

Becoming Angels: Dave Matthews, Suicide, and the Etiquette of Envy

The first time I saw Haines Fullerton was the first time I'd seen the Dave Matthews Band play at a small club in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was 1993 and I'd just moved to Charlottesville to go to graduate school. The now defunct club, called TRAX because it sat right beside a railroad crossing, was only a short walk from my apartment on Wertland Street. I knew almost no one in Charlottesville at the time and had wandered over to TRAX out of loneliness and boredom. One of the first things I noticed during the show was how joyous everyone seemed to be, as if the angst of grunge, the vaudeville and seriousness of 80s pop, the anger of punk, the poetry of 70s folk, the retroization of classic rock, and the tired example of the Dead had finally been cast off. At the center of all this musical bliss was a tall, boyish looking man with a high forehead, short curly blond hair, large sad eyes, and a sweet, angelic grin who wore a tennis shirt, khaki shorts, and white Ked high-tops. He stood at the edge of the dance floor moving to the music slightly, looking immensely pleased with what he was hearing and what was going on around him. He looked so openly joyous and bold about it that I remember it bothered me. There was an overbearing aspect to his joy, it seemed to me; a fearlessness about the way he expressed it. I remember staring at him intently, but turning away sharply as he looked my way, as if at any minute he might turn that loving gaze on me and I’d have no choice but to smile lovingly back. No one could really be like that, I thought. Every so often someone would go over to say hello to him, usually a woman, and after a few words they would hug for an unusually long time, the kind of hug people gave each other in airports and train stations, and then Haines would close his eyes, smile, and raise up his head toward the stage lights.

***

Dave Matthews took a careful sip of his coffee. He had just been to the dentist and the right side of his face was noticeably swollen. "The guy’s standing there prying open my mouth, scrapping the crap off my teeth and making my gums bleed and telling me about what a fan his daughter is and could I sign a T-shirt for him after my cavity was filled." Matthews took another sip of coffee and it dribbled down his chin. Behind us the Barista girls working the counter at Greenberry's were trying to act like it wasn’t such a big deal to have a rock star in the room.

"Is it bad?" Matthews said, almost sheepishly. "Do I look stupid?"

"You can hardly notice it," I lied.

Matthews smiled and cocked his eyebrow, a familiar gesture that had become iconic to millions of fans. He’d just finished recording a new album in California with producer glen Ballard, which he was very excited about, and was back in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia for a short break. I’d run into him the day before at the same coffee place.

"You know, I was thinking about Haines the other day. It’s funny you asked me to talk about him."

"He was a big influence on a lot of people in town. Everyone has a Haines story, a story about how he turned his light on them…I wondered what yours was."

"He was definitely an influence for awhile."Matthews took another careful sip of his coffee."You know," said Matthews, suddenly very serious. "I think about suicide a lot."

We had met specifically to talk about Haines, so it wasn’t completely out of the blue. Still, it wasn’t what I had expected to hear from a man about to make the cover of Rolling Stone for the first time (Rolling Stone, March 15, 2001 ). Or was it?

In 1994, just days after Kurt Cobain had shot himself, writer John Updike was answering questions after a reading he’d given. Someone in the audience asked Updike to comment on the suicide and describe the spiritual crises that successful people, especially rock stars, face. Updike paused for a moment, then he said, "I think all of mankind operates in the shadow of spiritual crisis. The rock stars, in a way, more so than any of us. I don't know quite what led to this man's suicide, nor does every rock star commit suicide, of course. Very many remain quite healthy and survive the terrible blast of celebrity and whatever other temptations befall them. Rock stars? I don't know where they come from, they probably come out of middle-class basements, don't they? Where they have their guitar and their drum sets? They are simply middle-class kids whose dreams have come true too soon and maybe because they're very reckless and self-infatuated, they're trying to become angels. That was certainly the feeling you had in the late 60s and early 70s, when so many of the real stars just went down like rockets: Joplin, Hendrix and others. What their insides, their spiritual state feels like, I don't quite know, but modern man lives under an extra stress than people of the Middle Ages, the more credulous ages, didn't have. You cope with it in varying ways. Some refine their faith; some turn to drink; some ignore the whole problem and some shoot themselves in the head." Apparently, the room went dead silent for a full minute before someone raised their hand and changed the subject.

"You think about suicide?" I asked.Matthews nodded solemnly.

"Of course, I’d never really do it because of how it would affect other people," Matthews said, abruptly changing gears. "… particularly those I love. I couldn’t do that to them."

Matthews’ sudden shift seemed to come on the heels of my puzzled look, as if he were suddenly afraid of being a downer, or had revealed too much too fast, or been caught trying to affect a brooding darkness he really didn’t have. It was hard to tell where he was coming from.

"This may sound harsh, considering we’re talking about Haines," Matthews went on. "… but I see it as a selfish thing to do. The thing is, Haines was so unselfish to the point of wanting to kind of erase himself. I remember jamming with him and he’d come up with some chord progression or fragment of a song I liked and he’d say, here, take it, use it, it’s yours. And I was like, no, it’s yours, I’m not going to take it. Later on, when he set up an early recording session for the band in Memphis we could hardly tell he was there in the studio because he was scurrying around, checking sound levels, staying out of the way like he was trying to be invisible."

It was difficult for me to consider Dave a normal acquaintance anymore. I’d known him casually for about six or seven years and had watched him go from local talent with much potential to national celebrity. Each time he graduated to some new level of fame, say the second time I saw him on Saturday Night Live, I found myself struggling to adjust to a new level of admiration and envy. It was embarrassing to admit, but Matthew’s’s success often felt like a challenge to my own sense of worth. It was much easier to feel like a failure standing in the growing shadow of a rock star. But now I felt as though Dave were fast approaching a level of fame that my ego would no longer be able to handle. In a way, asking him to meet and talk about Haines was as much a way to have him to myself one last time, to hang on to his star and feel its power, as it was a way to unravel the mystery of Haines Fullerton’s suicide.

"You know," Matthews said. "During our tour last summer somebody got a hold of an old video from one of our shows at Miller’s. We stuck it in and for about five minutes it was just a shot of that empty little stage. Then all of a sudden Haines walks across the screen. We all looked at each other and shuddered at the same time."

"Why do you think that was?"

"He was a powerful personality….he used to tell me how important it was that the band communicate, that we develop a strong way to communicate with each other early on because when we were real big communication would be harder because each of us would have such a large stake in the band. At the time, sitting their playing our little weekly gigs at Eastern, I was like, yeah, sure Haines, when we’re real big. But he was right. I remember one time right before one of our Tuesday night gigs, Carter was pissed about something and tried to walk out before the show started, said he was going to quit, said he was sick of being the drummer for this stupid ass band, and I stopped him at the door and wouldn’t let him leave. We confronted each other, we talked, and we worked it out…."

During a lull in our conversation Matthews and I walked over to CVS to get a pack of cigarettes. On the way back, I spotted one of the barbers at Staples standing nervously outside the shop at the end of a long row of columns along the covered sidewalk. On the bench beside him were a pile of posters. As we passed by he stepped forward and stopped Matthews. I’d taken my son to have his haircut by the guy several times over the years, but at that moment I might as well have been a lamppost standing beside "The Dave." He had a pile of DMB band posters he wanted Matthews to sign, and in his delirium he was speaking way too fast, too scripted, and clearly embarrassed by this ambush; but he pressed forward anyway, the goal of having those posters signed for his friends and family outweighing any concern for his dignity and leaving him blind to the fact that he had met me at least a half-a-dozen times.

Matthews politely signed each poster and when he was finished the guy quickly retreated into the barber shop with his prize, all eyes inside looking out at Mathews like a crowd gathered around a street performer juggling bowling pins and blowing fire out his mouth.

"Is it always like this?" I asked.

"No, it gets much worse."

***

When Mathews and I sat down to talk again, he asked me what I was going to write.
"I don’t know. I’m just talking to people who knew Haines. I’ve talked a lot to Mark Roebuck since those guys were band mates. Almost everyone I’ve talked to has a story like yours. He was a cipher. I’m just curious about what the message was."

Just like everyone has a story about you Dave, I thought. How almost everyone one in town has their own private story about their connection to you and the band, as if your experience were part of theirs, as if a close connection to your star were somehow a consolation of theirs. Because you are the measure by which we are secretly driven to gage our status in the world, especially other musicians. And at the heart of it, Dave…and at the heart of it, my friend, is a deep, painful envy.

"How is Mark?"

"He’s good. He’s a therapist now. We’ll see him tonight at Court Square"

"You know, he gave me my first gig when he was a bartender at Eastern."

"I know."

"That man knows the dark corners of the soul."

***

"Back in 1983, if you wanted to get laid in Charlottesville," an old graduate school friend told me. "You went to see The Deal."

The Deal had been Haines Fullerton’s own flirtation with rock stardom. Certainly, the story of The Deal had all the elements of a classic rock tragedy, a kind of perfect dark parallel to the success of the DMB. In addition, the two rock narratives were intertwined. Both Mark Roebuck and Haines Fullerton had songwriting credits on DMB albums. Roebuck for The Song that Jane Likes and Haines for #34. Roebuck and Matthews had also recorded a tape together in 1989, called Tribe of Heaven, and it was Roebuck, as Matthews pointed out, who first convinced Matthews to perform at an open mike night at the old Eastern Standard for $50 and all the booze he could drink.

"By the end of the night," my friend went on. "The Deal’s hypnotic harmonies and relentless, driving beats created a room full of primitive jungle women.....absent both inhibitions and common sense. I swear, it was like being caught in a storm of female hormones."

Indeed, the band had already had a full-page spread in Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine (a kind of Bible of cool at the time), in which they were described as a new group dedicated to "high harmonies and low morals, The East Coast answer to the Beach Boys sound." They had already signed a five-year management contract with Linda Stein, then manager of the Ramones and Steve Forbert. They had also signed on with the Premier Talent Agency, the same folks who represented The Clash, Eurythmics, Journey, Eddie Money, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Pretenders, Roxy Music, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Talking Heads, U2, The Who, Van Halen and Steve Winwood. In addition, manager Stein had brought the band to the attention of Albert Grossman, legendary ex-manager of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, and Peter, Paul & Mary, and head of Warner Brother’s Bearsville Records. Grossman quickly signed the band to a five-album recording contract. For Mark, Haines and the other members of The Deal (Eric Schwartz, Hugh Patton, and Jim Jones), this was it; this was their rock and roll dream come true. But just as suddenly as it had arrived, it vanished. After recording their first EP ( produced by Richard Gottehrer—Blondie, Marshall Crenshaw, Go-Gos, Bangles), Warner Brothers suddenly cut its ties with Bearsville Records, leaving Grossman with no way to market or distribute the record. Patton and Schwartz quit the band and decide to head off to law school, but Haines and Mark stuck it out and recorded more stuff at Bearsville with no formal contract. Meanwhile, Grossman was hard at work trying to find a partner to distribute and market the record. In 1986, he flew to Europe to find possible partners, Deal tapes in hand, and suffered a fatal heart attack over the Atlantic.

Needless to say, the break up of The Deal left Fullerton and Roebuck heartbroken. Almost 20 years later, Roebuck refers to it as "a wound that will never completely heal." Eventually, the two found themselves back in Charlottesville bartending at the now defunct Eastern Standard. Roebuck had decided to pursue a Masters Degree in Social Work and Fullerton had discovered a new spirituality that he was eager to share with others. Both Roebuck and Fullerton had also befriended a young, charismatic musician who was tending bar just down the way at Miller’s.

"At that time," says Roebuck. "David (Matthews) was just this charismatic kid wildy absorbing everything he could from every great musician in town." Naturally, Mathews absorbed what Roebuck and Fullerton had to offer as well. In fact, Haines began championing Matthew’s creativity in ways that were similar to the way he had championed Roebuck’s during the old Deal days.

"He had a way of immediately connecting with people," said Sherry Rivet, one of two women who bore Fullerton’s children after his death. "It was the first time many people had been in the presence of total acceptance and unconditional love. The striking thing about Haines was how magnetic he was. Within minutes, he had people pouring their guts out." Matthews was no exception. "...he had a knack for believable flattery and at the time I just sucked it up," Matthews had told me. Roebuck puts it a different way, speaking of the old Deal days when Haines used to shower him with praise for his creativity. "Although my belief, through Haines, in my music was inflated to almost grandiose proportions, I had no faith in myself as a person. Haines became in many ways a paternalistic figure in my life, and I surrendered control to it in many ways." When Roebuck saw Fullerton mentoring Matthews in a similar fashion, it triggered old memories and some resentment. According to Roebuck, Haines would openly tell him, and others, that he was a "horrible person, but a gifted songwriter" and that he would never succeed without him. Roebuck admits he was a damaged person back then, unconfident and self-absorbed, and that although Haines could be harsh "often with brutal perfection in the power of his words" according to Roebuck, he was usually right. "I would never have had the strength to persist, persevere and get as far as we did," Roebuck admits.

According to Roebuck, and Matthews himself, Haines had tried to inflate Matthew’s ego in a similar way, though absent the cruel edge he’d had in the Deal days, perhaps due to his new found spirituality. "Haines’ motivation was never about money or notoriety-- he connected with Dave as a human being," says his sister, Claire. And according to Haines’ Mother, Shirley Milnor, who passed away ealier this year, "Haines just thought Dave was the greatest guy in the world and that he would go global with his music. I didn’t know if Dave Matthews would go anywhere....just like I didn’t know the Beatles would go anywhere."

Of course, Haines was right. For years now, the DMB has been one of top grossing concert act in America and abroad, and have sold over 30 million records.

How much direct influence did Haines have on the DMB’s success? Was Haines’ unconditional admiration and belief in Matthews a deciding factor in the early days? I had so many questions. If Matthews hadn’t had such strong advocates as Fullerton and Roebuck would he have made it? Did Haines and Roebuck’s tragic experience with The Deal somehow lend itself by osmosis to the DMB’s success? Does individual artistic success gestate in isolation in the mind and spirit of the artist or is it the end result of a chain of events and lives? Is it merely fate that leads one man to shoot himself in the head while it leads another to fortune, fame, and glory?

***

From across the café where I was speaking to Matthews, a couple I knew vaguely from my graduate school days, and who would have waved to me on their way out if I were alone, walked over and greeted me like an old friend. "I’m Dave," said Dave, introducing himself in my silence, to which the star-struck couple nearly burst out laughing. But Dave made the couple feel at ease, comfortable with the way they are pouring themselves out to him. They were not a dumb couple. I knew them as English graduate students and I knew that both of them had gone on to secure distinguished university level teaching jobs. My mind wandered off wildly while they talked, giggling and gesturing like teenagers, and suddenly I found myself analysing their motives. It had to do with envy and pride, I imagined. They were putting themselves out because Dave’s status as a rock star was so impressive (envy) and oppressive (pride, keeping your own high opinion of yourself in his presence) at the same time. They have heard his music on the radio, maybe even bought a CD. They have seen him on television, maybe even Saturday Night Live, which they have been watching since the 70’s. He has become iconic in their minds, and then suddenly there he is with a regular human they know, and they are drawn helplessly because they think that meeting Dave will give them a certain access, a certain status, a certain thrill. But really they are just shamelessly giving themselves away like teenage sycophants….but why is that? Why do we loose sight of our own worth and dignity in the face of extreme celebrity?"It was nice seeing you, Mike," the woman said, getting my name wrong and smiling in a way that made me feel as interchangeable beside Dave as a cardboard cutout.

"Yeah, Mike, we should go get a beer sometime," the guy said.

I didn’t bother correcting them and managed a half-hearted "sure thing."

"It was nice meeting you," the woman said to Dave. "We’re both really big fans."

Is this not an uncommon situation for people? In a grocery store checkout line, wedged between the images and stories of the celebrities, don’t our own lives seem to shrink in importance? Why are so many so helplessly drawn to celebrity? How has the power of celebrity come to undermine the character and spirit of even the most intelligent and reasonable among us?
When Dave and I began talking again, the fact of Dave’s fame began bearing down on me; or rather I began to allow it to bear down on me, to the point where I was barely listening to him. In a few months Dave would be touring the country and performing in packed stadiums with thousands of screaming fans. In a few months I’d be trying to figure out how to pay the mortgage and the electric bill and wondering where my next paycheck would be coming from. I’d be drinking coffee in this same café. I couldn’t help comparing my life to his, couldn’t help but feel the sharp contrast, couldn’t help but feel the rank, disabled and lonely core of my being rising up to betray all my self-respect. It was not unlike how I had felt as a teenager being helplessly drawn to a girl I had a crush on. That same excitement you felt just being in her presence. The immense importance you gave her. The incredible power she had over you. How wonderful you felt in her presence. To be overwhelmed and enamoured of someone’s personality, of what you imagine them to be, of their imagined status and beauty. Although I knew better, for a brief moment I allowed myself to be overwhelmed by Dave; there I was smiling and continuing the conversation, staying on subject, but inside I was dislodged from myself, watching myself be with the famous guy. Hey, look everybody, here I am with Dave Mathews, I was silently shouting to the room ……and then just as suddenly I snapped out of it. I thought of my boy who had just started school and the new one on the way and how radiant my wife looked now. I thought about how much I loved my town and the friends I had and about all the hard work it took just to live. And I realized how crucial it was to affirm my worth and dignity, how crucial it was to my future and the future of my children. But I also realized how powerful its opposite was, how easy it was to be charmed into abandoning yourself, how it seemed to operate all around us like a smiling, well-dressed demon whispering wicked things in our ears.

For even the most intelligent among us, the connection to celebrities we like or chance to know (even the ones we dislike) is somewhat more charged by this phenomenon than we like to admit. Perhaps we mange it better than the barber at Staples (we think) or the couple I knew, but it’s there. As I’ve already alluded to, I have sometimes felt a powerful awe and envy for Dave’s life and success, which at times has felt like an assault on my entire being, as if it sought to render my life meaningless and banal by devouring all the illusions I had about my place and value in the world. It’s almost embarrassing to admit, but this spiritual struggle has been by far the most difficult one I have ever had.

I don’t believe I’m alone in this. I think it’s not unusual for intelligent people to hold strong opinions and feelings about celebrities. Who among us has not directed some nasty remark or shameless praise at a character or personality on television? Of course, that is to say nothing of the garden-variety obsession on display in our national interest and attraction to popular actors, entertainers, and musicians like Mathews. In many ways, it is a kind of pornography of the spirit, turning us all into voyeurs and gossip mongers, tempting us all to bend down and peep through the keyhole and to substitute provocative imagery for real intimacy.

Thanks to our sophisticated media and celebrity system, thanks to their constant exposure on television and in other media, we can’t help but feel we know them, like we own a piece of them. Over the decades we have been exposed to the media machinery of our celebrity culture, we have been conditioned to "know" these people we have never met, to invite them into our inner lives, to carry on an inner dialogue with them. "To a greater or lesser degree," the author Richard Schickel writes in his book Intimate Strangers: The Culture of Celebrity , "we have internalized them, unconsciously made them part of our consciousness." The problem is that this kind of false intimacy creates unrealistic expectations and makes disappointment and self-loathing all but inevitable because, as Schickel writes, "Another part of the approaching stranger’s mind is, of course, aware that he is totally unknown to the celebrity. And he resents that unyielding fact. A chip grows on his shoulder. An undercurrent of anger is felt."

Indeed, along with the sovereignty we feel we have over the lives of our celebrities and public figures, free as we are to praise and criticize them without restraint, there also exists the painful knowledge that we are alone in this relationship, that we are like stalkers who the people we’ve made a connection with neither know or care about. To some degree or another, Schickel argues, we are all victims of our celebrity culture because we are all susceptible to feeling this kind of false intimacy—and therefore inevitable disappointment—with our celebrities and public figures.

The larger danger to society, Schickel warns, is that our obsession with celebrity has given the power of personality authority over the power of ideas, ideologies, and even authentic human connections. As Schickel writes, "We have come a very long way in a very short time to our present isolation, subjectivity, and desperate hope that the cult of personality may substitute for a sense of organization, purpose, and stability in our society."

***

About a year after The Deal broke up, Fullerton shared his new found spirituality with Roebuck by apologizing for all the things he had done to hurt him in the old band days. "In so doing, he drove away my bitterness," Roebuck said. "Which was like corrosive acid, and freed me in many ways. Haines shared his beliefs, stating fundamentally that everyone is divine, and that our ego – what we think of ourselves – actually works to separate us from the divinity within." With this same loving spirituality, Haines began to touch the lives of many people in Charlottesville.

When an earlier, much shorter version of this story appeared in a local Charlottesville paper, close friends and family members of Haines were upset about the way he was characterized in the story. In particular, they were upset about the suggestion that Haines was ‘crazy.’ Nowhere in the story did anyone say Haines was crazy, although Roebuck does wonder if perhaps Haines had suffered from some form of mental illness all along. Still, people close to Haines lashed out. "Why would anyone interview Mark Roebuck if he wanted to know anything about Haines after The Deal?," wrote Claire Fullerton, Haines sister, in a letter to the editor. "I’m shaking my head over two things: the first is that Mark Roebuck was unconscious enough to talk about my brother in such a biased manner, and the second is that Dave McNair’s slanted article was the cover story." In another letter to the editor, Lisa Olsen, the other woman who bore one of Haines children after he died, called the story "nothing more than the latest installment in Mark Roebuck’s public attack on Haines’ character." Olsen said that neither myself or Roebuck were in any position to understand what Haines was going through before he died, let alone offer any explanation. "Yet, instead of admitting that they can’t understand, they have invented a believable story to explain it all–that Haines was crazy. And many of those who also can’t understand appear to have accepted this explanation without question."

Of course, the article never claimed that Haines was ‘crazy’ and was as much about Dave Matthews, Roebuck, and the general issues of fame and celebrity as anything else. And it was by no means some kind of ‘collaboration’ between Roebuck and I to attack Haines character. Haines had always been a bit of a mystery to me, as he was to many others, but those who had been truely touched by Haines had a very difficult time accepting the troubling nature of his ‘spirituality." Healthy, sane people simply do not suddenly shoot themselves in the head. The article was an attempt to explore a number of mysteries surrounding Haines’ suicide, the nature of fame, the cruelty of fate, and the power of envy to corrode our lives. This newer version is an attempt to flush out more of the truth, to go into greater depth with regard to Roebuck’s feelings about Haines and my understanding of the story. As Roebuck says, partly in response to sister Claire’s assertions, "Haines and I remained in regular, though not frequent, contact until his death. And until he died, his was the most important opinion to me, he was the person whose approval meant the most. Although my feelings were often ambivalent in many ways, I never had deeper feelings for anyone on earth."

About the time I saw Haines and the DMB at TRAX, his spirituality appeared to be in harmony with the steadily growing success of the DMB. Roebuck, however, admits that the DMBs success was sometimes hard to take, and that the green-eyed monster of envy often loomed large in moments of weakness. He had given Matthews his first paying gig, had shared his songwriting skills, had even recorded a tape with him, and now it seemed he was destined to watch Matthews achieve the musical success he had come so close to achieving himself. Haines, it appeared, had defeated those feelings of envy and resentment with his new found spirituality. However, as time progressed, both Roebuck and myself (by then I had befriended both Roebuck and Haines) had begun to notice that Haines’ ‘spirituality’ had started to drift off in troubling ways. In fact, it appeared to many of us that Haines had developed a kind of ‘cult’ following around town. On one occasion, a woman whom I knew to be a close friend of Haines came into the bar where I was worked and began to shake uncontrollably. At first, I thought she was having a seizure and asked the people with her if I should call the police, but they just smiled at me and said she was fine. A few moments later the woman and her friends were sitting happily at a nearby table. I told Roebuck about this and he told me about a recent conversation he’d had with Haines.

"We were outside of Vivace (an Italian restaurant in town), and Haines suddenly began to jerk his head and neck spasmodically," Roebuck explained. "... such that I was shocked and asked what had happened. He looked toward the night sky and began carrying on a conversation with Jesus about whether or not to tell me what was happening. Upon receiving approval, he stated that he was ‘transforming into a higher being’ and that what I had observed was a product of that physical transformation."

Naturally, Roebuck was left deeply troubled by that exchange and feared that Haines had become ill and needed help. He tried to express that to me in the article I wrote. He felt that Haines was truly mental ill at that point and wondered if perhaps their life together had been tainted by his illness all along. It was a subjective opinion, wrought with wildly conflicting emotions about a man that had meant so much to him and at the same time had caused him so much pain.

The day before Haines killed himself, Sherry Rivet, whom Haines was living with at the time, recalled Haines telling her that he was "ready to see what’s on the other side of the veil." He returned safely that night, however, and she thought nothing more of it. The next evening, September 20, 1996, Haines told Rivet he was going swimming. As he was leaving, he said to Rivet, "The only thing you are responsible for in this life is to follow your heart." At around 9:30p.m. that night he was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head in the pool house at Ivy Gardens apartment, a favorite hang-out of his for years. After his death, police revealed that there were three bullets-- intermittently spaced in the gun's six chambers-- as if Haines were asking God whether it was his time.

During an outdoor memorial service for Haines, Roebuck performed an acoustic set, his voice and hands shaking with emotion. It was the first time he'd played in front of people since The Deal broke up. This would mark the second half of his musical life. Of course, no one can know for sure why Haines took his life. Or why anyone does. But dreams die hard and I wonder if that belief he expressed to Rivet about only being responsible for following your heart had become to heavy to bear, had been punished too often by fate, and was now going to be severely challenged by the reality of having fathered two children with two different women.

***

Later that night, Roebuck and I met Matthews for drinks at Court Square. When we arrived, Matthews was still doing his interview with John Colapinto, the writer doing the piece for Rolling Stone, so Roebuck and I waited at the bar.

"Man, the cover of Rolling Stone," said Mark, looking over at Dave. "I guess its official now.""I guess."

"So did you guys talk about Haines today?"

"Yeah," I laughed. "In between interruptions."

"I think Haines had more of an influence on Dave than he likes to admit."

"He admitted quite a bit."

"You know, there was a time when Haines had such a strong influence on me that my ego and my belief in myself totally depended on him. He poured himself into me just like he poured himself into Dave. It was like he had a spiritual virus that needed a host to survive. It was like he martyred himself to people, like he sacrificed himself."

"Do you think he was Christ-like?"

"Wow, I don’t think I’d go that far, but Haines always took things to the extreme. You know, he was such a perfectionist, such a purist, that it’s no wonder he felt like he had to actually ‘talk’ with Christ when he found him. It was part of the reason why the band failed, I think. And yet it was that same intensity in him that took us so far." Mark laughed. "And all I really thought about was getting laid."

"So do you think he was crazy?"

"I think he wanted his life to be as free from discord and bad harmony as his music. Finally, I think he realized he just couldn’t live in the world with that kind of desire. I believe he had some kind of manic-depressive illness. If he were a patient of mine now that’s what I would diagnose him with. At the same time, he was brilliant, in many ways a genius, and he had enormous power to effect change."

Mark turned and looked at Dave, living a life he had once had at the tips of his fingers.
"What is it?" I asked.

"I’m just thinking about how maybe he was always ill, and that all those years I struggled with him, all those years I depended on him, all those years I believed in what he said about me and the future of the band…that all those years I was just dealing with someone who was mentally ill."

Mark still looked puzzled.

"Something else?" I asked.

"It’s hard to believe there’s not some connection between the fates of the two bands, between the fates of Haines and Dave and myself, some kind of mojo we passed around that’s half poison, half lucky charm….I mean, what were the odds that Dave and the Band would be this big when I convinced them to do open mike nights at Eastern?"

When the interview broke up, Matthews waved us over to the table. For the next few hours we riffed wildly on writing and books, the music business, famous people Dave had run into (Jim Carey, Chelsea Clinton, Mick Jagger, Dylan, Nelson Mandela) women, Tiger Woods, bowel movements, drugs, sex, and a dozen other taboo subjects as we smoked a zillion cigarettes, consumed vast quantities of Knob Creek whiskey and Bass Ale and laughed until our sides ached and our eyes were watering. Colapinto excused himself early, sensing what was coming, I think.
We then headed down to the C&O, grabbed the corner table, and settled in for the night. Whenever I looked up from our conversation or returned from the bathroom, I noticed there were more people there and that all the tables and chairs in the room and all the people in them and around them had either turned in our direction or moved slightly closer, as if all the objects and people in the room were in the gravitational pull of planet Dave.

What had started out as a spirited and scatological conversation about the world at Court Square Tavern had in the small, smokey, dimly lit confines of the C&O become an orgy of impulses and broken boundaries. People poured through the space surrounding our table, leaning over us to listen to Matthews or shake his hand, the women putting out everything they had as if to maintain any mystery or dignity might mean they wouldn’t get noticed. (One woman actually sat on my lap for almost an hour and when I met her again at a party a week later she didn’t remember me.)

The whole room seemed to be pulsating wildly with energy, as if everyone were auditioning for a spot in Matthew’s memory. At one point, I had to go out to the parking lot and breathe steadily for I-don’t-know-how-long so that I wouldn’t throw up. When I returned, it was over. The lights were up and the music down, and people were filing out the side door. Two impossibly thin girls sitting on Matthews’s lap were playfully insulting him now, telling him how fat he was getting and that he was losing his hair, to which a loaded and tired Mathews just stared down at the table submissively as he signed the credit card slip for our massive bar tab. "But we still think you’re soooo cute," one of the girls said, sending them both into a fit of laughter, their hands and mouths and thin legs all over Matthews like giant insects on a corpse.

Later on, we sat in Matthews car in the Wachovia parking lot and listened to a demo of the DMB’s new album Everyday. I sat in the back beside a mountain of mail addressed to Mathews while Roebuck sat up front. It was 3:30 a.m.

Roebuck and Mathews talked music while I listened, just as they had when they were both bartenders on the Downtown Mall. In a perfect world, I imagined, Haines and Mark and Dave and everyone who’d ever dreamed of playing music for a living would all be rock stars. Just giving your life to the vocation was enough.

However, in this world, the songs we were listening to would be on radio stations everywhere in a few months, the videos would come out, the summer tour would get under way, and Matthews would be on the cover of Rolling Stone, and more money and fame would pour down on him like rain. It was the excess that seemed to mark Haines and Matthews, I began to think; that willingness to go to extremes. Haines just went ahead and just believed he was holy, threw himself headlong into his music and into people’s lives, and then went ahead and bought that gun and headed off into oblivion. Likewise, Matthews just went ahead and stepped into the ferocious arena of American popular culture and the terrible responsibility of fame. They both had taken bold, self-infatuated leaps; Matthews into the mind of the public, Haines into the hands of God.

9 Comments:

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Anonymous Djuna said...

Just thought this article was worth a comment that went beyond earning cash, making money or secret shopping for 50 cent britney posters...

I could identify with "envy and pride" as motivations behind getting close to celebrity. In retrospect, I've often felt the need to validate myself in the presence of universally known greatness. As if to say, I'm special too...

Thankfully, we won't have to worry about brushing up with celebrities much longer. I read the latest polls in The Onion: 60% of Americans are now famous and dedicated efforts should soon bring that figure to 95%. Before we know it, we'll all be suicidally self-actualized.

Thanks for a stimulating read!

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Blogger Brendan34 said...

I've read this article several times now and found it not only well written, but poignant and honest. It is simply amazing what the high of fame does to people, the illusion of self-importance makes lives, ruins lives. We witness it in some form or another everyday. Haines sounded like a fascinating man. Your point about extremes in particular captures I think the correlation between all the figures in the article. It shouldn't be so much work to be around people. Ultimately, you realize that one's own happiness isn't worth sacrificing for the temporary triviality of being recognized in this short life. I really appreciated your honesty in this writing. Thank you.

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