Dave, fame, and Haines: Celebrity, suicide, and the etiquette of envy
Dave Matthews took a careful sip of his coffee. He'd just been to the dentist, and the right side of his face was noticeably swollen.
"The guy's standing there prying open my mouth, scraping 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 said.
He 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. "You know, I was thinking about Haines the other day. It's funny you asked me to talk about him."
Everyone has a Haines story, a story about how he turned his light on them. I wondered what Dave's was.
"He was definitely an influence for a while." Matthews took another careful sip of his coffee. "You know," said Matthews, adopting an uncharacteristically serious tone, "I think about suicide a lot."
It was early 2001, and we had met to talk about Haines Fullerton, a local musician, bartender, and muse who had killed himself five years earlier, so the comment 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. Or was it?
In 1994, just days after Kurt Cobain shot himself, writer John Updike was asked to comment on the suicide and describe the spiritual crises of rock stars.
"I think all of mankind operates in the shadow of spiritual crisis," Updike said. "Rock stars– they're 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."
"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, or was simply trying to upstage Haines. 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 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."
I was interested in Fullerton's own flirtation with rock stardom and the demise of his band, The Deal, which flourished in the mid-'80s. Read More…