She was one of the best singers in the world of country music. She really, really had talent.
If you were looking for "nice comments" about Mindy McCready's suicide, and glanced down at what was posted on the website for any of the tabloid newspapers on February 17th, you got:
"So long Mindy! Don't let the door hit you on your way out! Crackhead!" "Never heard of her. Who cares?" "Roger Clemens is a pig for tapping a 15 year-old!"
Yeah, there were a few "So sorry for her kids!" and "R.I.P." and "She's an angel now…" But there were a lot of variations on this remark:
"Didn't we all see this coming a mile away?"
To be honest, yes, the woman had a serious disease, physical and mental, revolving around substance abuse (mostly prescription drugs). Name somebody you know who broke your heart with an alcohol or drug problem.
Who? Who had you walking away because you couldn't do anything more to help? Who left you shaking you head, still feeling the pain? Who is the one you feel sorry for as much as resent for not being in your life anymore?
Yeah. I thought you could name somebody. That's why you weren't one of the assholes who had to, for whatever reason, snap a comment and kick dirt on the woman's face not 24 hours after she put a bullet in her head.
What separated Mindy from your average alcoholic waitress or pill-happy office good-time girl, or an ignorant meth hillbilly with too many boyfriends is that the woman could sing. "Blessed with a golden voice," Leonard Cohen might say. If only Mindy had refuge in Leonard's "Tower of Song," gated against temptation and with no more harmful danger than a crooked manager taking away some profits (as one of Cohen's did). This is a woman who parlayed a simple karaoke tape into a record deal, and had a #1 on her first album. 1996 was her big year of success and a promising future.
The last year of Mindy's life? Though overweight, not a viable artist to be booked on tour, and several years from a download-only comeback album that few heard of, she had a relationship going with a guy named David Wilson and they had a young son. She even did some press interviews to try and present a new image of health and optimism. Home was now a humble house in Heber, Arkansas. Still, there were rumors…about how long she could go without pills, and what strains a baby in the house and limited career prospects were causing. Some whispered that the couple was fighting.
On January 13th, Wilson died of a gunshot wound. Mindy was the one to call 911, and watched the life ebb out of him on the front porch. The report was suicide, but some had doubts. He'd bought a new truck a few weeks earlier, and was only a few days away from getting a six figure inheritance from his mother's estate. So, surely, depression and anger couldn't triumph over a new car and money, right?
In yet another questionable decision, not long after the shocking death, Mindy allowed "The Today Show" to come calling. She gamely told her earnest interviewer that getting through a terrible trauma can only make you stronger. So can answering tactless questions? The interviewer asked Mindy if David was having an affair.
Mindy said no. She said David was her soul mate. Next: "Did YOU kill him?"
"Oh God no…no…"
The camera got what it wanted…a very shaken, tearful mourner now reduced to raw nerves. Another question: was it suicide or could it have been murder!
"I don't know…" said Mindy, totally decimated. Where could she go from here? A rehab center. But not for long. With no traces of drugs or alcohol in her system she was cleared for release.
Billy McKnight, father of her older son, did a television interview of his own: "Perhaps staying in there and grieving around people that could help her over the death of her fiancé could’ve calmed her down, but the demons that she hasn’t beaten were there, and until she was going to face them, something was going to happen and everyone who knows her personally knew that….as sad as it is, it didn't come as a major shock because she's just been battling demons for so long and, of course, I was around her when she attempted suicide twice and I knew it was in her." He also nearly beat her to death one time.
And so it was, that Mindy McCready, no longer in rehab, and with nobody to call and nothing to say to any friend or relative, sat alone on that same porch where her "soul mate" (her words) died from his gunshot wound. That's where they found her, and for the first time, the general public knew her name.
Well…a few of the tabloids headlined her as the woman who had an affair with Roger Clemens. A few opened with a tease about a #1 Hit Record C&W Star suicide, then revealed the name. The "delicious schadenfreude," as the Kenneth Anger-type gossip writers would call it, of a suicide mirroring one that happened less than a month earlier, also pushed the story as a lead on the TV news. There were sudden tributes from C&W stars who hadn't let Mindy open for them or shunned her (in a "let go, let God" way, which one does with people mired in problems that require professional help). The late Mindy McCready, 37, who hadn't had a hit in 15 years, and not one song that was known beyond the world of country music, was now a superstar. CDs that weren't selling on eBay for 99 cents were being snatched, and eBayers with access to a computer print-out, were cashing in with $10 reprint photos for sale, and some were making R.I.P. souvenirs with tin button-making kits.
The details of Mindy's decline after her 1996-1998 platinum and gold albums was duly noted. So was her last superstar relationship (Dean Cain in 1998), her sparse output of albums (one in 1999 and one in 2002) and the increasingly regular incidents of out-of-control behavior: 2004 prescription drug arrest, 2005 beat-down by McKnight, 2005 drug overdose, 2006 kidnap by Mindy of her son from the protective care of her own mother, 2007 in jail, 2008 suicide attempt, 2009 appearance on "Celebrity Rehab" (her death is the fifth among alumni of that show), and a leaked porn tape that she ended up signing a contract on so it could be officially released. The most cringeworthy part of that video isn't the energetic sex from the buxom blond, but the unhealthy pride she shows in the interview segment that pads it out to an hour on DVD. Fittingly enough, Mindy talks in a noisy diner, alternately amused and disdainful of the eager questions about what her celebrity lovers were like.
Since you probably never heard of McCready before (unless you are a faithful reader of this blog…this is the third time for her), the song you should try first is "The Fine Art of Holding a Woman." At her best, Mindy could not only sing with power and clarity, but with emotion. She could sing heartache with the skills of a traditional artist (Patsy Cline) or a commercial crossover queen (Gogi "Wayward Wind" Grant or Crystal Gayle). In her prime, she also had the look of a star. She sent out the mixed message of come hither and back off…of "I'm easy" and "I'm hard." She was another of the Frances Farmer or Barbara Payton variety…someone wild, rebellious, restless, wanting someone strong but always being stronger, and if you said she was heavenly her reply would probably be "what the hell…"
"I was your sunlight, but now I'm just shade. I was your blue sky, now I'm jut the rain. I was your favorite song, but now I'm overplayed. If tomorrow's gonna be the same, I'll see you yesterday."
Those were the lyrics on the last song Mindy recorded. She was working with David Wilson on it; aside from being the boyfriend and father to her child, he was also her music producer. According to a friend of hers, Danno Hanks, the "perfect storm" that led to Mindy's suicide probably started here. The guy who had produced a comeback song, one she believed in, didn't have the optimism to stay alive. After his death, she fretted about getting the song to radio stations and, in the ultimate humiliation, having it posted free to YouTube. Said Hanks: "This was her suicide video. She wanted it out there because she knew that the video would get more play after she committed her suicide. She wanted the world at the end to know how she had been treated and mistreated and all the stuff that she had gone through."
Wilson's suicide may not have been fatal to McCready except for the chain of events that happened in its wake. She got a report from children's services that Billy McKnight was once again seeking custody of their son, and that at best, the agency was going to take both boys away to Florida to once again be placed in the care of her mother. She was an unfit mother. Then there was the court-ordered drug and alcohol tests. And following "The Today Show" interview, even more intense speculation that she had killed Wilson. The police did nothing to combat the rumor, even though Mindy had been instantly tested for gunpowder residue and cleared of Wilson's death.
"Saturday was a very bad day for her," Hanks told CNN. Her call to him mentioned the situation with her kids being taken away, but he had no idea how close to the edge she actually was. In retrospect, he wondered why the authorities hadn't kept her under observation rather than clear her for release from the drug and alcohol treatment center: "What (were they) doing was sending home someone who is now made even more distraught by having her children taken away and sending her home to a house that just had lots of guns because David was a gun nut...If she had known how many fans that she had out there and how many supporters she truly did have, she might have had the courage to go on. But I think she just felt she was alone, that nobody cared about what was happening to her."
The fine art of holding on. Aside from "The Fine Art of Holding a Woman," also below is a track from her last album, and a musical reminder from the late great Phil Ochs, "There But for Fortune." No, it's not a case of "don't play the chords of fame." It wasn't really fame that doomed Phil or Mindy, which is something you understand, and internet trolls don't. Emotional problems and substance dependency happen with or without fame. The trolls, the obscure and mediocre who rant their venom on anyone famous, even in an obit, somehow survive. If Phil's suicide had come during this age of anonymous Internet freedom the trolls would've happily typed: "Ochs? Never heard of him!" or "Kurt Cobain is somebody you should care about instead!" The cover version of Phil's song is the audio soundtrack from a TV appearance by Marianne Faithful from the 60's. Mr. Troll would probably type: "Marianne WHO? Never heard of her! I'd tap Taylor Swift. That would be sweet! I got pix of her that make me fap."
Let's give the last word to Wynona Judd. Hearing about Mindy McCready, she said: "Addiction is a disease and not a character flaw."
MINDY MCREADY The Fine Art of Holding a Woman
From the last MINDY MCREADY album, 2010: I'm Still Here
MARIANNE FAITHFUL TV soundtrack recording…performing "THERE BUT FOR FORTUNE" by Phil Ochs