Original Unedited Attempt to Respond to Scott Stuckey’s “An Open Letter to Tina Whatley Chesnutt”

To the public, whom Mr. Stuckey invited into this ugly ordeal:

Mr. Stuckey’s letter was posted and shared on Facebook as part of a slander campaign he has been waging against me. His desire was to be the first person, since Vic Chesnutt’s death, to release a film about Vic. Mr. Stuckey knows there are many others who would also like this honor. I believe he has, surprisingly cleverly, been conspiring against these others as well as me. Unfortunately I was not capable of fully accepting the reality of the situation until fairly recently. And I believe I simply lacked the fortitude to publicly address it, until now.

I have been struggling to make sense of what has been happening for a very long time, and I have devoted a great deal of time to the effort of de-jumbling my mind to put the proper details together that could convey the truth of this story, to myself, as well as to others.

It was only when I asked for a friend’s help with posting this letter, that I was suddenly handed the key to my mystery. He asked me if I had ever researched “narcissist smear campaign.” He said I had to do so immediately. I ask you to do the same now.

After reading the information you will find there, if you are still interested in my explanation of what has happened between myself and Mr. Stuckey regarding his film, and his campaign, then you can continue reading my rambling attempt to convey the facts of the situation in my original response to Mr. Stuckey below.

Scott,
You titled your letter “An Open Letter to Tina Whatley Chesnutt,” to give the appearance you were making a sincere open plea, to me, but cleverly did not tag me, or in any other way notify me of this letter. I can see it only as another of your many ploys to disparage me in an underhanded way, and to promote your ridiculous premises, and mostly, yourself.

Apparently you’ve been spouting your propaganda for so long, and I’ve been restraining from publicly addressing it for so long, that even people who knew me and Vic were starting to wonder if it could be true. This is how I was made aware of your letter. Someone Vic and I used to know took the time to ask me about it.

I never imagined anyone who knew us would give your claims any consideration.

You knew I would think this, and you knew that Vic and I were never inclined to expose or legally address any of the people who had taken advantage of him, or us, while he was alive. Yes, you did know us well enough to know those two things. And you have used this knowledge to great effect.

I realize now that by keeping me in a constant state of harassment with your mostly private and sometimes public attacks you have achieved several goals: To reinvent me to people who once knew me, as well as inventing me to people who didn’t, as an “evil wife.” And, to keep me from having the clarity of mind and intent of purpose to pursue the many other projects which I would have hoped to facilitate or support to honor the works and life of my beloved deceased husband, Vic Chesnutt.

Most of what you say in this letter, and others, and in your interviews on screen, and with newspapers and news stations, (as well as the input some low life orchestrated on Wikipedia), is untrue and maliciously fabricated.

The cease-and-desist letter I sent to you, the only cease and desist letter I have ever sent to anyone, was in response to the many horrific and malicious phone calls, emails, and text messages you were sending to me, after an unprovoked and inexplicable fit of rage you suddenly had after I had dedicated 8 months to working with you on your film. These emails and text were witnessed by Vic’s sister, as well as others, and are documented.

It took Vic’s sister’s encouragement for me to muster the will to send that letter to you. In fact, she was intending to send her own cease and desist letter when I stopped her, not wanting her to also suffer your abuse, and said it should come from me. It was, however, signed in conjunction with her to make certain that you knew I was not alone. Looking back, I see that this letter was only finally sent after receiving your email about a screening of your film in Athens, my and Vic’s home town, which stated, “I think it’s better if you didn’t attend.”

I will address your letter paragraph by paragraph in an effort to restrain myself.

I will not bother addressing the falseness of your salutation.

Paragraph 1:
You claim you cannot release your film for “reasons unknown to you” and that you’re hoping an open dialogue with me could help get it released.

Again I will point out that, unlike all the nasty notes you have sent to me, you did not bother to send this one, or make me aware of this letter in any way. So, to me, that clearly negates any possibility of an honest desire for open dialogue.

That you know you have forced me into not supporting you or your film will be addressed in my response to Paragraph 4.

Paragraph 2:
You claim you “loved Vic like a brother.”

I will address this after Paragraph 4.

You claim that you and Vic were working together on this film project. You state it this way to imply something other than the truth.

You know the truth is that JoJo Hermann hired you to film interviews with Vic so that JoJo could use them to reference in writing his thesis on Vic’s works. I was there. At least this is what you and JoJo told me and Vic when JoJo asked to do the interviews. In addition to this you sometimes randomly filmed Vic, as did every other filmmaker we ever knew. They could be making the same claims you are making now, but they are not.

Vic shared his stories with all the people around him, whether they had a camera or not. I am so very glad that you and many others were able to document him when you could. Nothing would make me happier than having Vic’s brilliance shared with people who never had a chance to know him, as well as those who did.

I do believe Vic would have appreciated having another film made about him before he died.

If you knew us as well as you claim to know us, then you knew that because of our business success, our income level in the mid 1990’s caused Vic to lose ALL of his Medicare coverage. After years of our dedicated hard honest independent work, against so many obstacles, our happiness of achieving financial success was quickly dampened by the realization that, because of this success, Vic was now without any medical coverage for his many chronic medical needs.

After trying desperately on our own to find someone who would insure him, we turned to our brother-in-law who works in the insurance industry to help us. We told him we would be willing to pay any price if he could just find Vic some coverage. After a long search, he told us there simply was no one who would provide Vic with health insurance. Vic was “uninsurable.” Our only option was this: If Vic wanted heath insurance he would have to quit working(have almost no income), and probably need to divorce me, so he could qualify for Medicare again. My income alone, when we first married, had caused him to lose a large portion of his disability benefits.

This fact played a tremendous role in our decision to sign with the major label, Capitol Records, instead of continuing with our previously very successful business model. Actually, it may have been the sole factor. Health insurance for Vic was the one and only thing we asked for in signing with them. Our alternative to this was to sign, again, with one of our foreign labels and then to move abroad to obtain medical care we could afford.

It took Capitol a long time to agree that they could and would provide us with health insurance. But they did finally agree, and Vic became insured again, with a very good coverage plan. We were so very relieved. Tremendously relieved. My many thanks, again, to Dave Ayers, our A&R guy at Capitol, for making this happen. It meant the absolute world to us. And my many, many thanks to my beloved Mark Linkous, the wonderful man who was Sparklehorse, whom I believe relentlessly campaigned to get Vic signed to Capitol. Mark took his own life shortly after Vic’s death.

For the record, even with health insurance, many people with chronic heath problems are still constantly struggling to keep their heads above water in the sea of constantly accumulating and difficult to navigate medical debt.

(I will always wonder how things would have turned out if we had moved to a country with an affordable and kind health care system. We would have missed the wonderful Doctors and nurses we had come to love, but we wouldn’t have been tormented by the unmanageable cost and chaos we were later forced to endure.)

We never asked for, nor did we ever receive, any assistance from anyone in paying our medical debts, the only debts with which we ever struggled.

Capitol records encouraged us to contribute Vic’s songs to the Sweet Relief fundraising effort because they also considered it helpful to their own promotion campaign for Vic’s first record on Capitol. We were worried that it would be misconstrued in the press as being for Vic’s own medical needs, and paint a picture of us that was the opposite of what we were trying to accomplish. This proved to be exactly the case. No matter how many times we clarified it, the press would always misrepresent it as benefiting Vic and his medical needs. This was very hard for us to take, because we were very proud of our hard won accomplishments, and independence. It has only been since Vic’s death that I have had some effect in getting this corrected. Unlike the other erroneous Sweet Relief related claim that MADONNA had covered one of his songs. MADONNA DID NOT COVER VIC’S SONG! Our beloved JOE HENRY covered Vic’s song, and his sister-in-law, Madonna, was kind enough to join him. We tried to correct this misinformation a million times, but, like Wikipedia now, the press and everyone else involved refused to correct it. (Please tell Joe, we always said it ain’t so.)

To the public only: Since I mentioned Wikipedia: Vic and I once spent months trying to get Wickedia to correct his birthdate. Yes, his date of birth! The actual subject of the webpage could not get his own birthdate corrected on their site. Don’t believe anything you read there. Never assume anything anywhere to be the absolute truth about someone else. Wikipedia seems to be a site for others to hijack your story and rewrite it as theirs. Vic and I noticed, long before Vic’s death, that some of his associates, one in particular, were directing the telling of Vic’s supposed history there. In fact, at one point it read much more like Mr. Stuckey’s purported history than Vic’s. Probably still.

In the years just before Vic’s death, we did ask for advice and guidance from many, when a hospital decided to sue us despite the fact that we were making regular monthly payments toward the debt. This was our only outstanding debt at the time of Vic’s death, but it was substantial. We were very grateful that your sister recommended a lawyer and directed us toward making appeals concerning his disability rights. But as things continued to look grim, we decided to do what we could to make the public aware of what chronically ill “uninsurable” people and their families were struggling against.

We cried out for healthcare reform, and Universal Healthcare, hoping Vic’s testimony could help to address this problem for everyone who was suffering the same fate.

Only, due to timeliness, did we later accept a dear and true friend’s generous offer to loan us the very large deposit required for Vic’s acceptance into a mental health facility. This was just before Vic’s death. We accepted only on the condition that it would be repaid as soon as possible. (Vic was scheduled to enter that facility the morning of his suicide attempt. Unfortunately, his entrance had been delayed every morning for days on end by the facility because they were unequipped for patients in wheelchairs. This loan was immediately repaid.)

I recall now how hard you tried to find out who had privately loaned us that money. Was this so you could claim you were there, or claim Vic had told you? How nauseating it has been to watch you and your producer, in interviews about your film, recalling stories of my and Vic’s life as if you were there. Stories you only know because I told them to you when I was working with you those many, many months. You both get these stories so wrong. It would be comical if your intentions weren’t so abhorrent. And then there are your outright lies. Which is it today? Divorced, separated, or the evil widow? You know all of these are pure propaganda to sensationalize your fabricated stories.

To my knowledge, Vic Chesnutt and I were both dedicated to one another since the time we first fell in love. I will be dedicated to him until my death. Whatever faults he may have had, he is the best person I have ever had the privilege of knowing, and of loving. Even as we navigated the land mines of the likes of you, we always assured each other that our first choice was to stay together no matter what forces were trying to pull us apart. Anyone close to us can verify this, you sad little worm. Only since his death, have I come to realize the unimaginable extent of what we were struggling against. I am very thankful for the friends and family that encouraged and assisted us through our rough times. We were always so busy struggling against so many dire challenges, quite often actual life and death challenges, that it would never have crossed our minds that the people near and dear to us could have so concertedly been conspiring against us for their own selfish interests.

Vic Chesnutt was a man who was constantly working, and working to live. He had many challenges in his life, and I chose to join him in his struggles. I encouraged him to believe that he could overcome anything, and I truly believed that together we could accomplish anything. The many people who helped us, by buying his records, or coming to his shows, or by their interest in wanting to work with him or for him, were always greatly appreciated. I cannot begin to list the infinitely long list of people whose kindness, encouragement, and generosity enabled us to achieve the things that we did.

Another film about him could have possibly helped him, especially in his last years. But I never once in our twenty years together heard Vic mention, much less worry about, his legacy.

Paragraph 3:
You claim that Vic asked you to make this film about him. That is extremely hard to believe. Anyone who knew him knows how extremely out of character that request would have been. If I had heard him make such a request, my main concern would have been to put him on suicide watch.

Then you compliment yourself with a backhanded slight to all his other filmmaker friends and associates by claiming that he chose you over them. I believe this to be rubbish.

Vic was very generous with every filmmaker, and photographer, and everyone else, musicians, writers, puppeteers, friends, on and on, whom we had the fortune to meet. We forged lasting friendships with so many of these.

Unfortunately, the cost of Vic’s extreme generosity was that he would very often completely exhaust himself and deprive himself of the time and direction to which he wished to devote his own work. Neither of us was good at saying no to anyone, and our close friends will tell you that this was always our one constant lament. From the time I first met him he was never without a multitude of offers to work with or for other’s projects. In fact, I was told that even before that first recording session with Mr. Stipe, Vic was offered the chance to record with the rest of REM. He very much wanted to do this, but fate pulled him in a different direction. These two offers were only two amongst others.

It was because we were becoming overwhelmed with the burden of needing to say no, that we ever considered possibly hiring an outside “manager” when Capitol records asked us to have someone other than ourselves for Capitol’s point of contact. They didn’t want to have to address their business concerns directly to us. At their recommendation, we tried one. What a disaster that turned out to be. This “manager” arranged a tour schedule so impossible to facilitate that Vic had a break down, abandoning the tour and thereby ruining his reputation with the record company. This, after 7 years of our managing very successful tours in Europe, Canada, and the U.S. on our own, as well as our releasing several critically acclaimed records. The very reasons Capitol wanted to sign him, in addition to being the reasons for our already well established financial success. Our long run of steadily increasing success was broken by this incident.

Regarding this “manager,” if my recollection is correct, we never actually hired him. If we did, we must have fired him much quicker than we hired him. I cannot recall ever issuing him a check for his services. Yet now he touts himself as Vic’s manager in your film and interviews. This is absurd. Vic and I managed, or mismanaged, every aspect of his career from the time of our marriage forward, except for this one, brief moment, when we were somewhat forced to take a chance on this fellow. Funny, I recall you telling me that, many years ago, you had actually hired and then quickly fired him from one of your projects. Yet, I see that he is now also a “producer” of your film.

I’m sure you both are well aware that when Capitol dropped Vic, after this one disastrously mismanaged tour in support of his first release, he lost the health insurance coverage we had miraculously found through them. It was the last coverage we were ever able to obtain. This again placed on us the tremendous burden of Vic’s medical bills that would steadily drive us to despair. Yes, I say that, and I mean that. First me, as I tried to navigate his medical bills and shield Vic from the weight and reality of them, and then Vic, when in 2005 I could no longer protect us from them. I sincerely believe that without the enormous pressure those bills and his subsequent failing health put on us our marriage never would have been tested as it unfortunately was by others preying upon him during that very difficult time.

I will agree that Vic did work with you. As he did with so very many others. I look forward to having the time and peace of mind to remember all of the others.

After 5 years of dealing with little other than your madness, it will be a wonder if I have any sanity left to enjoy anything, if you ever leave me alone.

Paragraph 4:
The real story about you and me and your film.

I’m going to quote this one. You state: “I have invited you to work on the project with me, given you access to all my footage, and even invited you to edit with me. Unfortunately for reasons still unknown to me you have been unwilling to participate in the making of this film.”

WOW. This might be the most brazen, though certainly not the ugliest, of your deceits. Did you think your audience would be more willing to join you in berating me if they thought I had refused to work with you? What would drive you to make such a ridiculously false statement?

Should I present some of your private letters in which you berate me for working with you for so long? “8 months” according to one letter. Would that convince your audience that you will say anything that suits you with zero concern of it having a shred of truth in it?

And then, in the next breath, you ask me to trust you with telling Vic’s story?

The truth is, though I didn’t feel mentally or emotionally ready for the task, I agreed to meet with you because I had been told that Ian MacKaye (of Fugazi) and Jem Cohen (filmmaker) had seen some of your footage, and that they were encouraging me to meet with you. So I did. I didn’t know if I could handle it, but I went to meet with you.

And it wasn’t at all what I had expected. Separate from your work, you had collected a very large volume of various Vic footage. A lot of it was interviews and performances from television shows we did in Europe and Canada, where we had our greatest success, as well as tv shows we had done in the states. Seeing all this wonderful collected footage brought back a flood of wonderful memories. Some of the footage you showed me that day was yours, but a lot, and maybe most of it, was other peoples’, including MINE.

But all of it was of Vic, and it was wonderful to see such a large volume of collected footage of Vic in one place.

I don’t know why you asked me at that first meeting if I would work with you on your film, but you did. Later you would claim that Vic told you to not let me anywhere near this film. Did you go against his wishes, or was this later remark just another of your many deceits? I didn’t believe it. Your producer said it wasn’t true.

I expressed some concerns at that first meeting regarding your personal footage. Like the fact that you had edited out almost all of Vic’s pauses, even pauses between words, which I found very off-putting. It was as if you were trying to tidy him up, or, I don’t know what? You said you were open to changing that, and did. And there was the totally random clip of Vic proclaiming “Dylan sucks.” I told you I didn’t want to speak for Vic, but I felt that totally misrepresented his feelings for Bob Dylan. Then I told you what I thought he actually had thought. The next time you showed me your film, this clip was surrounded by footage of Vic saying almost word for word what I had proposed. That was such a relief because, for me, the task of properly representing Vic is such a heavy responsibility. I had been very uncomfortable in even proposing to know his feelings. It was so nice to have Vic confirming that I had gotten it right. And to have confirmed that, used the way you had used it, it would have been a terrible misrepresentation of Vic. You would have been editing his words and using them for cheap sensation for your own purposes.

I also suggested at one of our first meetings, hiring, at my expense, a filmmaker who didn’t know Vic personally, whose work we both liked, to work on the film for objectivity. You said that many people had suggested this, but you wanted to try it on your own, and, if I would help you, you would donate all of your footage to Vic’s estate at the completion of your film to be used in any other project honoring Vic. Because of this promise, I agreed to work with you.

Other than not wanting to hire a filmmaker, you were very responsive to my suggestions from the beginning to the end of our time working together. Your only disappointment I recall was that I asked you not to fake Vic’s handwriting on cue cards and elsewhere.

And the truth is that I spent many, many months, 7 to 8, I agree, driving to Atlanta a couple of times a week to spend long days working with you on your film. Eventually you even offered to cover a short term rental for me because the drive or sleeping on people’s couches was starting to wear on me. I accepted this offer, thinking it would enable us to finish the project more quickly. All this time you were telling me what a tremendous help I was. And you and your supporters were always telling me how dramatically the film was improving. I recall you showing me Ian Mackaye’s notes where he encouraged me to disclose personal stories regarding our private lives. I wonder now that I was persuaded to share anything with you. I even assured some of Vic’s and my close friends that I thought your efforts were sincerely dedicated.They then agreed to be interviewed for the project. They now regret it and I am to blame.

Over those 8 months, you would often bring up large monetary offers you were receiving for your film. And your edits would sometimes have curious additions of opening credits, giving me “producer” credit or some such. I ignored both of these topics. They were not my concern.

I was enjoying working of the film and everyone seemed to be cheering us on. But even with all of this positivity, I could never completely shake the sense I had to remain cautious, and that something wasn’t quite right. I think I was just enjoy spending the time with Vic so much that I was both looking for and trying to ignore all the red flags, the largest of which was that you kept referring to films whose filmmakers had very successfully used a grievance between the estate and the filmmaker as a means of getting publicity for their film. I was never quite sure if you were inviting me to fake a grievance with you, or actually threatening me. Both seemed implausible to me. So I ignored it and focused on Vic. We continued to work on the film, and all the feedback remained positive.

Then one day you suddenly started drastically changing the edits. I couldn’t understand what you were doing or why. You would sometimes revert to old edits and sometimes add footage I had never seen before. You made me aware that there was lots of footage you had never shown me. You seemed to be intentionally scrambling things, but you didn’t say why and you didn’t express any concerns or problems except that you started asking me to “grade” the film, or parts of the film. I asked if you needed to work on your own for a while, and you said no, let’s keep going.

Then you went to Oxford, Mississippi for a screening of what you sometimes call JoJo Hermann’s film and other times call your own film. You did not show me the edit of that film before you left. You told me that the screening was to be held at the University of Mississippi as part of JoJo’s thesis work. You said it would be presented in a classroom, and you asked me repeatedly to attend with you. You seemed unusually disappointed when I told you that I could not make that trip. I believe it was the day of the screening that you let me know that the screening was actually going to be held at a public venue. This seemed very odd. And I think it was at this time that you invited a long time friend of mine and Vic’s to attend, whom you also knew.

It was a few nights after you had returned from that screening that you called me, late at night. This was very unusual as we generally only conversed during work hours. You were in an extremely agitated state. You made very hostile inquiries regarding the night of my husband’s suicide attempt. This was so unexpected that at first I just started answering, until I realized this was totally inappropriate and that something was not right with your state. I asked you to wait to talk to me during our regular work hours. But you wouldn’t let me end the conversation and you started demanding to know what this friend of ours had thought of the film.

I told you I would need to speak with her first, to ask if I could share her opinions. But you started screaming, “What did she say, what did she say?” over and over again until I finally blurted out “She said we should get a professional filmmaker involved.” I was ashamed of myself as it was coming out of my mouth. Not because of what I was saying, but because it was unfair to her. For the record, and once again, she did not say this as a slight to you. She said it because she thought the footage of Vic was good enough that this could be a really great film, with some help. She thought that Vic deserved the best and she thought that your footage warranted the effort.

At hearing this pronouncement of our mutual friend’s opinion, you immediately started screaming at me. You screamed that you couldn’t believe I had “deceived” you, that you couldn’t believe I felt this way and had “kept it from” you. How you jumped to this from hearing her opinion I do not know. All of this seemed extremely bizarre because 1)Why would her opinion matter so much more than others? 2)Why were you claiming it was my opinion? 3)Why would you have been shocked at this opinion? I had suggested this when you first showed me the collected footage. The research I had done convinced me that this was the best approach for a project like this. You knew this was always my preference, but certainly not any requirement or demand on my part. And you yourself told me that people who knew Vic and had seen the footage were recommending the same thing. Certainly they said it because they felt Vic deserved the best, and because the footage was so very good, not as a slight to you. We talked about this many times but, as previously stated, you said if I would work with you on your film you would, at the finish, donate all your collected footage to Vic’s estate for use in other projects honoring Vic. So I worked with you to help you finish your film.

It is just occurring to me as I write, that this upset was actually over a screening of “JoJo Hermann’s film” and not even the one we were working on together? Or are they the same? I never saw the same edit twice while I was working with you so I have never had any concept of what you are screening, or what I am proposed to be stopping. Or, apparently, which is JoJo’s and which is yours? You have had me so confused by all your antics that I never even realized this until now, years later.

Your fit was completely irrational to me. Then, and even more so now.

So let’s recap here:
One night you became very angry at me because of someone else’s comments about a film I had never seen. After 8 months of working together, this was the single “falling out” that transpired between us. Supposedly it is the cause of all your hostilities toward me, and it is the single event, that I was witness to, that precipitated YOUR stopping of your film. Yes, YOUR stopping of your film.

But back to the events of that night.

You were angry because of our friend’s opinion, and then you started berating me.

But I was so embarrassed about revealing my friend’s opinion that I guess I focused on defending it.

You then told me you were one of the best filmmakers of your generation, and proclaimed the accolades you had received for your work. (Later you would write that you were “represented by the largest film agency in the world” and “have the respect of some of the biggest filmmakers and critics of our generation.”) I realized then that I had assumed that this was your first film because I had never seen any of your others. So I apologized for my assumption and asked if you would share your other films with me. You went silent. And to this day I still have not been made aware of any of your other films.

Then you started accusing me of all kinds of things. Top amongst them was that I was a bully. You listed the people you proposed I had bullied. I now believe this was intended as a threat. That if you weren’t allowed a free hand in your film about Vic, you were going to reveal to the world what a horrible bully I was.

It should be noted here that you never asked for a free hand. All you have ever asked me for was for me to work with you on your film. And I did this.

Why didn’t you just make a film and ask for approval? I heard your lawyer tell you that to get the many approvals you would need to release your film, you would have to have a finished film to submit for approval. Mine was probably the most important approval you would need, but only one amongst the many on the long list of other people’s footage requiring permissions to be used in your film. I recall your lawyer expressing his frustration upon receiving an extremely long and sloppily composed list for his work of making requests for approvals. He asked if the person who wrote the list “even spoke english?” He also asked you to confirm that absolutely all of the requests on this very long list were required, but you told him you weren’t sure because you actually hadn’t finished the film. He expressed more disbelief.

Here’s the list you gave me of the people I, Tina Whatley Chesnutt, had bullied:
1)J.S. Mills - concerning his “Neighbor’s Dog” footage
2) This one is unclear as to whom you propose I was bullying, but it was in regard to an unreleased recording that was being duplicated and shared without permission from Vic or his estate.
3) Charles Fontaine - concerning a Vic Chesnutt CD he had manufactured and was intending to distribute

Okay. I have not previously made any public statements about any of these. Unlike you, it gives me no pleasure to speak publicly about what I had hoped were simply misguided intentions. But since you have publicly claimed that I have bullied them and they are not speaking up in my defense, I will defend myself.

Here’s the truth as I know it:
1) At some point after Vic’s death, I was made aware that a dvd release was being promoted in the press. The articles claimed that Michael Stipe, of REM, was producing a film by J.S. Mills of one of Vic Chesnutt’s last performances, and that it would soon be released on DVD. I have no idea if Michael was actually involved in this or not. I have seen and spoken with him many times and he has never mentioned it, so I doubt this could be true. [Clarification: J. S. Mills has sent a link regarding Michael Stipe’s official endorsement of J.S. Mills' DVD project. Due to a lack of information, this situation was previously misrepresented. Link: http://www.remhq.com/news/michael-signs-on-with-vic-chesnutt-film-as-executive-producer-3/. It should be noted that I do not know if Mr. Stipe had been made aware that Vic had removed consent for a DVD release from his contract.]

What I do know is that Guy Picciotto, of Fugazi, informed me that Vic and his band, which included Guy, had stipulated before they agreed to be filmed that there would be no DVD rights to the recording. This was at first part of a verbal agreement in order for the band to agree to do the show. Then, during sound-check, Guy walked in to find all of the band signing individual agreements which all included a DVD rights clause. He notified the band to stop signing these and had them all remove the DVD rights clause. Vic thanked him for catching this.

So, for the record, I did not stop J.S. Mills from having dvd rights to Vic’s performance. Vic Chesnutt stopped J.S. Mills from having DVD rights. And J.S. Mills always knew this.

Guy Picciotto and Don Wilkie of Constellation Records reminded Mr. Mills of this and I believe Mr. Mills stopped promoting his DVD release, used the footage for the purpose for which it was originally approved, and turned over the footage to Constellation. I believe Guy, at my request, is holding this footage for us now.

For the record, you know that you vigorously encouraged me to stop Mr. Mills. You contacted me claiming that his project had been paid for by the Canadian government and that this was the reason his footage looked so good (it is beautiful). You claimed that his expensive equipment had been provided by his government and that Mr. Mills was taking advantage of the situation for his own profit. But, again, this vigorous encouragement for me to stop the release of Mr. Mill’s DVD was done privately.

2)The issue of the “unreleased, finished album.” An album I tried to get Vic to release before his death. (And of course I would like to properly release it now.)

Here’s what happened with this:
Sometime after Vic’s death my niece contacted me and stated that she was very upset because someone (at a bar, I believe) had made her aware that they had received a copy of Vic’s unreleased album. She was very upset and wanted to know if I was responsible for this. I told her I had no idea who was responsible for it, but I would make inquiries to all parties involved with the recordings and try to stop it. I believe I simply sent an email asking if anyone was duplicating and sharing this CD. No one took responsibility for it. Some said they would never do such a thing.

I left it at that.

I absolutely believe my niece was sincere in her disapproval of the CD being duplicated and shared without permission, and that she had no idea that you would later use this incident as evidence of my bullying of people.

3) This one is particularly interesting. While I was working with you (those many months), my Facebook friend, an old acquaintance, Charles Fontaine, posted that he was issuing a collected works of Vic Chesnutt CD. When I mentioned it to you, you asked me what I was going to do about it. I told you that I probably needed to contact a lawyer to find out how to handle this type of situation. You then suggested that I should use, as a guideline, a kind of friendly cease and desist type letter that you used for your cable access tv show. You said you used it whenever someone used clips from your show for their own purposes. You then emailed to me a copy and stated that, “out of 8-9 incidents we’ve only had to turn it over to a lawyer once.” You followed this with another email stating, “it will work, but if you need any muscle, let me know.”

Instead of this I simply contacted Mr. Fontaine via Facebook about it and he immediately apologized for it and said he would remove the post and any other links or listings. I told him that I hoped he could assist with some other kind of tribute in the future.

I wonder now if you prodded me with this because you knew that Vic and I had never been litigious. We had watched our friend, Bob Mould, expend a lot of energy if efforts to legally stop tapers (people who record artist’s shows without permission). We knew we didn’t have the time, energy, or money to handle it the way he did. Nor could we compensate for the effect of tapers by changing our business model to focus on large arena shows with a ticket price that compensates for lost record sales, allowing the artist to say, “Welcome tapers!” So we decided to introduce ourselves to the tapers and let them know that we knew they were taping and ask if they could at least send us a copy for our own collection. This was intended to convey: If you don’t see this as theft, will you at least send us a copy? We in no way granted or wanted them to have any rights to these recordings. Our hands were simply tied and we thought we were making the best choice that we could.

My point here is that you prodded me to stop Mr. Fontaine because you knew I might let it go. When I asked him later if he felt I had bullied him, Mr. Fontaine said that I definitely had not bullied him.

So let’s review. Once again you privately vigorously encouraged me to stop someone and then publicly criticize and slander me for it.

After you finished accusing me of these bullying episodes, you declared that you were stopping all work on your film. Yes, I want to repeat again, you stopped your film. As far as I can tell, I had little to nothing to do with any real reasons for your stopping of your film.

In a later email you would also accuse me of bullying my niece, and of stopping “projects by Erica, Sam, Curtis, Nikki, etc, etc.” I have no idea what these projects were or how I stopped them. I know that Erica had a project that she screened in Athens once, but that’s all I know about that one. In my mind that took place very soon after Vic’s death, and I don’t believe she ever approached me about anything regarding it. But my mind possibly does not retain all the requests that have been made to me. Many other people have proposed many other projects but most of these others have said they were willing to wait until I was mentally prepared to properly address them. None of us could have realized that someone was vigorously campaigning to keep me from being able to address them. I should have realized it, but I think most people who are the unfortunate victims of someone like yourself have a difficult time believing the reality of the situation, and they fear that if they share their suspicions with anyone they will be perceived as paranoid, or unstable.

It was in this same later email that you stated “It hit me like a ton of bricks,” “You want revenge on Vic. You want to erase as much of his memory as you can because Vic wanted to be remembered.”

Are you certifiably insane? Or just plain mean? Or…? If you really believe this then why do you publicly appeal to me to help you keep Vic’s memory alive when you actually believe that wouldn’t motivate me?

To Erica, Sam, Curtiss, and Nikki: Please let me know the details of these projects I stopped and how I stopped them.

Return to Paragraph 2 topic:
In paragraph 2 you claim you “loved Vic like a brother.”

[I decided to delete this portion on things you said about your family members while we were working together. I have no desire to hurt them with your unkind words too. They don’t need to suffer with me.]

Vic was loved liked a brother by his sister, Lorinda Chesnutt Crane. I have known her for over 25 years. You did not love Vic like she did.

I will add here that my opinion of you, before working with you, was based largely on the things that Vic told me about you. He made a point of telling me about many of your personal matters, of which he didn’t approve, and of always showing me the things he received from you in the mail. He would not have shared these things with me if he had wanted me to have a good opinion of you. And sometimes he expressed complete disgust of your actions.

I will not crawl in the gutter with you and make public proclamations about your private past. But if I did, they could be easily proven to be true, just as your lies can easily be proven to be lies.

Paragraph 5:
You state, “I waited a long time in the hope that some of the immediate emotional intensity we all experienced regarding Vic’s death would ease.”

The truth is that you started trying to contact me about making a film immediately after Vic’s death. And you persisted even though you knew that my sister, my closest friend, whom Vic loved dearly, and to whose care I was devoted, was in the last stages of terminal breast cancer. My entire family was already in a severe state of depression before Vic took his life. I had already been struggling to find the strength to properly care for my sister. I lost what little strength I had left when I lost Vic. My sister needed me more than ever and I had nothing left to give. The anguish that I and my family went through in those four months between Vic’s and my sister’s deaths cannot be described in words. Yet somehow you seemed completely unaware that my world had completely ended. You cared nothing that the two people I was closest to in this world were suddenly gone. Or that I was exhausted from all of my failed efforts to save them. My world had stopped, ended. Yet now all these people were coming at me with what seemed like a million silly requests regarding a million silly things. Nothing mattered anymore, nothing could be done that mattered. Yet there were all these people who wanted this and wanted that. I admit I was bitter. All I could think was, “Now he matters so much to you?” “Now you’re concerned?” “Where was all this attention and effort when we were crying out for help?” “Did none of you hear us?” “How could you not have heard us?” “How could you not have heard him?” “Now you care so very much? Where were you yesterday?”

I am not proud of this. I was in shock and I was heart broken, and I was exhausted, and I was bitter. But you suddenly now wanted to make your film. Now that it was too late to help Vic, you suddenly absolutely had to make your film and make it right away. And you had to talk to me about it.

Yes, you were, by far, the most persistent.

Some of our mutual friends interceded to explain to you that I, and the rest of Vic’s family and friends, needed time to mourn.

You then apologized.

And then you asked again. Followed by another apology. And then another request. This cycle continued until I finally came to see your footage.

And then I worked with you for many, many months. At first because Ian Mackaye and Jem Cohen, whom I greatly respected, had encouraged me to work with you. And then because you promised to donate all your footage to Vic’s estate for future tributes, if I would work with you.

And then you blew up for some fabricated reason and began a new cycle of harassments followed by apologies followed by more harassments. Or, PRETENDED to blow up over absolutely illogical reasons. Then you stopped your film, and then badgered me until I took some action against you which you could then claim as the reason your film was stopped.

Just a few months before you issued this “open letter” you sent me an email stating, “sorry for everything you’re going through. i know you carry a heavy load and i haven’t made it any easier, and i’m sorry for that. i won’t show the Vic film again, i hope that helps a little.”

I no longer respond to these apologies. I no longer respond because every time you appear to be reaching out with one hand, all I can see is the other hand, holding a club and readying to strike.

I have not existed without the pressure of you, your film, and your harassments since the moment of Vic’s death.

This letter does not mention the worse things you have done.

Paragraph 6:
Basically you claim here that some unknown “everybody” wanted me to attend a screening of an “initial rough cut” that you held in Athens, GA.

How many “initial rough cuts” can you have?

I heard about the screening by happening upon an announcement on Facebook. Or someone may have mentioned about the announcement there. Then, later, Vic’s sister and I received email invitations from the Widespread Panic office and/or Nuci’s Space, a nonprofit organization whose goal is suicide prevention and mental health support for musicians. We questioned your motives in affiliating your film with these entities. What a clever maneuver this possibly was to lend your project credibility. Vic’s sister responded with a letter to both parties explaining, in the most polite terms possible, how she could never support anything with which you were involved and why. She tried to explain what an incredibly difficult position we were being put in by your having affiliated yourself and your film with these two organizations, as we both supported and had great respect for the work of Widespread Panic and Nuci’s Space. She expressed her disappointment at being placed in this position and made a financial contribution to Nuci’s charity, in Vic’s memory. It is sadly ironic to note the mental abuse that was being perpetuated against us by these entities’ endorsements of you and your film. How horrible is has been for all of us to be portrayed as being against anything that should be honoring Vic’s life and work.

She received sympathetic responses privately from both groups, but no public effort was made to disassociate with you or this event, so I followed her letter with my own and asked if I could meet with JoJo Hermann, Widespread Panic’s keyboardist, and then producer of your film, to make him aware of the horrific things you had been doing. JoJo arrived at my house just before the screening. He initially tried to defend you, but after reading your emails he stated that, though he felt he had to attend that evening’s event, afterward, he would have nothing else to do with your film. He seemed sincerely sorry for what I had experienced with you. And he gave me a copy of his thesis.

So, no, I don’t think anyone was expecting myself or anyone else from Vic’s family to attend. Unless you were deceiving them by telling them that you were expecting us, or even that you wanted me to attend. I was told by a mutual friend that one of your producers told her that I couldn’t come because I was “too sad.” He either thought this was funny or it was simply more deceit.

You also claim I had a “protest dinner” and told people you were evil. There was no protest dinner. Upon hearing, on the day of the event, that there was going to be a screening of a film about their dear friend, Vic Chesnutt, some of Vic’s and my friends inquired about what was happening. I explained the situation as best as I could, though certainly not properly. I did not ask anyone to not attend your event. I tried to make light of the horrible situation, as Vic would have, by lamenting to one friend that I wished it was just ‘game night’ instead. That is all I said. What I meant by this was that I wished it were ‘game night’ or any night other than this nightmare evening of being excluded from an event that was supposed to be a celebration of the life of the man I loved and adored and to whom I had devoted 20 years of my life. And to whom I will always be devoted.

To my knowledge, this friend and others just started showing up at my house. I was extremely grateful to not have to spend this horrible evening alone.

I can’t remember whether it was just before or just after this screening that you sent the alleged “manager,” now your “producer,” to remind me of the films that had used the lack of the estate’s endorsement as their selling point. He gleefully spoke of Karen Carpenter, of The Carpenters, being portrayed by a whittled down Barbie doll.

I quite literally shudder to think that we once considered the two of you friends.

Paragraph 7:
In this paragraph you claim that Vic’s legacy depends on your film.

Somehow you don’t even see what an insult this is to Vic and his work. Do you really have no idea how well known and respected he is? His legacy is tremendously strong. It is tremendously strong because of his many years of constant hard earnest work and awe inspiring talent. His legacy will continue to grow because of the work of Vic Chesnutt.

It doesn’t depend on you, or me, or anyone else.

Though I hope to someday be allowed the time and clarity of mind to dedicate myself to it.

Paragraph 8:
After a beautiful quote from Vic you beg me to “please be as vigilant as Vic.” I am trying.

Then you seem to swerve toward trying to give the appearance that you have some sympathy for me. This has to be for your audience alone.

Your close:
To finish up your letter you imply that I have the power to keep Vic’s music from being able to “live on.” Do you really have no concept of the age in which we live? Record sales indicate little in this regard. Vic’s music and everyone else’s is out there. His records and songs and videos are being downloaded, duplicated, and shared like mitosis and meiosis. His work will live on long after everyone who actually knew him. I predict forever.

I recall now how when I was first coming to know Vic in 1989, all his friends were saying that he couldn’t last much longer. They suspected each time they saw him to be the last time they would see him. Michael Stipe is quoted as saying that he dragged Vic to the recording studio in October of 1988 because he wanted to document Vic’s work before it was too late. Vic was indeed suicidal at the end of 1989, and his physical state was even worse. His beloved father had just died from his battle with cancer. Possibly the only thing that had enabled Vic to endure his father’s decline was the hope that his record would be released before his father’s death, that he could share this bit of honor with his father. But the release of his first record was repeatedly delayed from the promised release date, until it was too late. Vic was in complete despair, and doubted there were ever intentions to release this record before his own death.

Instead, he lived twenty more years and released almost as many records.

John Lennon was credited with claiming that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus.” What he meant by what he actually said and how it was later interpreted were, of course, two very different things. I think I would like to go down as the person who said, “Vic Chesnutt’s work is bigger than the Beatles’.” I hope John would approve.

My close:
In closing, I hope I have given your letter the time and consideration you hoped I would give it. I hope I have been clear, despite my challenges in writing this.

I no longer regret that the friends I asked to be intermediaries, in the hopes of helping us finish your film, were unable to help. I deeply regret sharing all of the deeply personal stories I shared with you while I was working with you, when you almost convinced me that you sincerely wanted to tell Vic’s story.

I always wondered, during that time, why you kept not bothering to correct easy to fix factual errors in your edits. Like crediting Vic’s close relationship with one grandmother to the wrong grandmother. I must have asked you a million times to get that right. Now I realize you simply never cared. I wonder if you thought, “What’s the big deal about a grandmother?” Well, it would have mattered to Vic, and it matters to me. But what could these details matter to someone who is capable of the unimaginable, enormous and minute, often preposterous deceits that you have perpetuated against me, and even, by association, against Vic.

Tina Chesnutt

To Vic’s public:
Losing Vic and my sister at the same time was beyond devastating. The sun left and took the moon with it. This, preceded by a year of my fighting as hard as I could to hold them both in place. The circumstances of their deaths being possibly even more devastating than the deaths themselves: One driven to suicide by a health care industry and the government that allowed it. The other brutally taken by a rare and aggressive breast cancer whose treatments only ravaged her body and mind before allowing the cancer to take her. I held them as the life went from them. They both wanted to live. I have not recovered from my loss. My mind will never be what is was before. I struggle to find a new “normalcy.”

I am so thankful for the family and friends who continue to help me find joy in this world. And I am so grateful for those who have stood beside me during this ordeal with Mr Stuckey, telling me that he was insane during my own state of confusion upon hearing many of his claims.

I do not want anyone’s pity, I only want to not be preyed upon.

I regret I have been unable to deliver to the public the tributes to Vic that some feel they deserved by now. I have hoped during this time that the enormous amount of releases we accomplished before his death would engage them until I or our heirs are capable of more.

I could not have imagined that while I was trying to regain my sanity, others were busy creating completely false histories around Vic’s life story as a way to promote themselves.

I was never close to Scott. I always supported Vic in his efforts to not abuse himself with the overuse of alcohol or drugs, as I supported him in his efforts to stay devoted to work as a means to distract from the persistent call of death. It was always difficult for me to fully embrace anyone who encouraged him otherwise.

—Tina Chesnutt