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What makes the Blossoms' case unusual, though, is the timing. Few successful bands have ever axed a founder and main songwriter just as they are about to break through. What would have happened, for example, if the Replacements had dumped Paul Westerberg while making Let It Be, or if Nirvana had booted Kurdt Kobain (speaking of addictive problems) after Bleach?
@body:Musically, New Miserable Experience proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that the Gin Blossoms belong on a major label. As chimey-guitar-pop records go, it is as tuneful and likable as anything released in recent memory.
The album is basically a compilation of the best material the band has come up with over its five years together. "Allison Road" and "Mrs. Rita," both of which were on the band's previous EP, Up and Crumbling, were rerecorded for N.M.E. Beyond that there is a surprisingly wide range of material on this album--everything from beefy guitar rock in "Hold Me Down" to the twangy "Cheatin'," a tune whose melody and attitude are an obvious tribute to GP/Grievous Angel-era Gram Parsons. The band's playing is tight and full-blooded throughout and the sound on N.M.E. is clean and bright. Most striking of all, though, are Robin Wilson's knockout vocals.
New Miserable Experience also has a champion pedigree, having been recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis where Big Star and other forefathers of alternative music recorded seminal albums. The Blossoms' sessions were produced by John Hampton, an Ardent-based producer who had previously worked with the Replacements and Marshall Crenshaw, among others.
According to everyone involved, the first week of recording went well. The band worked hard and was pleased with the results. Soon, though, problems with Hopkins began to creep in. The remaining band members say he was drinking constantly. Thinking a break might help, Hopkins flew back to the Valley. Once back in Memphis, however, the band says his drinking resumed.
The surviving Blossoms aren't reluctant to talk about Hopkins. In fact, during a recent round of interviews at Restaurant Mexico, they talked plenty about him.
"I remember being there with Hampton and Doug actually in the studio," vocalist Robin Wilson says. "Hampton was talking to Doug about 'your parts are so crappy and we've got to redo them, and you're too drunk to redo them.' He said, 'So what I'm thinking, Doug, is we'll go and hire another guitar player to do your parts.' And Doug said,~ 'Well, I'd rather Jesse would do my parts.' That's when I knew there was something really, really wrong."
"Here we were, on our first record," bassist Bill Leen says between drags on a cigarette and sips of a margarita. "It was scary for us to see somebody really give up and be so afraid. And be thinking, 'I've got to drink more because I'm afraid cause I got drunk and I can't play.'"
"It got to the point," guitarist Jesse Valenzuela says, "where Hampton would call Doug at the hotel and say, 'Don't bother coming down because all you ever do is bring the guys down and we're trying to make a record here.'"
Finally, say the other Blossoms, Hopkins agreed to fly back to the Valley for good. He missed his first flight because, according to the band, he passed out at the airport. (Hopkins calls this version of events "complete bullshit.)
The next day, according to the band, Ardent engineer James Senter doused Hopkins with Lavoris and Hai Karate after-shave and got him on the plane. Senter called Ardent from the airport, and the entire band remembers listening over the studio's speaker phone to a blow-by-blow report of the plane taxiing and taking off.
Hopkins admits that he "went to the hospital the night I got back," but he denies that the Memphis sessions and the scene at the airport went down that bad.
"I'm sure Jesse presented it to A&M in such a way that it sounded like they were dragging me out of the gutter every morning to go to the studio," Hopkins says. "God knows what he told them. He's very manipulative and conniving. A very calculating person."
The way the Blossoms recall it, it was clear by then that Hopkins had to go. What would they say to him when they returned home? A call from Bryan Huttenhower, the A&R rep who had signed the band to A&M and remains its main contact with the label, helped make up the band members' minds.
Valenzuela's version: "Bryan called us in Memphis and said, 'Look, I've been talking to you about Doug for a long time and you've got to do something about this or the record's not coming out.' And we're like, 'Well, what does he mean, Hampton?' Hampton said, 'I think what he's saying to you is he wants Doug out.'"
Valenzuela, Wilson and the rest of the band seem to remember this critical moment in the band's history in exquisite detail, but Huttenhower denies ever making such a threat about the record "not coming out."