Life After Death

As we reach the fifth anniversary of Doug Hopkins' suicide, his best music remains unheard by all but a few friends

"Basically what happened was the guys in the Jetzons were tired of playing four sets a night, so they wanted to get an opening act," recalls Swafford. Word got to Hopkins, who knew that an opening spot with the Jetzons would guarantee better exposure than the band's "living-room concerts." An impromptu audition for Connole and company at Leen's parents' house left the Jetzons sufficiently impressed to ask the Moral Majority to open for them.

During this time, the Moral Majority also made a trip to Bleu Studios in Mesa to record six songs. Although it was never released commercially, the recording captures the raw, punk-inspired essence of the group, as well as the often hilarious and gross verbal imagery of Hopkins' lyrics. With the recording complete and the regular Merlin's slot in full swing, things seemed to be progressing well for the band.

But toward the end of 1982, Fry and Swafford decided to quit the group. Hopkins was unfazed by the departures, and by early '83 he and Leen had decided to put another group together. Hopkins' new band was born one night after a get-together at Leen's house. "Jim [Swafford] came over one night, and we hadn't seen him in what seemed like forever, but it was actually more like a month," Leen says. "And by that time, MTV was on, and U2 was doing their thing, and so we said, 'Hey, you look good--why don't we start another band? We just won't call it the same thing.'"

Hooking up with new drummer Alan Long and renaming themselves the Psalms, the band began rehearsing several new Hopkins originals that had a decidedly less punk-oriented tone. By 1983 a new wave of British and Irish bands like U2 and Echo and the Bunnymen were, by way of the underground, influencing the music of a whole generation of American bands.

"Doug realized that the sort of jokey, in-your-face punk songs he'd been writing had a limit. So he started looking for other sources of inspiration--and started writing songs that were more in that vein," Shipp says. The first of these new songs was "Living at the Hancock Building," a Paul Weller-influenced number that covered much of the same thematic ground as Hopkins' later, better-known works.

"'Hancock Building' was an important step for Doug," Shipp says. "It was the first thing I heard which definitely connected with all the stuff he would write later. There was a wistfulness to the lyrics--not quite sad, but alone, which became a pretty common theme," says Shipp. Indeed, "Hancock Building" was part of Hopkins' first significant burst as a songwriter. This came immediately after the breakup of Moral Majority, and the tendency to have a creative explosion after the breakup of a band would be a pattern that would mark his entire career.

"After a band dissolved or broke up, he would have these bursts," Shipp recalls. "And the songs he would write were always a step further along from what he was doing before."

Among the songs from this period were a pair of Hopkins numbers that ended up as the band's first and only single. "A Story I Was Told" with the flip side "Christmas Island" were released on Reilly Records in 1983. Lyrically, "A Story I Was Told" is a sad and vaguely written account of an adolescent awakening to the harsh realities of adulthood ("A story handed down to us/And we can never measure up/It praises things that aren't there/And yet they tell it everywhere/A promise made but never kept/The one they break without regret").

The Psalms picked up where the Moral Majority left off, establishing a loyal following and earning a good enough local reputation to garner spots opening for touring acts like Billy Idol and the Gang of Four. But by the middle of 1983, Leen had grown tired and quit the band, signaling the end of the band's first incarnation. "Bill and Doug had kind of a love-hate thing going," Shipp says. "Bill knew he was a talented guy and respected that. And Bill loved his songs--about 98 percent of the time. But sometimes Bill was just like, 'I wanna rock, I don't want to play a sad song.'"

Within a few months, the two had patched up their differences and decided to give the group another try. Richard Flower, who had fronted Hopkins' pre-Moral Majority group, was brought in to replace Swafford, who decided not to rejoin. By August of 1983, the group was in the studio to record songs for what would become the No Great Cathedral EP. Once again, the end of another band and the period in between had pushed Hopkins' creativity and helped take his songs forward another step. No Great Cathedral featured three Hopkins classics, including a stunning song called "One Hundred Summers."

The track is one of Hopkins' best from this period. The song combines a rich imagery and melodic feel, and Hopkins captures the emotional nuances of love and loss against a backdrop of a seemingly endless summer night. No Great Cathedral helped garner Hopkins and the band their first real media attention, including lengthy write-ups in several newspapers as well as some local radio appearances.

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