Life After Death

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

Writing for Zubia's voice initially proved to be a challenge for Hopkins. Zubia's throaty, blues-influenced wail was miles removed from Wilson's gentle tenor. "It was kind of hard for him to write for Lawrence at first. But at a certain point, everything came together in his mind and he had real breakthrough," says Shipp. Hopkins had also begun to expand his thematic and musical scope.

"He conceptualized about the band quite a bit and wanted to take things in a direction much more along the lines of Born to Run-era Springsteen, Van Morrison, and just generally a rawer, more roots-oriented approach than the real pop stuff he had been doing before," recalls Zubia.

Hopkins' songwriting was taking on a completely different slant as well. "In terms of subject matter, he was looking beyond Tempe and his friends and started to write about people he didn't know. It was more of a third-person approach to songwriting," says Shipp. "M'ija Veda" and "Absolutely Right and Wrong" are two perfect examples of this. Zubia's gritty vocals served as a perfect complement for the often anthemic themes and personal dramas Hopkins songs were beginning to explore.

The Chimeras played out frequently, and Hopkins was still the biggest attraction in town. His presence within the group was enough to create a buzz within the Tempe music community. Things seemed to be going well for the band, especially after a performance at South by Southwest in March 1993. But Hopkins blew up during a poor performance at a local alternative-music festival. "He was already pissed off because we had to go onstage while it was still light out and he had all these rock 'n' roll rules--you know, 'never play before the sun goes down,' or whatever," Zubia recalls. "He fumbled a solo, and got pissed off and said he quit," says Lawrence's brother Mark. "And I remember sitting there talking with him, and he was pouting and kind of acting like a baby. And Rage Against the Machine was playing, and the kids were going off for them, and he just looked at me and said, 'Man, I was born 20 years too late.' He just couldn't relate to what was going on," Mark says.

Hopkins and the group met the next day to discuss the future of the band. A disappointed Hopkins asked to be allowed to rejoin the group, but the Zubias were hesitant to go through the potential turmoil that Hopkins seemed to be experiencing. Without a band to keep him busy, and with the growing success of the Blossoms gnawing at him, Hopkins began the steady decline toward his suicide.

In the last year of his life, Hopkins wrote a number of songs that, in the light of his death, would take on an even greater significance. One such song is the brilliant and heart-wrenching "Scared to Death." The piece is clearly an autobiographical portrait written from the point of view of Hopkins' girlfriend. That Hopkins could turn his gaze inward to write such a poignant and beautiful tale even as he was plummeting headlong into the cycle of depression and alcohol that would claim his life is as stunning as it is sad. Peppered with cryptic personal references, the song's overall meaning is not easily lost ("Sometimes you act as if you're the only one who's suffered/And I know you know better than that/And sometimes the things you do to yourself/You worry me clear to the point where I can't/Be with you when you need me/I know I should walk away and yet/It's yourself you're killing/But it's me you're scaring to death").

Hopkins made one last attempt at music before his death. Joining forces with a group of Tucson musicians including Robin Johnson, the group, known as Friday's Angels, played a pair of shows in Tucson. Although the project seemed to have significant potential, Hopkins was already heading down his ultimate path. Onstage guest spots during the fall of 1993 with bluesman Hans Olson and Dead Hot Workshop would be the final public appearances Hopkins would make. By the end of November, Hopkins had decided what his fate would be.

If Hopkins' ultimate legacy lies in his music and in his words, maybe the real tragedy is that only a handful of people have had the privilege of hearing the majority of his work. His best work had a way of confirming that the simplest pop songs often have the most profound impact. Brian Blush, whose own life was unalterably changed by Hopkins, may have provided the most accurate assessment of his legacy.

"His ability to emotionally destroy or elate you was unbelievably keen. He could take a string of words and just make you feel it. It's the same thing that he applied to his guitar playing. It wasn't about virtuosity, but when he played--man, it just hit you like a freight train. It was just so, so fucking cool. The world is just not as cool without him around.

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