So you want to be a Rock 'n' Roll Star

Robin Wilson thought the Gas Giants would be a great new beginning. He had no idea what he was getting into.

But the band's success came at a cost. After the Memphis debacle, Hopkins returned to Tempe. Though he started a number of bands and projects, he fell into a downward spiral of alcohol and depression that was exacerbated by the Blossoms' success without him. Hopkins' long fall ended with his suicide in December 1993.

Despite the tragedy, the Blossoms began work on a follow-up to New Miserable Experience. Returning to Ardent Studios in 1995, the group recorded its sophomore album, Congratulations, I'm Sorry. The sessions for the record were, as Wilson puts it, a "strangely detached" affair. The finished product was a forced-sounding record that tried too hard and without success to replicate the magic of the band's debut.

Back to where it all began: Wilson and the Gas Giants signing CDs after an in-store performance at Tower Records.
Paolo Vescia
Back to where it all began: Wilson and the Gas Giants signing CDs after an in-store performance at Tower Records.

After finishing the album, the band flew to England for some prerelease European press. That's when Wilson says he began to reflect on what was becoming an increasingly unpleasant scenario within the group.

Knowing that the inherent pressures -- creative, commercial and personal -- would only get worse, Wilson began to consider his options for the future. He had enjoyed playing with Henzerling and Scott in their jokey cover bands over the years. And he remembered the promise he'd made to them before he joined the Blossoms. By the time the plane landed at London's Heathrow Airport, Wilson had decided to leave the group after the touring and promotional work for the album was done.

The day the album came out and with a year on the road ahead, Wilson told Rhodes about his decision. He wanted Rhodes to join him in his new project, and the drummer urged Wilson to keep his plans a secret -- knowing if he told the rest of the band, they would break up immediately.

Keeping that secret proved to be too difficult. By the end of the year, the strain of touring and the clash in personalities had become arduous, the relationship between Wilson and Leen increasingly bitter. In the fall, things came to a head on the band's tour bus after a show in the Midwest. As Rhodes had predicted, once Wilson revealed his desire to leave the group, the Blossoms were finished.

Arguably, if Congratulations, I'm Sorry had been a million seller, Wilson may not have been so hasty to leave the band. Although the album sold well out of the box, within six months it had disappeared off the commercial radar.

"Of course," agrees Henzerling, "if the record had sold a billion copies, there would have been too much at stake for Rob to walk away."

Wilson is defensive when it comes to discussing the relative success or failure of the record and his motivations for leaving the Blossoms. "The record didn't just succeed up to a point. It was a gold record. It earned a Top 10 single and a Grammy nomination. By any set of standards, that is a smash success," says Wilson. "But because it sold less than half as many as the first album, people tend to think that it was a failure."

The singer concedes that the album lacked the spirit of New Miserable Experience. "No question, [New Miserable Experience] was a special record. There are some really good things on [Congratulations], but it's just not the same as the first one."

Wilson admits that few among his immediate circle of family and friends backed his decision to leave the group. "At that point, I was all alone in this. There was not a single person around me who said, 'You're doing the right thing, we believe in you.' I had a few people say that to me over the phone, but around me everybody was mad."

Wilson says he was briefly talked into and then out of doing a third record with the Blossoms. Another record would have meant a lot to the group financially: a catalogue, a greatest hits and a lot more money.

Wilson says he would have been willing to go through the process one more time, but the specter of Hopkins' death, the relative commercial disappointment of Congratulations and nearly a decade playing, living and traveling together had taken a final devastating toll on the group.

"There was a weight on all of us. It wasn't just the fact that we had to live up to Doug Hopkins, but that we had to live up to a hit record as well and just kind of keep it going," says Wilson.

"That was the thing about the band. There was always so much momentum that it was really difficult to slow it down. From the moment I joined the band, it was like stepping onto a moving sidewalk; the only way to get off was through sheer force of will. It was actually more like getting off of a moving train."

The ride came to an abrupt end on New Year's Eve 1996 when the Gin Blossoms played their final show, nine years and one week after the band had started.

It's a muggy August night in downtown Phoenix, and Robin Wilson is wandering around Alice Cooper'stown. He cuts a diminutive figure. In a crowd full of clean-cut men in golf shirts and blondes sporting mall fashions, his status as a "rock star" is given away by his earrings, stubble and the bawdy striped pants he wears. He mingles with fans and friends who have come to see the Gas Giants play.

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