From Mohawks To Mullets

Images from 25 years of Phoenix music

Like everything having to do with his life -- his talent, his addictions -- Hopkins' contradictions were always extreme. Yet it helps explain how someone who began his career penning crude, often profane punk anthems ended it by writing lush and stirring pop songs.

For those coming of age in the late '80s and early '90s, Doug Hopkins was local music -- a one-man Zeitgeist with a Les Paul around his neck. Taking the mantle of Jetzons leader Bruce Connole -- one of the few people he always regarded with reverence -- Hopkins became Phoenix music's El Jeffe, launching the most commercially successful group ever to emerge from the city.

The influence of his distinctive guitar style -- from the ringing, chimey chords of R.E.M. and its antecedents in the Byrds and Lovin' Spoonful to his signature octave playing, lifted from local contemporary Robin Johnson -- is still identifiable in countless Valley bands.

If his music was a bright, poppy mix, his lyrics were anything but. Equally adept at writing sad confessionals or angry rockers about alcohol, lost love and the struggles of adolescence, Hopkins mined a lovable-loser ethos similarly echoed in the work of fellow rock 'n' roll miscreant Paul Westerberg.

Wherever he found inspiration and foundation for his work, Hopkins quickly took it and made it his own.

Starting with his first band in 1980, the Moral Majority, Hopkins followed throughout the first half of the '80s with a string of popular, if never perfectly conceived, combos. It wasn't until 1987 that he finally stumbled upon the right mix of chemistry and songcraft with the Gin Blossoms. Success found the group quickly, first with local popularity (which coincided with the rise of Tempe's Mill Avenue as a rock 'n' roll stronghold), then with a major-label record deal.

The story took an ugly turn in 1992, when it began to seem inevitable to Hopkins that he would one day grace arena stages and land on the cover of music magazines. Whether it was fear or disdain, the prospect of such a fate was something Hopkins eschewed. His erratic alcohol-fueled behavior forced the band's hand after a disastrous recording session in Memphis. Pressured by the record company to resolve an untenable situation, the Blossoms did the unthinkable -- fired Hopkins from his own band just before the release of the group's full-length debut, New Miserable Experience.

On the strength of a pair of Hopkins-penned singles, the album went on to become an unlikely hit, selling in the millions and garnering Top 40 airplay. The success of the band galled Hopkins, as did the members' treatment of him. Motivated by a desire for revenge, Hopkins started another group, the Chimeras, determined to eclipse his former band. Playing to packed rooms throughout much of '92 and '93, success seemed within Hopkins' grasp once again. Fatefully, the inner turmoil that had precipitated his exit from the Blossoms resurfaced, bringing his involvement with the Chimeras to an abrupt and premature end. The last months of his life passed quietly, as friends and family tried in vain to quell his increasing feelings of self-loathing and despondency. In early December 1993, Hopkins silenced them by taking his own life.

Hopkins' memory lingers, in part, because there seems to be no satisfying explanation for the way his life ended. The obvious answers about depression or alcoholism, or even feelings of betrayal, clearly miss the mark. Ultimately, he was burdened with a mysterious and perpetual longing that no amount of success, money or adulation could ever satisfy.

The cult that's risen since Hopkins' death is impressive and perhaps a touch sad. International Web pages are dedicated to him and close to a dozen songs have been written in tribute -- some by those who knew and worked with him, and some by others to whom he was only a song on the radio.

With so much in the way of idolatry it's easy to lose sight of Hopkins' real meaning as a human being and as an artist. He was, some would argue, just a guy who wrote pop songs. But Hopkins' music, like the most vital forms of popular entertainment, was arbiter of something else, of something greater. And his was a personality and a presence big enough to match such lofty sights. No doubt he will forever occupy a psychic space in a community that mourns his loss every day. -- BM

Rise of Decline

"You know that old expression about 'the only band that matters?' Well, around here, it's them."

Like the best bands, they were truly an unlikely combination. The existential poet, the pop-star egotist, the rock 'n' roll cowboy, the wizened sage -- under different circumstances it would seem a hopeless clash of personalities, but in the fertile Tempe music scene of the late '80s, such peculiar human alchemy could produce dazzling results.

Despite their ragged appearance and proto-slacker reputation, Dead Hot Workshop deserves to be remembered as more than just Gin Blossoms cronies or a passing reference in a Refreshments song. Of all the groups to emerge from the era, it was the only one to draw acclaim from all quarters. From indie-rock elitists to the most vocal critics of jangle pop, everyone paid their respects to a band, which despite its superficial stylistic allegiances, clearly operated on a different plain than its contemporaries.

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