Wong Song

Longtime performing musicians at Long Wong's on Mill lament the impending end of an era - or a building, at least

"He was our local colorful crazy person," says Robin Wilson, lead singer of the Gin Blossoms. "He could be really sweet and really ornery. Elvis was under the mistaken impression he was in the band. He'd usually sing Little Sister' with us. He didn't know the words, and he couldn't sing. He'd be singing in a different time signature than the rest of the band was playing. It just added to the drunken comedy."

Martinez died after suffering a collapsed lung in 1998. His acoustic guitar, marked by the word "Elvis" in red lettering surrounded by yellow stars, and several reprints of his paintings make up a memorial to him on the back wall behind the bar. Assistant manager Sandra Quijas says she's taking the guitar home with her for a memento.

Other memories take on a more poignant shape. Grippe remembers the first time he set foot in the club, which never was equipped for live music, using a notoriously unreliable PA system and a horribly confining stage. The Gin Blossoms played that night. They blew him away.

"At the Sun Club, you played 45 minutes. At Chuy's, you played for 45 minutes. Anywhere else on Mill, you played for 45 minutes. But at Wong's, you could play for three hours," Grippe says. "You did stuff there you didn't do anywhere else."

He also remembers being outside on the block at one point and gazing in the window at a guitar jammed into the ceiling to roaring approval.

That was Doug Hopkins' guitar, and it was one of at least three occasions the troubled but gifted Gin Blossoms songwriter ended a set at Wong's that way. One of those holes remains uncovered, a small, jagged break to the front of stage right and obscured from view in the dimness of the room.

"When he would screw something up, or got embarrassed, or angry, or pissed, that's how he would express his frustration, by ruining his main instrument," Wilson says. "It was also a rock 'n' roll cliché, and Doug was full of them."

Hopkins, in another sad rock cliché, committed suicide late in 1993. Quijas was Hopkins' girlfriend. She's worked off and on at the club since August 20, 1990.

"I'd never even heard anything about the Gin Blossoms," Quijas says of Hopkins. "He was this incredible person who caught my attention. He introduced me to different bands. I feel like I met all of Tempe, all these different kinds of people, more different people than I had ever met."

A lot of people met Tempe at Long Wong's. The loss of the bar will likely leave them feeling as empty as that hole in the ceiling.

Got a problem with Kick & Scream? Let's hear it. E-mail christopher.oconnor@newtimes.com, or call 602-407-1715.

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