Life After Death
Not long after the death of former Gin Blossoms founder Doug Hopkins five years ago, his family began the task of assembling his musical legacy. With the help of one of Hopkins' closest friends, Robert Shipp, the process of tracking down and cataloguing more than a decade's worth of material began.
Going through dozens of tapes and notebooks, Shipp quickly realized that Hopkins had quietly created a vast and impressive body of work, only hinted at by his small discography. What the tapes and notes documented was the creative arc of a gifted and talented musical auteur. Hopkins started his career by writing loud punk anthems and finished with a body of lush and often stirring pop songs.
So much has been made of the dark turns that Hopkins' life took in his final years, his true legacy is often forgotten: that of an uncommonly insightful songwriter. While it's still uncertain how much of his unreleased work will ever see the light of day, as we reach the fifth anniversary of his suicide on December 5, it's instructive to recall the artist often lost in the shadow of the self-destructive myth.
Doug Hopkins was a paradox, both as a musician and as a human being. He fashioned himself as a brooding poet, yet he's remembered as a hilarious storyteller with a rich sense of humor. For some he represented the very embodiment of rock 'n' roll, carrying on the rough and tumble sensibilities of his hero Keith Richards--yet his songs were often gentle, heartfelt paeans to love and loss. He was a natural performer who dominated every stage he ever played on--yet he was painfully shy.
"He was kind of a loner guy, pretty unpopular, and I guess I was attracted to that," recalls Bill Leen, a neighbor and friend of Hopkins' during their days at McClintock High School in Tempe. "And we became friends and started hanging out."
Hopkins' career had an inauspicious beginning that hardly suggested the path his career would take. "He was playing bass in this cover band out in Fountain Hills," recalls Leen. "He had this black Rickenbacker 4001, and he was heavily into Rush at the time, and he looked just like Geddy Lee, so it was perfect."
Leen had also picked up the bass, and he and Hopkins would grow closer while working together delivering pizzas. After work the two would often engage in lengthy arguments about music. "We'd have these wars about Jethro Tull versus the Clash," says Leen with a laugh. "He just couldn't stand punk rock or anything like that. But he finally came around to it, and when he did, it was like a revelation. And one day he just said, 'Let's start a punk band. You can play bass--I can't play guitar, but I'll get one and learn.' And that's basically how it started."
Hopkins' awakening to the merits of punk was an inevitable transformation. Unlike the '70s dinosaur rock that had held his fancy until then, the lyrics and attitude of bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash were much closer to Hopkins' own deep sense of cynicism and irony. After adding neighbors and fellow McClintock alums Richard Flower and Doug Fry, the group began rehearsing covers of its favorite punk songs as well as Ramones-style renditions of oldies like "Be True to Your School" and "Do You Wanna Dance." After a few months of sporadic rehearsals and a couple of "concerts" in family dens, Flower bowed out. Stuck for a singer, Fry suggested a younger friend of his still attending school at McClintock, Jim Swafford. With the blond, spiky-haired Swafford on board, the Moral Majority was officially born. The band was named in mock tribute to televangelist Jerry Falwell's religious watchdog group that was already becoming a presence in Ronald Reagan's early '80s America.
By this time, Hopkins had penned several songs with acerbic lyrics taking aim at a whole tier of religious and moral paragons like Falwell and the Mormon population of Mesa. "We were just suburban kids living in Tempe, with no real problems. We were just infatuated with punk rock. It was like the Dead Kennedys or something--just the most distasteful, insensitive stuff. It was really a matter of trying to be as shocking and as obnoxious as you can while living with your parents."
While Hopkins originals like the "B.Y.U. Fight Song," "Eddie's Going Faggot" and "Jerry Doesn't Like It" may have been crude, they were also extremely clever. Essentially developed as pastiches of Pistols songs, they allowed Hopkins to use his already advanced verbal ability to skewer a multitude of despised "sacred cows."
With a handful of originals and an expanding list of covers, the band began playing out wherever it could, but opportunities were limited. Tempe in the early '80s was a far cry from what it is now. While Mill Avenue had a number of country and blues bars, the area didn't exist as far as venues that showcased bands playing original rock music. It was left to a number of smaller bars in various spots around town to fill the void. One such place was Merlin's, a charming dive located on Southern Avenue. The house band at Merlin's was a local rock outfit known as the Jetzons. The Jetzons, for all intents and purposes, were the Tempe music scene. The group was born out of the ashes of another successful Valley band, Billy Clone and the Same, who fell apart after the heroin-related death of front man Mike Corte. Billy Clone guitarist Bruce Connole and bassist Damon Doiron went on to form the Jetzons a short time later. Playing four sets every night from Thursday to Sunday, the Jetzons were a tight and experienced group of musicians who played a mix of New Wave-flavored originals as well as a variety of covers to keep the crowds dancing.
"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.
Hopkins, however, was unsatisfied with the record almost immediately after its release. In an article in the Arizona Republic profiling the band and the newly released EP, Hopkins voiced his dissatisfaction with the sound of the record and even questioned his decision to incorporate the keyboard into the band. No Great Cathedral had confirmed Hopkins' impressive progress as a lyricist. Yet his continual search and experimentation with various sounds showed that he hadn't been able to find a complementary musical style for his already well-defined thematic ideas.
Hopkins' qualms with direction of the group and personal strife within the band put the final nail in the Psalms' coffin by the end of 1984. By the early part of 1985, with the Psalms experience behind him, Hopkins was busy trying to decide what his next move would be. He had by this time already graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in sociology.
"Doug always said that 'I got a degree in sociology, which means I can work at Vickers'--which was this gas station over by our house," says Leen with a laugh.
Hopkins once again started getting together to jam with a group of old friends including Swafford, Alan Willey, Rich Flower, and a new musical chum in the person of Harry McCaleb, a talented and stylish local guitarist. By this time, the Jetzons, the Valley musical icons who had such a prominent influence on the scene, were falling apart. Jetzons bassist and vocalist Damon Doiron was hooked up with Hopkins by the band's manager, Laird Davis. When Flower and Swafford opted out of the budding project, Doiron--who had been the consummate sideman until then--took over lead vocal and bass duties for the newly christened Algebra Ranch. McCaleb, Willey and Doiron were more seasoned than any of the musicians Hopkins had ever played with, and the band began two months of intense rehearsals to learn a new batch of Hopkins compositions--songs that would eventually help define the Tempe "sound" and later catapult the Gin Blossoms to multiplatinum success.
"The things he was writing for Algebra Ranch were amazing," Swafford recalls. "Stuff like 'Angels Tonight' and 'Dream With You,' those were all written for that band."
These were only two of more than a dozen new songs that Hopkins had written after the breakup of the Psalms. And while both of those songs were standards in the Gin Blossoms' early repertoire, other brilliant pieces from this period--including "Not a Word About It" and "Twelfth Night"--are lost classics that never saw the light of day after the demise of Algebra Ranch. More than simply writing well-crafted pop songs, this new material found Hopkins perfecting a signature lyrical style, but, more important, he was creating a definitive musical and melodic approach as well.
For Leen it was clear that something special was happening. "I sometimes wonder why or how he was coming with all this really great material. Looking back, he had a steady girlfriend for the first time--which provided a lot of inspiration for songs. He had also started reading a lot of poetry."
Hopkins had also been listening to Peter Buck and R.E.M. Much as the music of earnest Irish and British pop bands had influenced a whole generation of American guitar groups in the early '80s, the rise of the Athens, Georgia-based R.E.M. was an equally significant event of the mid-'80s.
Hopkins was immediately impressed with Buck's jangly, Byrds-influenced sound and the way he was able to incorporate it into the scheme of a modern rock band. Buck's guitar playing and musical approach fascinated Hopkins so much that he sought to find its antecedents, which included Zal Yanovsky, the often overlooked guitarist for 1960s folk-rockers the Lovin' Spoonful. "He really loved the guitar on a lot of those early Lovin' Spoonful records," Shipp says. "Especially on something like 'Do You Believe in Magic?' Doug always said that was exactly the kind of sound he wanted for his guitar."
Hopkins became so in tune with Buck's style that in some cases he actually began to anticipate R.E.M. songs. A 1992 review of the Gin Blossoms' New Miserable Experience derided the intro to the Blossoms' "Hey Jealousy" for sounding like a sped-up version of R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion." An accurate assessment--except that "Jealousy" had been written and recorded years before "Losing My Religion" was a hit.
Hopkins' creative output during this period was only equaled by his lack of focus and sloppiness onstage. For Doiron, Hopkins' often cavalier attitude was a source of consternation. "I could never understand it. He would write these very serious songs and present them in a totally unserious way. Whereas I had always looked at it the other way. You write songs that are supposed to be fun and then you present them in a professional and serious manner," Doiron says.
By late '85, the rest of the group had also begun to tire of Hopkins' antics. That and a relatively lukewarm public response signaled the end of what seemed to be Hopkins' most promising effort. Despite the brief tenure of the band, most of those who were there agree that Algebra Ranch was a major turning point in Hopkins' musical development.
Regardless of the circumstances, Hopkins was understandably disappointed with the Algebra Ranch experience. Having written his best material and put together a group of talented players, Hopkins had expected more and was upset when the band's failure was placed on his shoulders. When he began planning his next move, he realized that he wanted to work again with Leen.
Among the musicians that Leen and Hopkins began jamming with were drummer Randy Saunders, and Dave McKay, a singer who had fronted a Tempe pop band called the Photos, which also featured future Gin Blossom Jesse Valenzuela. McKay was a different type of singer from those Hopkins had worked with. A former folkie with a love for Dylan and roots music, McKay's style fit in well with Hopkins' budding new direction.
"By this time, we were looking at what was going on in music and we were like, 'Fuck all these British bands and MTV and everything else,' and we started listening to American music," says Leen. Hopkins' concept for this new band began to crystalize after seeing the Replacements perform on Saturday Night Live. The Minneapolis, Minnesota, rockers were a sort of divine inspiration for Hopkins, if not musically, then at least in terms of attitude. "After seeing them, we realized you can go onstage and just have fun and do whatever you want. You don't have to follow trends or do whatever is fashionable or current," adds Leen.
Hopkins shared a sort of twisted kinship with Replacements front man and songwriter Paul Westerberg. Both were equally adept at writing sad confessionals or angry rockers about alcohol, lost love and the struggles of adolescence. On a personal level, both men were heavy drinkers with a distaste for the conventions of the music industry. And both Hopkins and Westerberg had notorious self-destructive streaks and a willingness to sabotage their own chances for success.
Once again, Swafford came back into the fold, and along with the others, Hopkins knew he finally had a band that, if nothing else, would have a good time playing together. Settling on a name--the Ten O'clock Scholars--things seemed to be coming together when Hopkins pulled the rug out from under the group.
"One night out of the blue, he came to me and said he was moving to Los Angeles with Brian Smith [Gentlemen After Dark, Beat Angels] to get a record contract--and the next day he just left," Leen says. Hopkins' trip to the City of Angels was less than fruitful. Smith and Hopkins' original intention behind the move was to write songs together. Instead, the pair spent a few drunken weeks staying at the Sunset Palms without accomplishing anything except having a good time.
Hopkins returned to Tempe to find that the band he left behind hadn't waited around. For one thing, McKay had moved to Portland. But it wasn't long before McKay called, and by April, everyone was in Portland. Hopkins immediately got a spot playing with a local cover band to earn money, and then began rehearsals with the Scholars. Following through on Hopkins' promise to keep things light and fun, the Scholars would mix in a variety of off-the-wall covers like the "Theme From the Jeffersons" as well as renditions of Hopkins originals like "And" and "Blue Eyes Bleeding."
"That right there is really what the Gin Blossoms were based on," Leen says. "We were doing the same type of covers and originals, and with the same kind of idea behind it." In addition to creating an advanced blueprint for what the Gin Blossoms would become, Hopkins was also putting together ideas for a number of future hits, including "Hey Jealousy" and "Found Out About You."
Despite the creative success that Hopkins and the Scholars enjoyed, the Portland music scene was not especially welcoming to a group of outsiders from the desert, and gigs were hard to come by.
While the others enjoyed the lush beauty of the scenic Oregon coast, Hopkins was starting to become unhappy being away from Tempe. "He hated being away from home. He always felt like he was missing something," says Shipp. Without ever really getting off the ground, the Scholars closed shop in Portland. By November the Tempe refugees began making the pilgrimage back home. Leen was the last one to leave. By January of '87, Leen was back in Tempe. "The first night I got back, I went to Richard Flower's house," he says. "While I was waiting for him to get ready, I started looking through his magazines and books--and that's when I saw the picture of W.C. Fields with the gin blossoms on his nose."
For much of 1987, Hopkins kicked around town playing with a variety of the usual suspects. He also continued to write, but itched for the chance to finally put together the "perfect" group. "I think he kind of saw the light after Portland. Even though it wasn't a big success or anything, I think he finally had a real firm idea for what kind of band he wanted," says Shipp.
Leen and Hopkins spent some time playing with Dave McKay, in the hopes of continuing what had been started with the Ten O'clock Scholars. But when McKay decided to move back to Portland, he recommended that Hopkins hook up with his old bandmate from the Photos, Jesse Valenzuela. With Valenzuela on vocals, the group added drummer Chris McGann and guitarist Richard Taylor, and the original Blossoms lineup was born. Originally billed as Cap'n Crunch, the group made its debut on December 20, 1987, at Edcel's Attic, kicking off its set with a new Hopkins original, "Lost Horizons." The band continued to play through the new year, and the crowds also finally started to come. The Tempe of 1988 was a completely different place from the one where Hopkins had started a few years before. Bars like Edcel's Attic, Long Wong's and the Sun Club were finally providing an opportunity for live music to flourish on Mill Avenue. Early on, the Blossoms lineup went through a critical change when rhythm guitarist Taylor was fired and replaced by Robin Wilson, a young record-store clerk whom Hopkins had heard sing at a party.
"Doug had Bill call me up and asked me to join the band, and my first reaction was I was scared to death. The idea of playing the Mason Jar on a Friday night was just terrifying," says Wilson, now fronting his own post-Blossoms group, the Pharoahs.
It wasn't long before it became clear that Valenzuela was the superior guitarist and Wilson the better vocalist, and the switch was made. After going through a pair of drummers, the group settled on Phillip Rhodes, and the Blossoms' "classic" lineup was in place.
The group released a local album, Dusted, and was soon garnering national attention. The band signed with A&M Records in 1990. The release of an EP, Up and Crumbling, and a national tour soon followed. By 1992, the band ended up at Ardent Studios in Memphis to record its full-length major-label debut.
But the Blossoms' burgeoning success brought a screeching halt to Hopkins' songwriting. "By this point, he was a local 'celebrity,' and he didn't have to buy his drinks anymore, and people were always around, and the first thing to go was the writing," says Shipp. "On top of that, he was playing four or five nights a week and going out seven, so it was just hard to even find the time to sit down and concentrate."
Although Hopkins would pen several more gems including "Pieces of the Night" and "Hold Me Down," the surge of creativity that had continued unabated for nearly three years was over. "He really kind of stopped writing," recalls Wilson. "At one point, he said to me, 'I don't have anything else to write about. I can't think of anything that's worth writing that I haven't already done,'" says Wilson.
The other, more disturbing pattern in Hopkins' behavior was an apparent desire to sabotage the band's seemingly inevitable rise, a tendency that reached its low point in Memphis. "The closer we got to succeeding on a national level, the more self-destructive Doug became. It was really exactly at the same pace," Wilson says. With the record company making ominous threats to the rest of the group unless Hopkins was dealt with, the band was forced to do the unthinkable: fire Hopkins from his own band.
Returning to Tempe after the Memphis debacle, Hopkins began plotting his "comeback." In a strange way, his dismissal from the Blossoms was almost liberating, at least initially.
A local hero and free agent, Hopkins began jamming with a number of younger local musicians. One of these was an avowed Hopkins fan named Brian Blush. Blush was a veteran of a local group, August Red, and would later go on to national success as a member of Valley popsters the Refreshments. For the younger Blush, Hopkins was both a friend and an idol.
Hopkins and Blush began playing informally with a number of other musicians including future Refreshments drummer P.H. Naffah, and Sledville singer Mark Norman. Billing themselves as the Eventuals, the group made its one and only public appearance at Edcel's Attic, playing a mix of Hopkins tunes like "Hold Me Down" and "Angels Tonight" as well as a few new pieces that Blush and Hopkins had put together.
"I was just so gung ho about the idea of going onstage with Doug that we probably rushed it a little bit," Blush says. "And even though it didn't really go anywhere, I was so happy to have been able to play with him."
But Hopkins was looking for more than casual jamming partners. His initial relief at being freed from the Blossoms was quickly being replaced by feelings of anger and betrayal. Those feelings in part helped provide inspiration for what was to be his final great surge as a songwriter. Hopkins' next move was to put together what would be his final band. Lawrence Zubia, then a singer with local roots-rock outfit Live Nudes, recalls the day Hopkins approached him.
"One day he asked me to come over and said, 'I have to ask you something'--and I couldn't imagine what it would be," Zubia says. "We were standing by the pool at his apartment, and he said, 'I want to know if you want to start a band with me.' It didn't take more than a second to know I wanted to play in a band with Doug Hopkins, so my mind was made up."
The group inherited a tight rhythm section from local blues band Chuck Hall and the Brick Wall, and the Chimeras were born. The group began rehearsing in August of 1992. Hopkins' new band renewed his spirit as a musician and his inspiration as a writer. His growing feelings of animosity toward the Blossoms provided an added motivation.
"Revenge was a big motivator for Doug," Zubia says. "Revenge being your motivator in anything, it created a lot of emotional inertia. He was excited about music again, whether it was out of resentment toward the Blossoms or to the industry in general."
Zubia also notes that Hopkins was feeling pressure to come up with something special. "He had an enormous burden on his shoulders at that moment. Now, us and the Refreshments, Dead Hot, One--so many bands have had big record deals and gotten dropped. And you come home with your tail between your legs for a period of time, depending on how tough you are. But at that time, it was only Doug. Doug was at the pinnacle--and then, boom, he was back home in Tempe. And it was fuckin' summer, and he was just hating life. So he had kind of an overwhelming burden on him."
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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