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Remembering Doug Hopkins

Peter Gilstrap

Phoenix New Times, December 08, 1993

I first came to Phoenix in late September, and I had three days to find a place to live before returning back East to get my stuff and move out here permanently. I stayed with my friend, Wes, the only person in town I knew, in his apartment on University Drive in Tempe. One night over beers, he was telling me about some of his friends who lived nearby and he pointed out the front door of the apartment directly across the parking lot. "There's this guy Doug Hopkins who lives over there," he said. "He used to be in the Gin Blossoms. You'd like him."

I didn't get a chance to find that out; I never met Hopkins. But in the days since Hopkins took his own life, I've learned a lot about him from a lot of people: He was a very talented musician. He was a very funny guy. He was a very big drunk. Someone who had been wrestling with various demons for a long time and not winning.

A huge chunk of the local music community holds a great deal of affection for him, yet no one I've talked to has expressed any surprise over his death. Almost relief, in fact, for Hopkins' sake.

I'm in no position to ananlyze how or why he did what he did, and I can't pretend to get weepy; that's a right reserved for those of you who knew him.

The rest of this column is devoted to the voices of a couple of Doug's friends. I know he had a lot of them; it seems like every other person I talk to has a Doug Hopkins story.

"He had to eat cat food one time 'cause they were so damn broke, and he ended up giving half of it to the cat because the cat just kept looking at him. The way he told it was so funny --this was like two weeks ago--I was laughing and I was crying."--Laurie Notaro

"One time he got on a train in Tempe at Mill Avenue, and he was just going to jump on the train and take it south to Broadway or Baseline or to where he was living at the time. He thought, you know, if the train is going fast enough for me to jump on, then I can get off whenever I get to where I need to go. Well, the train started picking up speed, picking up speed and he ended up in Tucson.

And I mean, he had 20 bucks on him, he stayed in Congress Hotel, I guess they have a bar there, he drank all night and came home the next morning on a bus. That was typical Doug."--Lawrence Zubia

"Two of the most physically impressive people I've ever seen are a friend of mine who's six-seven, and Doug Hopkins when he was playing guitar. When I first came to Tempe years ago, the first band I saw was the Gin Blossoms--they were still nobodies--and I remember seeing Doug. I mean I saw him and I saw Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page and everyone else standing right there; he was cool, he was a rock star.

To know and then to get up and play with him, everthing he was about personally he was about onstage. It wasn't a put-on, it wasn't a stage show. He was born to do that." --Curtis Grippe

"Playing with Doug made you feel like a rock n' roller. I got to do little side projects with him; you could rely on him musically onstage, and it made you stronger."--Brian Griffith

"I can hear his voice right now: Christ on a crutch! That was one of his lines. It was just very sarcastic. Three days before he killed himself, he got a set of contact lenses 'cause he was blind as a bat. He couldn't put 'em in, he kept calling me--'Lawrence!' I'd have to go in the bathroom and look for a half-hour for the damn contact lens, and finally I sat him on the toilet and played optometrist and put the lenses in. And that was one of the real times I actually looked in his eyes.

After I got it in, he said, 'Goddamn, Lawrence, you found a new profession, man.' And right then, he said, 'Let's go to the Sail Inn, man. Let's go have a drink.' I said, 'Doug, I'm not here to drink with you, I'm here to hang with you, bro.' "--Zubia

"Doug told me he only had one job in his life, and it lasted one day in a pizza parlor. He'd moved to Portland and the only job he could get was standing in front of this pizza place dressed up in a big-slice-of-pizza outfit, this costume, and waving people in. If you ever saw Doug, the thought of that is just comical because he was just so tall and lanky.

He got fired from that job 'cause he just split; they found him dressed up like this piece of pizza sitting on a bar stool. He was still in his outfit, just sitting there drinking."--Notaro

"I lived with him for a while. He was a mess! He had his porn scattered everywhere, chicken bones and stuff in his room. We always had this running joke of how he smelled like paint. I'd go 'You smell like paint,' and he'd go, 'Navajo white.'--Griffith

"Doug was really good at skateboarding. When I first met him 13 years ago, he was the Arizona state champion. He could do a lot of things, do a handstand and skateboard down the street and all kinds of stuff. He always said it was his big feet; he had size-13 feet.

He didn't let me in that far to his hurting; to him I was always Boffo the Clown, that's what he always called me. It was something that one of our teachers in high school always called me and it stuck. We always just laughed and had a good time, he wasn't always depressed and dreary. He did have a sense of humor, that's what I'm going to miss."--Jim Swafford

"Doug was very funny ... he could keep you rolling all night tlong. But he could go from very funny to very quiet immediately. He could go from funny and very talkative to just total silence ... You never really got a grip of Doug."--Zubia

"We were in Flagstaff in a motel, we went up to see Dead Hot Workshop, and the phone started ringing in the morning. You know when the phone rings it's the hotel people trying to kick you out. So Doug picks up the phone and without missing a beat, he does this Hiii-yaaaa! noise and he rambles off into this diatribe about this kickboxing tournament and this kung fu event that's going on with Bruce Lee impersonators and the whole bit. He never missed a beat for like a minute straight, and the last
thing he said was, 'AND BRING YOUR CAMERAS!' Then he slammed down the phone. We were all just doubled over laughing."--Notaro

"I'm not just saying this 'cause he's gone, but he wasn't just a person; he was a force, kind of. He was just so strong, and his personality was so powerful it would smack you in the face. And I guess you could turn your heels and run 'cause you were scared, or you just stood there and talked to him."--Notaro

"It was those last five days that I started losing control of Doug. I used to lay in bed with him and talk about the hells of alcohol, me trying to convince him that it was only booze, that he could back off for a few days and get his head together. But Doug idealized a lot about suicide, talked a lot about killing himself. In those last five days, he said that it was his God-given American fucking right to take his life, and that's all he wanted to do and that's all people should let him do. That's how Doug spoke, that's a quote from Doug.

I wanted him to look at his life, and know that if he did kill himself, he would just be stereotyping the rock n' roll thing, you know? His response was that his life had been a stereotypical rock n' roll life and that's how he wanted it."--Zubia

"The next-to-last time I saw him, he ws talking to this younger friend of mine. Doug was really drunk and he was expounding the on the dangers of alcoholism."--Wes Hooke

"My main point here is that alcohol killed Doug. He had terrible pain, God knows where he got this pain, this quiet pain that kills him, but he used alcohol as the medicine. I'm positive that he wasn't sober when he did what he did, but I'm positive he meant to do what he did ... this is what Doug wanted."--Zubia

"He wanted to kill himself, he told me that. The last time I saw him, two weeks ago, I was sitting there and he was crying. I'd never seen him cry before; in fact, I'd never see anybody crying like that. Tears just rolling down his face, one after the other, one after the other. He wasn't sobbing; it was almost calm, but he got the entire placemat wet, that's how much he was crying.

I was lighting his cigarettes for him and all he kept telling me, over and over continuously, was, 'I wanna die I wanna die I wanna die.' And there wasn't a goddamn thing I could say to him that made any sense to him that he would even take me seriously. It's what he wanted, and it was not a rash decision."--Notaro

"No one feels any guilt. I tried to do everything I could; everybody did --all the Dead Hot [Workshop] guys who were his best friends, Sandra his girlfriend, the Chimeras. If there was anything else we could have done for Doug, we already have done it, you know what I mean?--Zubia

"One thing he said that always made me laugh was, 'That girl is stoopid, with two Os.' I love that."--Notaro