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Friends Prefer to remember Doug Hopkins' life rather than death

Thomas Bond

Get Out Magazine, December 07, 2003

Gin Blossoms singer Robin Wilson has vivid memories of former bandmate, guitarist Doug Hopkins, who took his own life 10 years ago this week.

“I still see him in Long Wong's, right there in my face, singing ‘Sugar, Sugar’ with me in that drunken, glorious place that we were all at in 1989,” Wilson says. “It was perfect.”

But it wouldn't last.

While the Blossoms would go on to become the most commercially successful band the Valley has ever produced — with a pair of million-selling albums and a handful of Top 40 singles in the ’90s — they parted company with Hopkins over his alcohol problem before fame came calling.

“It's so hard for anyone outside of five or six people to have any understanding how his role in the Gin Blossoms came to an end and how that all fell apart,” Wilson says. “So many people think they know what happened and it's a drag, but I'm glad we're at the point now where it seems that people are more comfortable enjoying his music and not dwelling on these other things.”

Hopkins’ songs — especially the hits “Hey Jealousy” and “Found Out About You,” which launched the Gin Blossoms from local heroes to the national stage — are still heard frequently on the radio airwaves. The band's 1992 breakthrough album, “New Miserable Experience,” which contains both songs, was re-issued in a “Deluxe Edition” package to mark its 10-year anniversary last year.

Following his dismissal from the Gin Blossoms, Hopkins sank deeper into alcohol abuse and a depression that was part of his personality even while in the group. He forged on musically, however, forming The Chimeras with brothers Lawrence and Mark Zubia, but it just wasn't the same.

“Post-Blossoms it was all a rough road,” singer Lawrence Zubia says. “During the Blossoms years, my brother and I were playing in Live Nudes and opening shows for them and we'd all come back to our house and party until the sun came up. Watching those guys make that rise (to signing their major label record deal) and being close to them while it happened were the best times I remember.”

Hopkins stay in The Chimeras was brief and he parted company with the group about six months before his death. Still, his shadow loomed large as three years later the band — renamed The Pistoleros — signed their own major label record deal and scored a radio hit with Hopkins’ tune “My Guardian Angel.”

“We just played at Long Wong's last weekend and playing some of those songs are just mile markers for us,” Lawrence says. “There's a particular song called ‘Southbound Train,’ which was one of the last songs he wrote and had a lot of himself in it. It's classic Doug, it's like he was writing one of his last songs and knowing it.”

Following his departure from The Chimeras, the Zubias remained close to Hopkins. Lawrence, a one-time roommate, found his friend's body following his suicide by gunshot.

“He was definitely on a downward spiral for the last two months of his life with depression and alcoholism,” he says. “I'd been checking on him regularly because I felt like something bad was going to happen. It was during the Tempe Arts festival and the parking was atrocious, so I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone: I'll park at Doug's place, check on him and go to the fair. I checked on him and he was dead on the bed.”

The discovery haunted him for some time.

“It was rough for several years after he killed himself because finding a suicide victim is really rough on a person's psyche,” Lawrence says. “Now, for the last couple of years, I can look at it from an outside point of view and be clinical about it.”

A decade after Hopkins took his own life, friends prefer not to dwell on the suicide.

“As time's gone on, I think more about his life and less about his death,” guitarist Mark Zubia says. “Of course, his death and the way he chose to end his life creeps in there, but more often than not I think about his life.”

So does former girlfriend Sandra Quijas, 37, of Tempe, who lived with Hopkins for three years.

“It doesn't seem like 10 years have passed,” she says. “What will always stick in my mind was how he transformed from his usual loud self to speaking in almost whispers when we were together. I've never felt so loved as how he made me feel. I couldn't forget him even if I wanted to.

“I'm still mad that he left. I grew up a Catholic girl and never even thought of suicide and never knew anyone who thought of that.”

Quijas used to mark the anniversary of his death with a personal ritual.

“For a few years, I would go to what's left of the Ash Avenue bridge and have a beer there and dump a beer there. We scattered the majority of his ashes off that bridge,” she says. “I don't do that anymore. I'd probably be arrested if I tried it.”

Sara Cina, general manager and music booker at Long Wong's where she's worked for 13 years, is constantly reminded of her former friend.

“For me, Doug is still present,” she says. “I'm still friends with the same circle of people that were his friends and especially being at Long Wong's — he was a huge part of its heyday.”

Lawrence Zubia remembers two very different sides of Hopkins’ personality.

“Doug was a quintessential rock ’n’ roll guitarist, on- and offstage,” he says. “But there was another part of him that people rarely saw, like he was very domesticated. He'd sit at home with his glasses on and watch his favorite TV programs and be very normal. Then he'd annihilate that sort of thing with two nights in a row of drinking until dawn.”

While the Gin Blossoms split up for a few years in the late ’90s, the band is now playing together again and Hopkins’ music is still featured in their concert sets.

“We play his songs and we keep that alive and we do it with pride,” Robin Wilson says. “We're also pissed that he's not here. So much has changed in ten years and Doug's missed out on a whole lot. I wonder what he would think of (bandmates) Bill (Leen) and Jesse (Valenzuela) and I with kids.”

Hopkins’ legacy also lives on with The Pistoleros.

“We still play some of the songs we wrote with him and some of the songs he wrote,” Mark Zubia says. “He's never far from our memories, that's for sure.”