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You Should Know About...Doug Hopkins

Craig Whitney

Daily Texan, December 02, 2004

Editor's note: This is the third installment in a series that highlights obscure artists whose work deserves recognition.

This Sunday will mark the 11th anniversary of the suicide of Gin Blossoms guitarist and founder Doug Hopkins. On the morning of his death, the Gin Blossoms' single "Found Out About You" was at No. 5 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart and would eventually hit No. 1 a month later.

The group's debut album, "New Miserable Experience," for which Hopkins wrote or co-wrote half of its 12 tracks, would go on to sell in excess of 4 million copies, netting the band hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties. When Hopkins' body was found in his Tempe, Ariz. apartment, he had $498 in his pocket - every dollar that he had in his name.
After a decade as the unquestionable leader of the Tempe Valley's lively alternative rock scene, by the early '90s, Hopkins' drinking had escalated to the point that it had severely crippled both his finances and musical career. Over a year before his death in April 1992, while the Gin Blossoms were recording their debut, he was fired from the band he had founded five years earlier because he was frequently so intoxicated that he was unable to play his guitar parts in the studio.

After being replaced in the Gin Blossoms, Hopkins formed a new band in Tempe, The Chimeras, and watched as the songs he had written for his former group helped propel two of its singles into the top 10 and push "New Miserable Experience" to multi-platinum status. But while his new group quickly became the hot unsigned band in Tempe, Hopkins' drinking, combined with royalties being withheld from him by the Gin Blossoms, helped to further shake his already unstable personality.

In April 1993, after fumbling a solo at an outdoor festival with The Chimeras, Hopkins abruptly announced that he was quitting the group. Over the next months, Hopkins drifted through his inertia in Tempe, occasionally giving interviews in which he lashed out at the Gin Blossoms, before committing the suicide that many of his friends considered inevitable.

The combination of Hopkins' early death and the subsequent short life afterward of the Gin Blossoms have tended to marginalize the group's achievements during their two albums together. The band tends to be lumped together with the Counting Crows, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Blues Traveler and other melodic, alternative-cum-AOR bands that rode the wave of grunge's success to the charts in the early '90s.

While there is a clear artistic dropoff between "New Miserable Experience" and the Gin Blossoms' subsequent "Congratulations, I'm Sorry," during Hopkins' time with the group they were one of the smartest, most literate bands in the country, thanks largely to his contributions. Hopkins' long apprenticeship in the Tempe music scene gave him familiarity in a broad range of musical styles, which he employed to full effect with the Gin Blossoms.

His compositions combined an intimate aquaintance with punk riffs, Byrds-style arpeggios and an uncanny knack for melody to produce songs which were at the same time tender and aggressive, guarded and embarrassingly honest.

Over the undeniably catchy melodies of songs like "Hey Jealousy" and "Found Out About You," Hopkins added lyrics which seem effortless and conversational but which contained profound insight and self-examination into his troubled personality. They are literally the words of a man drinking himself to death, acutely aware of his predicament yet incapable of doing anything to slow his downfall.

"Pieces of the Night" is set in the aftermath of a long, hazy night of drinking as Hopkins searches for some greater meaning in the half-remembered events from the previous evening.

"But it's lacking something big this time/What the hell did you expect to find/Aphrodite on a barstool by your side.../Then I saw: gin mill, rainfall/What do you remember if at all/Only pieces of the night."

The saddest element in Hopkins' early death is not that its deprived rock music of one of its most talented songwriters, although that is sad, but that his loss has led the larger segment of the music community to grossly undervalue the music which he produced during his few short years.

In 2000, The Arizona Republic published a list of the top 100 Valley rock bands of all time, and Hopkins was in four of them. For over a decade, he was a commanding figure in the local music scene, as important and influential as The Beatles were to the Liverpool of the early '60s. A proven hitmaker, a brilliant musician and an immensely gifted and intelligent man, Doug Hopkins deserves mention a one of the greatest, if not most well-remembered, rock musicians of the last decade.