Yea, it’s late. And no, I’m not asleep. I’m very predictable that way. The house slumbers. I sit at the kitchen table typing these words to a soundtrack of an old Pistoleros record. The Tempe scene has dusted me, and I’ve got a just released Roger Clyne and the Peacemaker’s record on stand-by….along with the back catalog of the Gin Blossoms, a band led by a pop genius who wrote enough brilliant 3 minute songs to keep his former band together nearly 30 years later. They’re still paying the bills. When you play guitar, that’s success let me tell you.
Hopkins wasn’t much good with success, although he was a genius at drinking his liver into saying “no mas”. So one night he jumps the wall at yet another rehab facility and procures himself a handgun. He goes back to his apartment, lays on the bed, and blows his head clean off. Sucks for us. A guy who can write a song as fucking brilliant as “Found Out About You”, a picture perfect pop song with no flaws. None. Every note, every word, every guitar figure and that bass line, perfection. The guy is barely 30. It seems to come easy. A song like this is monstrous because it sounds so…simple.
But life got Hopkins. It’s a bitch that way. Booze was the blood the ran through his veins. He could not face the world without it. His fingers would shake. He could not play the guitar until he had a few belts. So a few hours later he’d be ready to play. His fingers nimble and his hands ready to dance up and down the frets. Except now he’s laying on the floor. It’s a delicate balance and Doug always seemed to get it wrong…..to tumble over the wire. He was, or could have been, our own Brian Wilson. We could deal with all the sauce if he’d just get off the floor long enough to write something like “Lost Horizon’s” again. Or something like “My Guardian Angel”, an absolute stunner he wrote for the Pistoleros. You’ve never heard it. I feel bad for you, because the song could change your life. Some pop songs can do that. Hopkins could write those kind. But he couldn’t look them in the eye when they were done. I think they scared him because they were so….accessible.
I’m getting old. I’m not much interested in pop songs that won‘t change my life in some way. I need my life changed, if only to not feel as old as I really am. When I listen to Doug Hopkins’ songs, for 3 minutes at a time, I feel just like he did. Probably not good considering the bullet in the head thing, but I’m really talking about the other stuff. The surge of youth. The desperation of it all. The uncertainty. The fear that drove him through his binges. Wanting to get in on the record. “If you don’t expect too much from me/You might not be let down”
Shit, that’s me! How did he know?
“The past is gone but something might be found/To take its place..”
Yes, something. But what? I suspect Hopkins had some answers but was too damn weary watching the band that fired him singing his songs on David Letterman. Fired for being a drunk, the very thing that enabled him to write songs like “Lost Horizons”, “Hey Jealousy”, and “Found Out About You” in the first place. I mean….with lines like “drunk drunk drunk in the gardens and the graves”….shit, what do you expect? A teetotaler rapping with Dr. Phil? These songs are the bile from the morning after. This was pain covered up by the jangle. Everybody hummed along to a series of 3 minute suicide notes. I do it still. I don’t feel bad about it. Hopkins did what he could do with his extraordinary gifts, and then he decided to fuck off on his own terms. I can’t feel that bad about that. He’s given way more to the world than most. And I’ve always admired those who go out on their own terms. Doug Hopkins said what he wanted to say and drank what he wanted to drink. So what if he was still in his early 30s. He wanted out. He’d done his bit. And now others were reaping the rewards. Who could blame him really?
Ok, maybe a little. I wish he was still writing songs like this. For me. Selfish bastard that I am. I want to write songs as good. I haven’t yet. But I’ll keep trying.
In a bit…
I thought it was Noel Gallagher’s “Wonderwall”.
It’s not….although it’s as close you can get to perfect without being perfect.
Doug Hopkins’s “Found Out About You” is perfect.
In a bit…
Time to swim in the stream of un-consciousness.
Well, still playing around with the words. All sorts of ’em. Half a first draft of a new play is done. Have 8 new songs in various shapes and sizes in the notebook. Keeping up with the “Riding Both Rails” essays. I’ve been devouring Irish fiction again, and living human hours, which means sleep is now possible. Bad habits have been curbed slightly, at least for now. Ipod overflowing with new stuff. Foo Fighters and the Drive-By Truckers both getting lots of spins lately. Greg Pope, The Hold Steady, Bob Mould, Lucero, Dropkick Murphys, Punchine. New Paul Simon is wonderful, as is the latest Social Distortion. BoDeans have a new record coming in a few months, which always makes me happy and glad I chose the guitar as my primary time-waster. Speaking of which, I’m still messing around with the piano as well, although I’m not in any danger of being able to fire off any Andrew McMahon tunes anytime soon. I can say I’ve mastered the G to Em change…..and I can play a mean C and D. In other words, I’m pretty much tapped out learning-wise. The rest is repetition and tedium and knowing when to call the session player when paying for the studio time. It does make a glorious sound though, the piano. And it looks splendid in my house. I can play a mean version of “Racing in the Streets” even when I’m sober, and played “Thunder Road” in the midst of my recently departed Uncle’s church viewing….although nobody was really paying attention, which is how I got away with sitting at the piano at the side of the altar in the first place. He died suddenly at the nursing home, just as I discovered the home had a slightly out-of-tune piano in their break room….and thus was planning some tinkling for the residents. He may have seen what I was up to and figured the time was right. My family is very concerned with appearances you know. Been a tough last 12 months. Lost some friends along the way, which is a pity but when I look back a lot of my friends were assholes so it’s just as well. The core remain though, and it’s them I sing and play and write for. I got into the whole Facebook thing, against my better judgement but then what else is new. By now I’m sorta addicted to the minutiae of other people’s lives, which is of course the important stuff for the rest of us. Nobody wants to read about your divorce or your new baby. We want to know what you had for breakfast and when you’re getting your car fixed. Facebook is sorta the ultimate in creepy narcissism. Plus it’s a wonderful way to offend a whole lotta people at one time….and find out what old girlfriends are up to. I hear they even made a movie about the guy who invented the whole idea…..some really creepy narcissist who’s now worth about a billion dollars. I never saw the movie. The last movie I saw was one of the Harry Potter ones. I went with my kids and they didn’t want me to sit with them when I kept asking who the guy with the beard was. I guess I was supposed to know. At least I picked the movie where the guy died. His name was “dumb” something or other, and he was annoying in a upper-class twit of the year sorta of way. Speaking of which, there was a night last week when I could not sleep so I sat up until dawn watching 6 hours of Monty Python, trying not to wake the house laughing at the Minister of Silly Laughs and the Fish Slapping Dance. I dare you to try it.
In a bit…