Desert Island Discs: “New Miserable Experience” by Gin Blossoms (1992)Posted: April 7, 2014
“Okay, right off the bat, let’s acknowledge that it’s just not cool to like the Gin Blossoms. They were one of those bands that helped propel modern rock into the mainstream, wound up with gobs of commercial success, and were at one time a ubiquitous sound on corporate radio. So, today, if you try to hang onto any kind of indie cred at all, you’ll probably distance yourself from the Gin Blossoms faster than you can say Alanis Morrissette. Fool.”
– Patrick Schabe
Through hard work, relentless performing, great creativity, good connections, or just plain luck, some bands and artists find mainstream success. In many circles this makes them the targets of skepticism and outright derision from jaded hipster posers who run screaming from anything that smacks of popularity. I know: at times I’ve been one of those jaded hipster posers. Not proud of it, but there it is.
Popularity is not a flawless indicator of quality. But neither is it a flawless indicator of pandering to an audience or selling out to bland mindless repetition. Sometimes a performer or band becomes popular because they’re good, because they have talent and inventiveness and vision and something to offer.
Many people know about the tragedy surrounding the release of this album. Gin Blossoms formed in 1987 in their home town of Tempe, Arizona, where they headlined and toured constantly. Core members were guitarists Jesse Valenzuela and Doug Hopkins, lead vocalist Robin Wilson, and bassist Bill Leen. They released a DIY album, “Dusted,” in 1989. Shortly thereafter they signed with A&M Records and issued an EP, “Up And Crumbling,” in 1991.
As they were finishing “New Miserable Experience” in early 1992, primary song writer Hopkins began drinking heavily and became difficult for the band to work with. At risk of losing their contract with A&M, the band fired Hopkins and replaced him with Scott Johnson. But not before Hopkins played guitar on the album and wrote or co-wrote half of the tracks.
“New Miserable Experience” was all over the radio a year after it was released in 1992. “Hey Jealousy” and “Found Out About You” hit the top 40 in 1993, followed by “Mrs. Rita,” “Until I Fall Away,” and “Allison Road.” But their success was overshadowed, tragically, by Hopkins’ suicide in late 1994.
“Hopkins, who suffered from mental illness and alcoholism, was staunchly against the band signing with a major label, and this led to his downward spiral in the studio and eventual firing. Hopkins became increasingly despondent as the band rose to fame performing the songs he had written. Shortly after receiving a gold record for the song “Hey Jealousy”, he tore it off the wall and destroyed it. Ten days later, Hopkins committed suicide. As lead singer Robin Wilson later acknowledged: ‘Without Doug and his songwriting, we never could have signed a record deal.’ Quite ironic.”
– Classic Rock Review
It’s been described as a cross between R.E.M. and Nirvana. Twelve strong tracks. Happy songs about sad topics. Down-and-out sentiments set to a bright set of melodies and flowing lyrics. Not faking their pain. That, in a nutshell, is “New Miserable Experience.”
“All last summer, in case you don’t recall
I was yours and you were mine – forget it all
Is there a line that I could write
Sad enough to make you cry?
All the lines you wrote to me were lies” – “Found Out About You”
“They say you can’t miss
Something that you never had
So tell me why
Why I should feel so bad?” – “Cajun Song”
“My fear: pretend
That I’ll never be in love again
It’s real to me
But not like these fools and not like this scene
I won’t find or have it within the time
If it’s all rusted and fade in the spot where we fell
Where I thought I’d left behind
It’s loose now but we could try” – “Until I Fall Away”
“‘Cause when you’re in the company of strangers
Or just the strangers you call friends
You know before you start just how it’s going to end” – “Hold Me Down”
“But it’s lacking something big this time
What the hell did you expect to find –
Aphrodite on a barstool by your side?” – “Pieces Of The Night”
“New Miserable Experience” is a simple unsophisticated pleasure, an unpretentious and non-trendy collection which strikes chords and resonates to feelings of loss and longing. A Desert Island Disc to be sure.
PS: Jesse Valenzuela went on to team up with Craig Northey of The Odds, and created the theme song to my favorite TV comedy, “Corner Gas.”