The Next Stage

Jimy Murphy, the Kamikazi Kid, gets his act together.

But when he went to sign up for his senior classes, it quickly became clear that his special treatment was about to end. "So I tore up the papers and told them, 'Cram it up your ass' and walked out of the school. Only then did I stop and think, 'Gee, I hope that wasn't a mistake,'" he remembers.

It wasn't: Murphy went to Loretto Heights College and convinced administrators there to let him enroll as a theology major.

At Loretto Heights, Murphy met Mark O'Brien. With his long, flowing red hair and beard and unusual background, O'Brien was far from a typical student. He had a doctorate in law, but he no longer practiced; instead, he worked as a janitor at the Jefferson County Open School. He'd been a nationally ranked swimmer, even beating future Olympian Mark Spitz several times during his college career; he was a scratch golfer, a ranked table-tennis player and only a step below a chess master. O'Brien had also spent several years in India, studying under a holy man. Now he took Murphy under his wing and taught him yoga and how to meditate.

A scene from Murphy's Heaven's a Nude Beach, now playing in Evergreen.
John Johnston
A scene from Murphy's Heaven's a Nude Beach, now playing in Evergreen.
Klones Mark Hagen and A.J. Coon taking off.
Bill Warren
Klones Mark Hagen and A.J. Coon taking off.

Murphy and his friends would visit O'Brien in his cabin outside Evergreen, where they'd listen to his stories and his music. New stuff coming out of New York -- Elvis Costello, the New York Dolls, the Sex Pistols.

Although O'Brien had many interests, he was absolutely obsessed with lightning. The walls and ceiling of his cabin were covered with photographs of lightning. If Murphy and his pals were hiking in the mountains when a storm rolled in, they'd panic, because O'Brien would refuse to leave. He'd stand there with his red hair on end, arms spread, screaming, "It's here, it's here."

"We'd have to tackle him," Murphy recalls. "We didn't want to have to drag his dead ass down from there."

Murphy's college career didn't last long: He found he could learn more as a teacher's assistant at the Open School. Working part-time also gave him a chance to hitchhike around the country, returning to Evergreen whenever he needed a break from "the real world."

Meanwhile, the stage was calling him back. When Murphy was twenty, he joined the Fly by Night Touring Repertory Company, a troupe formed by Joe Bianchi, a director of the Evergreen Players. Bianchi had created the group so that he could perform more avant-garde plays than Evergreen was used to.

The company took its act all over the state, even performing Animal Farm at the men's prison in Buena Vista. That audience at first seemed a mistake, especially as Bianchi wanted the cast to perform the political satire in black leotards and white face. "We had some pretty shapely women in those black leotards," Murphy recalls, "and some pretty shapely men, for that matter." So the reaction when the cast came out on stage was pretty much what'd you'd expect from an audience of incarcerated male criminals. "It was pretty bad, and the girls were crying," Murphy recalls. "But ten minutes into the play, they shut up and were silent for the rest of it. They were free to leave, but none did over that entire hour and a half."

And when the play about the cruelty of the system and its castes ended, "they wouldn't let us leave," he remembers. "They gave us a standing ovation for ten minutes. Later, we got more than a hundred letters thanking us and asking us to come back...I think it was the best I've ever felt standing on a stage."

Until he started performing music publicly, that is. Delano was playing with a couple of musicians at a 3.2 bar in Evergreen, and he invited his friend Murphy on stage. Together they performed nearly the entire Who rock opera Tommy. "At the end, all these girls were screaming, and I liked that," Murphy says. "I was thinking, 'They sure don't do this for Shakespeare...' And that's when I decided that being a rock star would be a pretty good job. So, yes, you could say I got into it for the chicks."

Emboldened by the reaction of the female fans, Murphy suggested that he, Delano and their childhood friend Mark Hagen form a trio -- and sometimes a quartet, if Hopkins could sit in. Since they'd used the term "kamikazi" for many of their balls-to-the wall endeavors over the years -- they'd had a Kamikazi softball team, a Kamikazi ski club -- it seemed natural for the bandmembers to call themselves the Kamikazi Klowns.

The band was an interesting blend of personalities. Delano was difficult to get along with; like many geniuses, Murphy says, "he had trouble controlling his passions." Although Delano and Murphy would collaborate on songwriting for years, theirs was a tempestuous, on-again-off-again relationship. "I'd hand him words for a song saying, 'Check this out, you prick,' and he'd give me a tape of music back, saying, 'Listen to this, asshole.' We wouldn't speak to each other for weeks, even months at a time, then we'd make up and play together."

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