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The Next Stage

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

Like Delano, Hagen was a genius. He'd gone to the University of Colorado and graduated at the top of his class in the pharmacy school. "He was well on his way to becoming a doctor when I talked him into becoming a rock star with me," Murphy says. "It ruined his life, for which I owe him a million apologies...though I think, underneath, he liked it."

And despite his otherwise retiring personality, Hopkins had developed into a brilliant guitar player. "Delano could play anything: classical, rock, whatever," Murphy says. "But Hoppy was one bad-ass rock-and-roll guitar player. You saw how much heart he had when he played...Besides, he was the only one with a real job -- he was working at the Henderson Mine -- so he could afford real guitars and amps."

The musicians billed themselves as "folk singers," because that way they could get hired at places that only wanted acoustic music -- and they wanted people to listen to their lyrics. They'd start their evening off with Bob Dylan, which was fine, move on to an Irish drinking song, which raised a few eyebrows, then cruise into acoustic versions of Sex Pistols songs with lyrics like "I'm not an animal, I'm an abortion."

Murphy thought those songs had important messages that people should hear. But management at the establishments where the Klowns played didn't see it that way. They only heard the vulgarity. As often as not, the band would be kicked off the stage partway into the Sex Pistols portion of the set -- that is, if bandmembers hadn't already gotten into a fight with angry patrons. "Once we were playing the Big M Lounge in Golden, and we let this guy hit Delano three or four times before we jumped off the stage to help," Murphy recalls.

Delano eventually left for California. "We made him go," Murphy says. "You could only work with him so long before you'd want to kill him yourself." But the other three were determined to keep the band going, with Murphy as lead singer. By now, though, they'd figured that in order to play the kind of music they liked, which included a growing collection of their own songs, they were going to have to become a full-fledged, electrified rock-and-roll band. And for that, they would need a drummer and a bass player.

The drummer came in the form of another childhood friend, Mike Lenz, who'd played the drums in the high school marching band. More important, he also had a real job and could afford a drum kit.

The bass player was an eccentric character named A.J. Coon. He was the only bandmember not raised in Evergreen; in fact, he had the distinction of being the only white kid in an all-black high school in Oakland, California -- during the days of the race riots. Not surprisingly, he was the most street-smart of the bandmembers, having fled the city for clean air and tepee-living on the outskirts of Evergreen. "I love him dearly, but A.J. has absolutely no guile and absolutely no tact," says Murphy. In other words, he was perfect for the Klowns' punk/new-wave incarnation.

After a month of practice, the Klowns decided it was time to try their act in front of a live audience. They spent the day getting high and "learning three songs really, really well," Murphy remembers. That evening they went out to the Brook Forest Inn, which at the time catered to a rather rough crowd that often showed up on Harleys. The Klowns had notified their friends of their impending debut, and so had a significant amount of support in the crowd when they asked the house band if they could take the stage for a set.

By the time they got up on stage, Murphy, who had a case of nerves, had downed four shots of whiskey. It didn't take long for disaster to strike: The band started playing one song and Murphy started singing something else. Then he passed out and fell off the stage. Those in the crowd who weren't friends of the Klowns demanded that the band disappear; those who were friends insisted the band stay. Soon fists were flying. The management whisked the Klowns, including the unconscious Murphy, outside. But the fresh mountain air only revived the singer, who then tried to battle his way back inside, where he had to be rescued from a large bouncer.

The Klowns were not invited back. "Right from the first, that pretty much summed up how people felt about the band," Murphy says. "They either loved us or hated us."

And there was so much to love -- or hate. In November 1978, cult leader Jim Jones and 913 followers committed suicide in Jonestown, Guyana -- most of them by drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. Murphy and his friends were rehearsing for a gig at an Evergreen bar when they heard the news.

For that show, and that show only, they decided to bill themselves as "Jimmy Jones and the Kamikazi Klones." The "Kamikazi" moniker was a natural for mass suicide, and "Klones" worked for people who'd follow such a lockstep mentality right into their graves. The band even designed fliers depicting dead bodies lying around the bar with packets of Kool-Aid on the tables. "We never shied away from doing things in poor taste," Murphy notes.

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