The Next Stage
We're with the band (from left): Kamikazi Klones Mike Lenz, Mark Hopkins, Jimy Murphy, Mark Hagen and A.J. Coon backstage at the Rainbow Music Hall before opening for the Motels; Murphy's grandfather's band (right).Enter, stage left: Jimy Murphy, performing with the Evergreen Players (top); a scene from Murphy's Heaven?s a Nude Beach, now playing in Evergreen (above); and Klones Mark Hagen and A.J. Coon taking off.Send in the klones: Jimy Murphy, still crazy after all these years.
The stage lights brighten, illuminating two irregular groupings of styrofoam blocks arranged like rock formations on a beach. A stagehand adds the sound of waves breaking on the shore, and then...nothing.
"Uh, when the lights come up, that means the play is supposed to start," shouts director Jimy Murphy from his seat several rows up at Evergreen's Centre Stage theatre. Embarrassed offstage giggles escape from behind the curtains. Murphy laughs, too -- this is just a rehearsal -- and again calls for action.
This time he gets it, as a middle-aged actor bounds on stage, playing the part of a jogger. The jogger trots in circles until his "running partner" appears, out of breath, pulls out a pack of cigarettes and attempts to light one -- butt first. He doesn't smoke, the first runner points out.
"Gotta start," the smoker wheezes. "Boss smokes."
"So, is everybody at work sucking on the teats of cancer?" the first jogger asks.
"Nah, just me. He loves me...I enable him."
So begins Heaven's a Nude Beach.
"It's about personal freedom and the different layers of illusion we wrap around ourselves," Murphy, who also wrote the play, explains. "And heaven and hell, and life and death...I've got it all."
He's got a bad case of nerves, too: Only one week until opening night, and some of his actors are still learning their lines. It doesn't help that Heaven's a Nude Beach, Murphy's first "adult" production, is following the very successful All in the Timing, which the Evergreen Players recently presented on this same stage -- and which earned the troupe a prestigious American Association of Community Theater regional championship that qualified it for a national competition this spring.
Just a few minutes earlier, Murphy had called his eight actors and actresses on stage for some last-minute pointers and encouragement. The cast includes several Evergreen Players as well as other actors from "down the hill" who responded to Murphy's open-audition call. But some were involved long before that, participating in early readings of the play last April when Murphy wanted feedback -- feedback that resulted in a rewrite of the entire second act.
Now there's no time to rewrite more than a line or two. So when the actors assembled on the stage, Murphy told them he wanted to run through both acts of the play without stopping. "I want you to stay in character -- and no calling for lines," he said. The actors should fully explore the "conflicts" between the characters in the play, he continued, "their relationship to each other and to the beach, which is also a character." They were not to think too much, but to have fun, all the while remembering that it will be up to them to "create the beach for the audience."
That said, Murphy sent his cast offstage to focus before calling for the lights, wave noises...and actors.
Five minutes into the scene with the joggers, Murphy forgets his pledge not to interrupt. "Hold on," he shouts, leaving his seat and leaping up on the stage. He wants the first jogger to take bigger strides as he runs, to "look like you're working out." Murphy throws shadow punches, executes a few jumping jacks and races around the stage to demonstrate.
"I was a little concerned about bigger strides. This is a small stage," the actor explains meekly. But Murphy has already turned his attention to the second jogger. He wants "more gasping" upon entrance, moreexhaustion. And both actors, he says, are to "go into the alpha-male thing" as they spy the nude females on the beach. "Puff out your chest," Murphy says, puffing out his own.
As he gasps, puffs and prances, it's easy to see the old energy that once made Murphy's band,the Kamikazi Klones, the hottest draw in Denver, with legitimate hopes of a major record deal. But that was twenty years ago. For the past dozen years, Murphy's musical aspirations have played second fiddle to his family, a children's theater group called the Kamikazi Kids, and the charter school Murphy helped found -- one based on "experiential" learning for kids who, like Murphy, don't fit into traditional schools. Today his trademark braid is streaked with gray, and his boyish features are lined with the tracks of middle age. Although the Klones still get together occasionally (the band has had more farewell tours than KISS), these days it's just for fun. Sometimes bittersweet fun, since one of the original bandmembers died in 1998.
But now Murphy thinks he's ready for another run at the bigtime, on a larger stage. He believes he has something to say, and this play, in this place, is the beginning.
Murphy's maternal grandfather, Beth King, discovered the town of Evergreen while he was playing with a traveling jazz band in the 1930s. King was a restless sort, according to his grandson, and "he might go out to work one day and disappear for four years." But after he found Evergreen, he began taking his wife and kids there to "escape the heat in Oklahoma." One day he decided to stay for good. He moved the family to Colorado permanently and opened King Hardware in a building that still stands downtown.
In those days, Evergreen was two blocks of mom-and-pop businesses, a man-made lake, and maybe a couple hundred full- and part-time residents living in homes scattered along the forested hills. There were no Wal-Marts, no King Soopers, no interstates.
About a decade later, another musician, James Murphy, came to town. Murphy had taught himself to play piano by ear and had been a member of a big band back East called Blue Baron, but after World War II broke out, he'd been stationed in Denver with the Army Air Corps. He was passing through Evergreen with some service buddies and dropped by the local telephone company to ask for directions.
There he chatted with the female operator -- Ellece King, Beth's daughter. Murphy asked her out and she accepted, and their first date was at a local bar called the Roundup -- now the Little Bear. It wasn't long before they were married. They had two daughters and a baby boy, born New Year's Eve 1954. They named him after his father but called him Jimmy.
Beth King and James Murphy weren't the only performers in the extended family. Ellece helped found the Evergreen Players in 1950. "My earliest memories are of going to rehearsals," Murphy recalls. "I would learn everybody's lines so I could be the prompter."
Other early memories center around cast parties at the Murphy residence. Jimmy was usually ordered off to bed early, but he'd sneak back to spy on the "drunken revelry," which included his father banging out tunes on the piano, "something like 'Cigarettes, Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women,' and I'd say, 'Yeah...I like that.'"
After the war, James Murphy got his law degree at the University of Denver, then set up an office in Evergreen. Within a couple of years, he was elected Clear Creek County judge -- and was so well-liked in that job that some of the guys he packed off to prison sent him license plates they'd made in their new digs. Although the senior Murphy was an extraordinary performer -- both as a musician and an actor with the Evergreen Players -- he had another, more unexpected talent. "He was a psychic," his son remembers. "We'd be sitting at the dinner table, and all of a sudden he would stop, his eyes would glaze over, and he'd say something like, 'Earthquake, tomorrow morning, northern Mexico.' And sure enough, it would happen."
Those psychic talents gave his son a sense there was "something greater out there," later prompting his interest in spirituality and religion. "It also convinced me that I would never be able to hide anything from him," Murphy says with a laugh. "So I never tried, at least not much. Fortunately, what I loved most about my dad was that he accepted me no matter what I was doing. It was always unconditional love from my father, and that is one of the greatest gifts anyone can give you."
His mother gave him another gift: She put him on stage, where he discovered that he enjoyed having an audience. (By then, he'd already given himself a more theatrical name, having exchanged Jimmy for Jimy, in honor of Jimi Hendrix.) Still, in his early teens he began to rebel, coming up with excuses for why he couldn't, or wouldn't, appear in a play. "It was something my parents did, so I tried to stay away," he recalls. "So my mother used to pay me when she needed me."
At that age, what he really wanted was to be the best "Stink" player in the world -- or at least in Evergreen, the only place the game is played. A combination of Capture the Flag, roller derby and ice hockey without a stick, Stink was part of growing up in Evergreen. Stink, and music.
Murphy started playing guitar with his friends Rick Delano and Steve Neal while they were in the seventh grade. Delano "was something of an idiot savant when it came to the guitar," Murphy recalls. "I remember when he went to a Jethro Tull concert at Red Rocks and came back the next day and played'Thick as a Brick' note for note having heard it once." In high school, the friends added Mark Hopkins, a painfully shy new kid who'd just moved to the area, to their group. Hopkins was a bust with the girls, and he stammered whenever he tried to talk, but he could play the guitar.
As much as he liked music and playing with his friends, Murphy didn't envision music as part of his future: He wanted to be a writer, a poet. He wanted people to listen to what he had to say and be moved by it. But even though he was an honor-roll student at Evergreen High School, he didn't really fit in. He was bored by traditional learning. The first couple of years there, he'd made a deal with several of his teachers: If he could pass the final exams, they would let him spend the rest of the school day in the library, reading about the sorts of things that interested him -- poetry and philosophy and theology.
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.
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."
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.
But the name was a hit -- so much so that by the end of that year, the band was officially known as the Kamikazi Klones.
Just as the Beatles had their Maharishi, the Klones had their own guru: Mark O'Brien -- "only he was a lot more fun," says Murphy. "He was the original Kamikazi, and went at life like a piranha on amphetamines. Anytime we went out with him, we had a great time and learned a lot...and it wasn't empty, hedonistic partying. He always seemed to unveil something that was there but we hadn't seen."
Within a year, the Klones had developed a large following up and down the Front Range. Their number-one fan was Steve Neal, who couldn't be lured to perform. Instead, he became the band's archivist, and often knew songs better than the musicians on stage did.
The band's song list was as eclectic as its members. It ranged from punked-up Bob Dylan ("Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man"played at quadruple speed, to the horror of purists and the delight of others) to Elvis Costello, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Talking Heads, Graham Parker, the Kinks, the Who, the Rolling Stones and even an electrified version of "Secret Agent Man." And they borrowed from other bands; the words to Murphy's "Vampire" -- The demons that follow this man/Aren't even part of the plan/His sorrows that breed in the night/Run with the also-ran -- worked with the music in David Bowie's "Panic in Detroit."
But some material was the Klones' own, including "Give Texas Back to the Mexicans," written after the Broncos lost the 1978 Super Bowl to the Dallas Cowboys:
...Give Texas back to the Mexicans
We shouldn't have stolen it anyhow
...Give Texas back to the Mexicans
Make Mexico Texaco now...
And then there was "Rich Punks," written for the Denver punk-rockers who snickered at the thought of a punk band coming from lily-white Evergreen: I'm a rich punk rocker every Saturday night/I got my hair slashed short and my nose packed tight/I'm cruising with the trash on the bad side of town/Looking for the girls that like to go down...
By 1980, the Klones were arguably the most popular band in Colorado. The bandmembers offered more than just music: They put on a show, highlighted by Murphy's frenetic, spinning, kicking, whirling-dervish dancing and theatrics, Hopkins's fiery lead guitar, and A.J. Coon, complete with shaved head and combat boots, shaking the walls with his bass. "We did what rock and roll is supposed to do," Murphy says. "We made people move."
For his part, the former theology major found being on stage a religious experience. "It was almost trance-like," he remembers. "No matter how wild I got, I couldn't be hurt...It was a communion with God and with the audience. It was an expression of who I am, and I fed off of it. I might have run myself into the ground so that I could barely walk onto the stage, but as soon as the lights went on and the music started, I had unlimited energy."
The Klones began opening for national acts at the Rainbow Music Hall and blowing crowds away. "If the Kamakazi Klones do make it on a national level, they'll be one of the most unique, creative groups to break out of this area," a Westword critic wrote in March 1980, after the Klones opened for the Motels. "And judging from their recent performance at the Rainbow, the group just may be able to fulfill those dreams in the not-too-distant future."
Everyone thought the band was on the verge of making it big -- and no one thought it more than the bandmembers themselves.
But just when it seemed that everything was going their way, tragedy struck. On July 9, 1980, Murphy and his girlfriend were visiting O'Brien at his cabin. As Murphy kept mentioning things they ought to do -- mountains to climb, shows to see -- O'Brien would just respond, "Yeah, you do that, Jimy." Then he leaned forward and said, "You're not doing your practices as you should. You're not doing your yoga. You're not meditating."
Murphy admitted it. But it was so hard to do those things when you were living the rock-and-roll lifestyle, he protested. The girls, the partying, the nights without sleep, the days without eating right.
Having said what he needed to say, O'Brien got up and walked out onto the porch with Murphy's girlfriend. He was holding a metal shotput in one hand when he told her, "It's right above us, right now."
Murphy heard the blast from the lightning bolt that exploded down from the clouds. Instantly, he knew what had happened. He ran outside and saw that his girlfriend had been knocked to the ground when the bolt struck O'Brien. "It was the funniest thing I have ever seen," Murphy says. "O'Brien was spread-eagled on his back, with his tongue sticking out and the hugest hard-on, which had absolutely torn his pants apart."
Although it was obvious O'Brien was dead, Murphy administered CPR -- burning his hands on the hot metal buttons of O'Brien's clothing -- until medical personnel arrived. "He was gone, but I saw his soul leave, I swear," Murphy remembers. "It was a real validation to me of the existence of the soul."
But Murphy was too young, "too driven by testosterone and ego," to remember that lesson for long. The Klones were still climbing, opening for U2 at the Rainbow in 1981 and soon headlining themselves.
Then in 1982, they were invited to open for the Kinks in Albuquerque. Playing before their heroes, the Klones displayed incredible energy and a bit of theatrical luck. During one song, Murphy executed one of his giant, spinning leaps just as Hopkins turned...and Murphy's foot snapped the neck right off his friend's guitar. It was an accident, and Hopkins stood glaring at Murphy, but the crowd went wild. Things got even wilder when the Klones launched into "Give Texas Back to the Mexicans."
Unfortunately, it wasn't one of the Kinks' better shows. Ray Davies, who was in the process of breaking up with Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, had been drinking and was hammered by showtime; the British band played a sloppy set and cut the show short. Although the Klones got good reviews, the Kinks' reviews were lousy, and soon members of the Klones began hearing that other national acts were reluctant to let them open for them.
But they did have a gig at the Telluride Rock Festival, where they again stole the show -- and Murphy lost his heart to Delinda Parker, who was in the audience. "She thought she saw a guy who wouldn't get serious and would be great in bed," Murphy remembers. "She was wrong on both counts."
Murphy soon realized he'd found the woman he wanted to marry. Parker was honest enough to tell her new boyfriend that it was time for him to take a long look at where he was going: Her love came with both a price and a reward. "She said I could live with her or live the rock-and-roll lifestyle and all that entailed, but not both," he says. "Fortunately, love was stronger, and I became a one-woman guy. A good thing, too, because the rock-and-roll lifestyle was killing me."
Although Murphy calmed down, the band played on. In 1983 the Klones were voted Best Rock Group and Worst Rock Group in a Denver Post music poll. They were still convinced that the bigtime was just around the corner, and in the meantime, they recorded an album on their own with the financial backing of an Evergreen benefactress. "Who we still, I'm ashamed to say, owe a lot of money to," Murphy says.
But no record deal emerged. "Nobody was getting signed out of Colorado in those days," he remembers, "and we began to get disillusioned."
They toured the West Coast in a van, hoping to get noticed by record-company executives. "We'd attract a lot of attention from reps," Murphy remembers. "They'd be, `Oh yeah, you guys are great. We'll have to work something out.' But then the money would run out, and we'd come back to Colorado -- where we'd be forgotten again."
Frustrated, the bandmembers began arguing. Some thought they should make a music video to send to the record companies. Others thought they should spend time in the studio. And still others thought they should continue to tour, as only live performances captured the true essence of the Klones.
By the winter of 1983, Murphy knew it was over. He and Delinda got married and moved to Los Angeles in 1984; he thought he might hook up with a new band and get some film work. For a time, he hoped the rest of the Klones might come to California, too. "But no one else wanted to leave Colorado," he says, "so we went on our own."
A friend from Loretto Heights was working in the music-video industry, and set the Murphys up with jobs "on the bottom of the totem pole" -- in this case, helping on a video for the up-and-coming Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The Chili Peppers had become fans of the Klones when the band toured California, they told Murphy. In fact, Murphy soon discovered that a number of famous musicians were aware of the Klones. When he and Delinda were working on a music video with David Bowie, the British artist accused Jimy of stealing the "Panic in Detroit" music for "Vampire." "Which I did," Murphy says proudly. "Bowie saying that made my life."
Many of these musicians said they were surprised the Klones had never been signed. "It haunts me to this day," Murphy says. "Maybe if I'd hung around another six months, it would have happened...I think it would have. But I made choices, and I don't regret those choices, because they took me in new directions."
One of those directions was fatherhood. While the Murphys were working on a video for Weird Al Yankovic, Delinda became pregnant, and everybody wanted to know what they were going to name the baby. But not only did the Murphys not want to name the baby in advance, they didn't want to know its gender, either.
"We'd arrive on the set, and everybody would ask, 'So, how's the mystery Murphy?' And after a while, we started to like that," he says. So when their baby daughter was born in 1985, the Murphys named her Mystery.
Life had changed for Jimy Murphy. "I was married to a beautiful woman who cooked me huge meals," he says. "I was eating and sleeping for what seemed the first time in years." He was also moving up in the video industry, rising to the position of assistant first director on several projects. It was hard work -- fourteen- and sixteen-hour days for three or four days, then hustling for another project. His musical ambitions had ground to a halt; he'd tried playing with a few people, including Rick Delano, but the Klones magic was missing.
The birth of a second child, a boy they named Jimr, made Murphy reassess his future. Even if he achieved the height of his dreams -- directing his own projects -- he would have to give up an awful lot. Directors worked longer hours, and even their vacations were consumed with fretting over what was happening back in California. And Los Angeles was no place to raise children, not for a couple lucky enough to have been raised in Colorado.
On a vacation back in this state in 1987, the Murphys took their children on a hike in the mountains. Sitting in a field at 13,000 feet, breathing fresh air and mesmerized by the scenery, they suddenly turned to each other and said, in unison, "I'm not going back." Delinda never did -- and Jimy returned to California only long enough to pack their belongings.
Murphy got a job with the Denver crew making the Perry Mason TV movies. But he was again at the bottom of the totem pole, and he soon realized he couldn't support a family that way. So he got a job -- "the first, and hopefully the last, real job" -- in telecommunications, placing responsibility ahead of a creativity. But he didn't give up music entirely; he called the rest of the Klones and asked them to get together for a reunion gig. The bandmembers were still a bit miffed over Murphy's departure, but they agreed. They even pooled their money to fly Hopkins and his family up from Florida, where they now lived.
There was just one problem: They'd forgotten a lot of the songs. Fortunately, Steve Neal had not, and he rehearsed the band until it was ready.
That first reunion show in 1988 was a huge success. Their fans had stayed faithful to the Klones, "although a few of them were also angry that we'd never made it," Murphy says. "They wanted their backstage passes to Red Rocks, I guess." With no big breaks to worry about, the bandmembers were free to enjoy the music, and each other, again. Their farewell reunion shows became a regular thing.
Murphy might have continued eking out a nine-to-five existence, with occasional gigs, for years if his father hadn't died in 1990. When Jimy thought about his father's life, he realized that whether his father was practicing law or the piano, he was doing what brought him joy. And he decided that if he wanted to be true to his father, he could do no less. So after the funeral, he quit his job and never looked back.
Looking ahead, Murphy realized that what he wanted to do was provide a creative outlet for kids. So he started a children's theater group -- the Kamikazi Kids, of course -- and wrote play after play for the young actors to perform. They were so successful that by the second year, Murphy had been awarded an arts grant. Soon he took his new calling a step further and became the drama coach at his almost alma mater, Evergreen High.
Murphy returned to college to get a degree in theater and a teaching certificate. He also incorporated meditation and yoga into his daily life, as O'Brien had once suggested. He went on to help found one of the first charter schools in the state, Jefferson County's Community Involved Charter School (since renamed Center for Discovery Learning) in 1993. It was a school designed for experiential learning: "Instead of reading about stuff, we'd go out and do it," he says. The excursions might involve taking a play on the road, studying a community's geography, economy and history at each stop. Or building a set on a stage and learning geometry as they went.
Most of the kids attracted to the school reminded Murphy of himself: They simply didn't fit in a traditional learning environment. Most were brilliant, and bored, at their public school; often they had problems at school or at home because they were different. But at this new school, their differences helped them bond. They knew what it was to not be accepted, and so they accepted each other.
Murphy was busy with the school, his family and his plays when he got a call from Hagen, the almost-doctor, in June 1998: Hopkins had cancer, and things didn't look good. "We'd better go down there and say goodbye," he told Murphy.
The two flew to Florida, where they found their old friend doped up on morphine but in good spirits. They talked about growing up in Colorado, and how it was as close to heaven as you could get on Earth. When they finally parted, Murphy hugged Hopkins and said, "I'll see you in Colorado." He was sure the shy guitar player understood what he meant.
A month later, Hopkins died. Not long after, he and O'Brien visited Murphy in a dream. "What the fuck are you doing?" they asked. "It's time you got busy again."
When he awoke, Murphy realized they were right. This time he'd write a play for adults.
Three years earlier he'd visited a nude beach on the island of Maui, where he'd overheard two teenagers debating whether they should join the sun worshipers or try to leave without being noticed. Now, with the ghosts of Hopkins and O'Brien for company, Murphy sat down to write Heaven's a Nude Beach.
On opening night, Murphy is no longer nervous. "I've been nervous for two weeks," he says. "Now I'm just numb."
Murphy pauses, then laughs. "If not, it will be really fucking embarrassing."
After all, his work is finally center stage again -- long after other Colorado bands like the Subdudes and Big Head Todd and the Monsters made it to the bigtime. But he can't help but feel that the Klones helped pave the way for those groups. The Klones played again this past summer in Evergreen. It wasn't one of their better performances, Murphy admits; in fact, it may truly have been the final farewell.
Murphy's ready to move on. He's daring to hope that this play will do well enough that other theater groups will produce it. And if not, he has a half-dozen other ideas he's already started to develop. In the meantime, he's still teaching at the charter school and was recently awarded a 21st Century Learning Grant from the federal government to support such after-school projects as mentoring and teaching theater.
The lights come up on the rock formations, the sound of waves in the background. This time, the joggers enter on cue. And then other characters appear in turn, all wrestling with their own concepts of morality, wondering whether to join the unseen inhabitants of Heaven or remain where they are, which some describe as Hell. The joggers. The "Euro circus" couple. Twelve-year-old boys, one of whom will take the plunge into manhood because he's "got hair" you-know-where. A pregnant young woman struggling with two toddlers. Goth teenagers. Senior citizens. An actress. A cop who discovers his daughter on the beach. An uptight Catholic woman. And "the mad monk of Morgantown" -- Freeman O'Brien, who delivers Shakespeare-sounding soliloquies on the nature of freedom and sex and morality.
Although Heaven's a Nude Beach needs work -- the speeches are sometimes overlong and overdone -- the humor stands out, and the audience laughs often. One of the crowd-pleasers is a scene in which the young goth girls, who are considering going to the beach, talk with the uptight woman and her more liberal Jewish husband, who disagrees with his wife's demands that the beach be closed because "nudity is sinful in the eyes of God."
"Is it dangerous?" the girls ask when the woman warns them about going any farther.
"Are you Catholic?" the husband asks.
"Your mothers would not want you to go there," the wife sniffs.
"But we're Lutheran," the girls reply.
In the end, the play, which repeats this weekend, rates a standing ovation. And if no one cries "Author, Author," it doesn't really matter. Jimy Murphy is back.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.