Unlike Nirvana or Pearl Jam, the darkness of the lyrics wasn’t matched by a darkness in the melody—the tune, in fact, had more in common with a melodic tune from R.E.M. or The Lemonheads than the sludge from Seattle. (It lent itself to Top 40 radio play as a result.) But lyrically, the tune did not come from a good place.
The subject of the song was its author, Doug Hopkins, who wrote some of the best songs on the band’s 1992 album New Miserable Experience. Hopkins was a member of the band until the middle of 1992, just before the completion of this album, when his alcoholism became so out of control that he was fired from the band, which continued to perform his songs.
Not that they ever felt very comfortable with that fact. The band, full of lifers in the Tempe, Arizona music scene, were about to see major success. But Hopkins’ personal problems threatened that success—even though it was his songs that made that success possible.
“Without Doug and his songwriting, we never could have signed a record deal,” lead singer Robin Wilson told People in 1994. “Even Doug admitted we couldn’t have succeeded with him in the band. … He also felt we had betrayed him.”
Hopkins' bandmates were basically forced into a bad situation by their record label. A Metro Times piece by his friend, Brian Smith, laid some of the fault at his bandmates’ feet, but most of it at the label’s:
His band mates were, to me, total bastards then—but kids, really; at least emotionally. They were young signees of a major record label—at the mercy of the A&R and lawyerly suits who lived in southern California-cliché homes in the hills above Sherman Oaks. The label mandate was dump Doug—get rid of the guy who built the band and whose songs got the band the record deal—or else. The label had already spent a small fortune recording a first album, which was scrapped. What'd the band know? Even Doug's best friend, with whom he grew up, was a Gin Blossom. The band needed a career and took one.
Hopkins was a local legend in Tempe, and he soon found himself in another band, though that broke down, too. His physical state was not good, to say the least. “At that point Doug couldn't function as a guitarist or a human being,” Smith said.
Already suffering from both alcoholism and chronic depression, things got worse after he had been forced to hand over part of his royalties to his Gin Blossom replacement. Understandably, the situation sat poorly with him.
Beyond "Jealousy," Hopkins also wrote “Found Out About You,” a top 40 hit in 1994 that was about an ex-girlfriend who seriously injured him by kicking him in the head at an R.E.M. concert.
As that song was starting to chart, Hopkins received his gold record for “Hey Jealousy,” one of 1993’s biggest hits. According to his biography on Lost Horizons, a site dedicated to his memory, he hung it on the wall for two weeks, then smashed it.
Soon after, he took his own life—while not one, but two of his songs were becoming major hits.
The band, of course, was torn up by the situation, naming their next album, Congratulations I’m Sorry, after the odd dichotomy of success and loss. His local scene was broken up over the situation as well.
But for many people listening to his songs, the tragedy barely registered—he wasn’t feted or held up like Jim Croce, Otis Redding, Buddy Holly, or Kurt Cobain, all musicians whose hits were current at the time of their deaths. And that’s wrong—especially as the tragedy in both the songs and their success is Doug Hopkins’ alone.
(The band, to be fair, didn't attempt to wallow in this point, and made an important change out of respect for Hopkins: One of the "Hey Jealousy" lines was originally "you can trust me not to drink," but the band chose to change "drink" to "think." The lyric didn't make sense anymore, but it was probably for the best.)
“Hey Jealousy” still gets played on the radio relatively frequently today. It’s a great song. Unlike other somewhat obtuse songs of its era, its meaning isn’t so much hidden as ignored.
As listeners, we owe it to Doug Hopkins to be aware of it.