The Pistoleros: Death, Drugs, and Rock and Roll Documentary delivers the goods

Fans of the late Lawrence Zubia will love it Gunslingers: death, drugs and rock and roll. It won’t be the easiest thing to watch, but it will satisfy an ailment that has haunted fans, friends and family since the singer died on Dec. 19, 2020, of pancreatitis after contracting pneumonia. It will also highlight many of the most interesting stories in Arizona music history in a way that is both thought-provoking and entertaining.

The film has a sold-out premiere tonight in Tempe, but you can rent it on Vimeo now. More screenings will follow before the film gets a wider release this fall.

Production of the documentary, led by David Hilker and Jeff Freundlich of Fervor Records, who served as producers of the film, and director Steven B. Esparza, began before Zubia’s death and includes stunning footage of the Chimeras/Pistoleros/Live Nudes leading man in action. Alongside his brother, Mark Zubia left an indelible mark on Arizona music and the essence of his talent has been well captured here. The music included in the film is lush and wonderful, thus paying a loving tribute to these unforgettable artists.

After working with the Zubia brothers for years, the Fervor team of Hilker and Freundlich came up with the idea to help tell their story. Lawrence had a long history of self-destructive behavior, for example, and her relationship, as well as her musical partnership, with Mark was often strained. Until Lawrence’s untimely death, there was always hope that more music would come from them, but now fans will have the film to enjoy.

Hilker recalls the birth of the documentary.

“[Lawrence Zubia] has been [at Fervor] a lot. I knew his story and I was like, ‘Hey man, you know, that’s kind of inspiring. We need to tell this story. He accepted and he thought it should be said too. We didn’t know where it would take us, but then we met [former Arizona Attorney General] Grant Woods because he was a good friend of Lawrence, and we got money for the movie and we went to the races. That was four years ago,” says Hilker.

Prior to Woods’ death in 2021, he was active in spearheading litigation against Big Pharma related to opioids.

[Woods] had a real passion for putting these pharmaceutical companies in a position where they could see their advantage because they caused so much damage to our country. In many ways, Lawrence’s story was a microcosm of what happened all over America,” says Freundlich.

The destructive nature of opiate addiction plays a key role in gunslingers. Lawrence Zubia speaks candidly on screen about his addiction, as well as his difficult but inspiring road to recovery in the last years of his life. Zubia’s brother Mark, bandmates, and Meat Puppets’ Cris Kirkwood add to this cautionary, yet eye-opening tale over the film’s 63-minute runtime.

While many viewers will no doubt identify with the struggles of Lawrence Zubia, there will be those who will also identify with the sadness, frustration and anger of Mark Zubia. The film does a great job of showing both sides as it really is a story of dynamic siblings and how the impact of addiction isn’t just felt by the addict themselves.

A particularly heartbreaking section of the film details Lawrence Zubia’s friendship with his former bandmate in the Chimeras, the late Doug Hopkins (also of the Gin Blossoms). As the Zubia brothers and their comrades recount the circumstances of Hopkins’ final days and death, director Esparza and editor Victor G. Parra deftly weave the story together to reveal the impact it had on Hopkins’ life. Lawrence Zubia.
For Hilker and Freundlich, the experience of producing the documentary (with Jimmy Gadd) was both transformative and cathartic.

“The purpose of a documentary is to be a springboard for dialogue and understanding; to understand a point of view different from yours. Because we have a representative of a drug addict and someone who is perhaps more on the Al-Anon side of the story, so to speak. Hopefully we build some understanding and a springboard for dialogue. Everyone who sees this movie or reads this article is affected by addiction in some way,” says Freundlich.

“For me, Lawrence’s story was inspiring and it’s a story of redemption. He had to go so far. You need to be willing to get sober and take responsibility for your actions and make a change. I think Lawrence exemplifies what it was and I hope people don’t have to land where he was to realize that,” Hilker says.

“I hope that when people leave the theater or when they watch this pay-per-view, there’s a sense of hope,” adds Freundlich.

About Dawn Valle

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