Skullman Records

Boo Frog, Snow Bud and the Flower People, Divining Rods, Napalm Beach

Napalm Beach – some corrections and clarifications

Writing to correct and clarify some things about Napalm Beach. Chris talked to me a lot about his past, and his history in music. Because I had written a history (Introducing Napalm Beach), and because I kept wanting to understand things clearly, I would frequently ask him questions, and I would also try to find corroborating support for the things he said in documents, newspaper clippings, and other primary source materials. Generally speaking, Chris’ memory was outstanding, especially as far as dates were concerned. He also had a surprisingly good – though not perfect – memory of the shows he’d played and whatever other bands were on the bill. In certain cases where his memory was fuzzy, or contradicted in some way with evidence I’d dug up, he’d been able to clarify certain details with other band members.

Chris communicated at length with writer Eric Danielson when Danielson was working on a article back in 2010. Eric put a lot of work in particular into compiling a discography of Chris’ music. Since that time, he has done further research, last September, self-published and made a book about Chris’ life available on amazon.com called The Rocky Road to Recovery: The Life of Chris Newman of Napalm Beach. No one else has put anything close to this level of work in researching and publishing about Chris’ life. Nonetheless, there are still some errors, and things that I think bear clarification.

From The Untouchables to Napalm Beach

One thing that seems to be an ongoing source of confusion is when and where was Chris’ best known band, Napalm Beach, formed. The answer, it appears, would be on which band you consider to be Napalm Beach. If Napalm Beach is considered to be the band consisting of a core of songwriter/guitarist Chris Newman and drummer Sam Henry, then Napalm Beach formed in 1981, in Portland, Oregon. However, this is not how Chris thought of Napalm Beach. Chris considered Napalm Beach to be the same band as the band he formed in Portland in 1980 – The Untouchables – albeit with a new name, and soon a new bassist, and new drummer. Unfortunately Napalm Beach bassists cycled in and out faster than Spinal Tap drummers – but Sam stayed in the band playing drums from 1981 onward. It is possible, I suppose, to consider Napalm Beach to be an evolution of a band even older than The Untouchables which Chris called The Goners – but in this case I would defer to how Chris saw his band. The Untouchables was the same band as Napalm Beach. The Goners were gone.

Another thing I would call attention to, is the assumption that Chris Newman and Sam Henry were co-equal partners in the band. Though Sam is an exciting and dynamic drummer and personality, the reality is, that Chris was the bandleader, songwriter, guitar player, and on recordings often he was also the bass player. Chris arranged and sometimes engineered recording sessions, he created album artwork, and so on.

Generally speaking, creative power balance that fans perceive in a band (or that publicists or media presents) is not necessarily reflective of the internal reality of the band. Chris’ bands were his bands – just as every band line up with Greg Sage that Greg decided to call the Wipers was the Wipers – it was Chris who decided what was and was not Napalm Beach. He would never put it that bluntly, but I’m a different person. That said, after a certain point, it’s hard to picture Chris having anyone but Sam play drums for Napalm Beach. The band he formed in 2008 with Sam on keyboards, Lost Acolytes, in all honesty, could have been called Napalm Beach, as it featured three original members of Napalm Beach – Sam, Chris, and Dave Minick. Paul Vega played drums. Calling the band Napalm Beach would have meant an easier draw, but I suspect Chris wanted to move on from the baggage and expectations that were foisted upon Napalm Beach. To him, Napalm Beach had ended in 1996. He wanted to move forward artistically, which is also why he fell in love with his next band, the band he had with me, Boo Frog.

The reason Chris believed he had to give up “The Untouchables” as a band name was because Chris was sent a “cease and desist” letter from a Los Angeles based ska band called The Untouchables. If Chris had a lawyer, or means to research the situation – he might have learned that he had used the name first. Chris had been using the name since 1980 while the ska band formed in 1981 – which must have been the same year they sent the letter. This kind of thing had happened to Chris more than once – another band trying to force its way into Chris’ territory – and if it wasn’t on stage – if it was something to do with business – Chris did not seem to know how to stand up for himself. He always seemed to think it would be easier to move on to the next idea, rather than stand his ground and fight for what he’d already established.

As for The Untouchables original line-up – with Chon Carter on drums and Dave Koenig on bass – my recollection from Chris’ stories, is that Chris fired Koenig, and that Chon left shortly afterward. That is when Sam Henry joined the band. 1981-82 is also the period of time where Chris developed the sound that combined the Big Muff fuzz with the Small Clone chorus.

Napalm Beach “Into The Sky” – Golden Crown, Seattle – 1982 bootleg (bestrockphotos.com)

Heroin

There is a lot to say about heroin, and how it was introduced to Chris, and who was behind it. Chris believed to the end of his days that his experiences with drugs were either things that just happened to him, or things he wanted to happen – but I don’t believe any of this, and the reason I don’t believe any of this is because I have access to a lot more information than Chris did, and unlike Chris I am unburdened by the need to accept personal responsibility (blame) for everything bad that happens. I think Chris underwent deep and deliberate brainwashing both while under the influence of older friends and drugs, and even when he was in recovery. I have reason to believe that people were rewarded for introducing Chris to drugs, and that the FBI was behind all of this, likely accepting funding from various sources. That said, there are a few other issues I want to clarify.

First, while Chris was exposed to a lot of drugs in his earlier bands – pretty much every street drug there was – he did not try heroin until 1981. He was 28 years old. And after trying it the first time, he didn’t try it again for several months, and it was some time before he experienced the withdrawal that signalled a “habit.” The person who gave him his first dose of heroin was his bassist, Dave Minick, who was driving a cab and playing in The Cosmetics, and it happened in San Francisco.

Sam Henry, on the other hand, already had a heroin habit when he joined Napalm Beach. The rumor was that he had been kicked out of the Wipers either because of his habit, or because of the behavior of his girlfriend – the same girlfriend who died as Napalm Beach was recording Rock ‘n’ Roll Hell, allegedly of a heroin overdose. Minick was in and out of Napalm Beach. So Chris was in a band with two members who were effectively heroin addicts. In 1983 Sam introduced Chris to Chris’ future wife Valarie and it appears that although she was very young, she also was already a user of speed and heroin.

I am not trying to point fingers at any given person in Chris’ life – in part because I know not a single one of them acted alone – that each of them had someone bigger behind them, protected by the FBI. I only think it should be made clear, since Chris was tagged as a heroin addict, that he was not the first person in the band to use heroin.

Courtney Love

And then there’s the teenage girl who showed up with pocketfuls of Owsley acid, who later became known as Courtney Love. If heroin was a gift from the FBI, the LSD was almost certainly from the CIA.

Chris playing at the Wrex wearing tan colored trenchcoat

Wrex, Seattle – 1981

There are stories about Courtney Love and a trip Napalm Beach took to play at the University of Washington HUB in Seattle, October 1981. I don’t think any of those stories can be corroborated and they all conflict with stories she has told about herself. The one story I do believe about this trip is that Courtney left an oversized Columbo-style overcoat in the van which Chris later wore (seen here at the Wrex in Seattle, 1981 – the club that later became The Vogue).

Courtney Love was more than a girl who just happened to show up in Portland and find a place in the Napalm Beach band house. Her role was part of a bigger tapestry and it’s been difficult for me to figure out just what, and how much to say about that. There is a bigger background here that includes mass exploitation of children in various ways, including sexual exploitation of children – by our intelligence agencies, and supported by the Department of Justice. Chris’ encounter with Courtney fits into this background. She was just one of a series of honey traps set up for Chris by the FBI/CIA.

April 28-29, 1990 Satyricon Riot

Throughout his book, Danielson states that Chris “participated” in the Satyricon “riot,” almost as if it were self-evident. This is not true, and in fact it is the first time I’ve heard such an assertion. I don’t even know if Chris was there. My sense is that he was there – but he was not involved in the fracas in any way. Napalm Beach did later play a “First Amendment” benefit show to “help keep Satyricon open.” I’m not sure to what extent Chris was paying attention to what seems to have become an ongoing conflict between Satyricon and Officer Balada. Balada had taken offense to a photo or artwork hanging inside the club, and was suing for damages. I do know that Chris viewed his civic rights and responsibilities the same way I do. He just didn’t ever really think he would find himself in a situation where his expectation of personal privacy or right to speak out would really be under threat.

The event that came to be called the Satyricon Riot should be looked at more deeply, not because Chris was involved, but because it seems to have been a significant event in the history of Portland music, shedding light on the club scene, and on police activities.

There are other things that could use further clarification, but these are the issues that so far have come to mind, that I really felt it was time to clarify.

Generally speaking, Chris was, from my perspective, over-concerned about what people would think about him, should he rock the boat in certain ways. He cared about people’s feelings and he tried to shoulder responsibility for his own actions, from my perspective, to a fault. Many who knew him, or who had been clued into this, and who had something to gain from keeping Chris in the dark, exploited this and other parts of his personality, using these characteristics to manipulate his behavior and to attempt to drive wedges between him and me. Out of respect for Chris, while he was here, I avoided weighing in on certain things. But I think that failure to correct false or misleading stories around Chris has led to damage, including undeserved damage to his reputation. I’m not claiming that he was perfect, nor am I claiming to be unbiased – I just think that the facts are important.

– Erika Meyer

 

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