During the Boo Frog era, when Chris and I were working round the clock trying to progress musically, playing show after show (I was constantly telling him, we can’t play more than twice a month in Portland, with the idea that we needed to space our shows out to keep the draw sufficient) – sending press kits and albums to record labels, trying again and again to book tours – I recall reading an article in one of the weeklies in which Chris was described as being a “fixture” in the local music scene and getting mad as heck. Of course, I had no clue at that time that Chris was a “fixture” by outside design.
In other words, Chris was not a “fixture” in Portland in the same way that, say, Tobi Vail is a fixture in Olympia. Some people want to be fixtures. We did not.
Later, in an online discussion circa 2013, Chris’ influence on Seattle music of the 1990s was dismissed by someone saying he “wasn’t from Seattle.” In fact, that wasn’t exactly true, either and the ways that Chris’ was dismissed or diminished were almost always things that could have been said about a number of Seattle bands. In fact Chris’ connections to Seattle were deeper than many of the bands that had been associated with the “Seattle sound.” I now doubt that these comments were actually genuine – I’ve come to learn that there’s been so much cover up around Chris’ music and its links to “grunge” – and indeed, so much cover up around grunge in general – that storytellers don’t really seem to care so much about the truth as about how well (or at least how persistently) they pull off their cover stories. I however, care about the truth, and there may be some who don’t know the truth. So let me take a moment to give the low down on where Chris was from, exactly.
Chris was born in Longview, Washington, which is about 50 miles north of Portland. My research indicates that his family goes back 5 generations to this region. On his father’s side, his great great grandparents immigrated to Newburg, Oregon from Indiana. They were living in Yamhill County, just outside of Portland, by 1880. Interestingly, Chris’ father’s family line actually seems to have immigrated to North America from Wessex, England, in the early 1600s. They were Quakers and continued to be Quakers for about 300 years, before switching in the mid-20th century to a Pentecostal denomination, Assembly of God. I don’t recall as much about his mom’s side of the family but I do believe that she too, was born in Longview. That said, people didn’t always stay in Longview. Chris’ great great grandfather died in Salida, California. His obituary in the Stockton Evening and Sunday Records omits mention of his wife who had died nine years earlier and seems to leave out several of his children including Chris’ great grandfather, Lawson Henderson Newman.
The Newman family, by the way, lived in Newburg, Oregon. Chris’ great grandfather, Lawson, married in Illinois and then settled in Longview which is where Chris’ grandfather, Ogden Gould Newman, was born in 1906. They seem to have then moved to Portland, where they had a bakery (same as my maternal great grandparents in Minnesota, and during this same period of time, the 1920s) and then moved back to Washington. They lived in some interestingly named areas – like Rainbow (which was in Kelso) and Stella (just outside of Longview). Kelso and Longview are essentially the same “urban” area, but of course, in the early 1900s people didn’t travel the same way they do now. It is interesting that Chris’ first guitar was a Stella, giving to him in 1967 by his Aunt Sylvia. (According to Edmond S Meany’s 1923 Origin of Washington Geographic Names Stella, Washington – named after the postmaster’s daughter – was founded in 1880. The Stella guitar brand started in 1899.) So it is true that the Newman family has fairly deep roots in Longview, Washington (Cowlitz County) and in and around Portland, Oregon as well. But Chris’ father, Elton Harley Newman, worked for the Seattle-based Boeing company (again paralleling my Minnesota-born maternal grandmother – who was a Rosie Riveter at Seattle Boeing during the World War II – and who also worked in a sawmill in Newport, Oregon where my mother was born). Chris’ family seems to have lived in Seattle for much of Chris’ early elementary school period before Boeing transferred them to the Deep South – Mississippi and New Orleans – as his father was apparently part of a team working on the NASA space program. This was probably starting around 1963. When the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show on February 9, 1964, Chris was ten years old, watching from New Orleans.
The family moved back to Longview about the time Chris was beginning high school. The kids at the school taunted and ostracized Chris, and I’ve already told the story about the music gear theft catalyst (almost certainly a set up) that sent him to boarding school in Canyonville, Washington.
Later, between the mid 1970s and into the mid 1980s, Chris’ family lived for some time in San José, California, and Chris was also back and forth from San José.
But Chris didn’t just live in Seattle as a child, he played music in Seattle regularly, going back to 1980, often staying in town for a week or two and playing a series of dates per trip. It does appear that there were deliberate manipulations done around Chris to push and pull him in different ways. He was clearly not wanted in California, especially Los Angeles – a place that I now know, was exploiting him. In 1984, when Napalm Beach was living in San Francisco, it seems like they were hired to play, but only as openers. In contrast, beginning in 1984, Portland had essentially built a playground – a Potemkin village – an enticing trap – with Satyricon and other clubs of that type. It was during the latter half of the 1980s that Seattle seems to have moved away from booking Chris’ bands, while he was distracted by playing in Portland, touring in Europe, and increasingly drugs like cocaine, and then heroin.