As part of an effort to preserve and when appropriate and possible, re-release Napalm Beach albums, I’ve been working on parsing out Napalm Beach’s history 1980-87. There seems to have been a number of turning points in Napalm Beach’s history that, the deeper you get into it, look more and more like pre-planned set ups, secretly spinning the band around like a blindfolded child trying to hit a birthday party piñata. These turning points seem to occur every three years or so (give or take) and often they seemed to involve processes that take about three years to work through. This kind of thing can actually be seen as a repeated motif throughout Chris’ life history, I’d say going back to 1964 and the Beatles appearing on Ed Sullivan. In fact, it would be an interesting experiment to tell Chris’ life story that way – as a series of three-year increments starting with February 1964.
For now, however, I want to explore something I noticed yesterday, while working on the history of Napalm Beach during the period of time they were most closely paired Greg Sage and the Wipers, as well as teenage Courtney Love. I’d been creating a zine-style document to use as an incentive for a fundraising effort, and within this zine, trying to summarize the history around what I consider to be Napalm Beach’s first four albums – Rock & Roll Hell (1984 cassette), Pugsley (1985 cassette), Teen Dream (1985 cassette 1986 LP), and Moving To And Fro (1986 cassette 1988 LP). In doing so, I’ve found myself regularly going back to the draft memoir Chris composed, mostly in 2010, for details. Gradually, things start to come into focus with regards to the clubs Napalm Beach played most frequently, and the band’s professional progress (and lack thereof).
I will say right now that I’ve started writing this blog with only a vague idea of where it’s going to end up. This is a thinking through of patterns and puzzle pieces that seem to fit together.
Portland Met (closed Jan 1, 1983) and Seattle Met (March 1983 – March 6, 1984)
I do not think it is an accident that there was a club in Portland called The Metropolis aka The Met which closed on New Years Day 1983 (Wipers and Napalm Beach having played the last show there together on New Years Eve 1982) – and a club in Seattle that opened under the same name (Metropolis/Met) four months later, then closed after almost exactly one year in March 1984. Nor do I think it’s an accident that the last show at the Seattle Met – a club that featured almost entirely local punk/alternative bands with some punk/alternative touring acts, almost always from the US* – was Alien Sex Fiend, a band from England. Nor do I think that it was an accident that the Seattle Met closed almost exactly the same time Satyricon started up in Portland. Nor do I think it was an accident that I was told by several people in the early 2000s that the “favorite song” on Satyricon juke box was Alien Sex Fiend “I Walk The Line” – a song I would describe as hypnotic, possibly trance-inducing.
Seattle Met was founded by Hughes Piottin, a French immigrant who had moved to Seattle (either from Alaska or after fishing in Alaska) in 1982. In a 2014 article, Countercultural Seattle Remembers: May 13, 1983: The Metropolis, Piottin (Loser 1996) and Bruce Pavitt (in an undated “later” Seattle Post-Intelligencer article) both describe the Settle Met in ways that to me, sounded a lot like how George Touhouliotis described Satyricon. In some ways, the Seattle Met sounds a bit like a combination between all ages community spaces and Satyricon.
Susan Silver helped run and book the Seattle Met.
One of the things that Chris mentioned in describing the Portland club was that “Courtney Love and her friends Robin and Ursula were the femme fatales of the underage side of the Met.” If you look online, you may find photos of Courtney Love, Robin, and Ursula as early as the Met days, but having been researching this history off and on for a few years now, I’ve noticed these photos often tend to vanish or become difficult to find. I have a photo of the three of them, plus Venarays singer Marti Wyman, at a Napalm Beach show at Satyricon, in 1987, after Courtney had her film roles in Straight To Hell and Sid and Nancy, and probably wasn’t living in Portland.
I find it’s an interesting thing to think about, because the early 1980s was a period of time when it seems Courtney Love was just getting into music on all different levels – writing about music, playing music, becoming romantically involved with musicians – and it’s also a period of time that she was traveling a lot. In 1981, after a stint hanging out in Portland and house-sharing with Napalm Beach – she went to Ireland and the UK – apparently with her dad and Robin. And there are photos that occasionally surface online of Courtney, Robin, and Courtney’s father Hank Harrison at a 1981 photoshoot in San Francisco.
Robin and Chris Newman stayed in touch. Robin has always been friendly to us. Robin is one of the people whom Chris chose to sign as a witness on his will. When that time came, Robin arrived with a plywood cutout of a guitar, that I think she said came from Germany, that she asked Chris to sign.
I’m including this detail only because it suggests there might be a link between Robin Barbur and Germany. There definitely is an ongoing link between Robin and Courtney.
Cutouts, LSD, San Francisco, Minneapolis, New York, Berlin
One of the patterns that I see with Courtney Love is the whole time I have known Chris, she almost never has communicated with him directly – key word being almost. Every so often she would sneak in and make an exception to the rule – but never long enough to establish any kind of relationship or meaningful communication. Meanwhile, it seems like she has proxies everywhere. I doubt that Rozz Rezabek ever lost touch with Courtney Love. And there are things that suggest she’s had links to people I didn’t ever realized she’d really been linked to, like Monica Nelson.
The more I study this time period with Chris, also, the more I realize how important San Francisco and Los Angeles were.
With regards to Minneapolis, I’ve already seen that in 1988, while I was living in St Paul, Minnesota; Courtney Love was in Minneapolis and had contact with Erika Schlaeger, who was close to me. And I have detected a pattern of teenage honey trapping linked to Courtney and/or someone handling her. And I have noticed proximity links to LSD.
Now I’m noticing more things. I’m noticing lots of movement between San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle – with lots of different people. Maybe this isn’t so strange, or maybe there’s something special about San Francisco (and I will say I think there’s something special about San Francisco). San José, Oakland, San Francisco, Marin – are all part of the San Francisco Bay Area. People who seemed to travel frequently to San Francisco included Rozz Rezabek, Courtney Love, Chris Newman and his band mates Sam Henry and Dave Minick, and the guys in Mudhoney (who IIRC had a party pad across the street from Rozz’s) and Melvins (Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover circa 1988). Chris met Valarie through Sam in San Francisco, 1983, a few weeks after recording Rock & Roll Hell.
Back to Minneapolis – I started college in St Paul in late August 1987 – and I already knew Erika Schlaeger going back to 1985 (at that time Schlaeger had already been to Germany and I think England at least once) – so of course when I got to the Twin Cities, she’s one of the first people I contacted. I feel like, one of the first things she did was play me a cassette of Babes In Toyland – but maybe that didn’t happen until later. She talked about them like they were all friends of hers, and I guess she did know everyone in the band. And it’s interesting to speculate how Babes In Toyland got together, because I think that Kat Bjelland had moved to Minneapolis in 1987. Bjelland’s Portland band, The Venarays, seem to have been playing fairly frequently, mostly in Portland, at least at Satyricon, in 1986-87.
I can currently find very little history online about the Venarays, especially as far as dates are concerned. There is no existing Wikipedia page for Venarays. My recollection is there used to be a little more information online about this band, for example, who the other players were, when they started and ended, and any line up changes. Right now I’m finding most searches on the band lead to Kat Bjelland’s Wikipedia page, which I believe is informationally problematic. Did Kat Bjelland move to Minneapolis in 1985? If so, was she traveling back to Portland to play in the Venarays? It’s possible that she was no longer in the Venarays after 1985 – but I don’t think so.
I find it odd that it’s so difficult to find specific information about the Venarays – a band that actually wrote and performed songs – versus a “band” like Pagan Babies (and its previous/subsequent forms) which most of the time wasn’t a band that actually wrote and performed music.
It is possible that Erika Schlaeger, Kat Bjelland, and Courtney Love form a trio of links that extend out into different areas. Courtney Love travelled all over throughout the 1980s. Erika Schlaeger also often travelled to Europe and South America. Of course Bjelland and Love both travelled a lot in the 1990s, as they were both in successful touring bands. In 1988, when I was in St Paul/Minneapolis, and apparently Courtney Love was also traveling the same circles in Minneapolis, Erika Schlaeger travelled to places like New York, Chicago, Berlin. Berlin was her big destination spot at that time.
Chris Newman became linked to Berlin through a very small label called “Love’s Simple Dreams” aka LSD Records. He was put in touch with them through Henk Van Dreumel, a Düsseldorf-based German man who was working the door at Satyricon. Or at least, Chris understood Henk to be German – however his name is Dutch and Düsseldorf is very close to the border with The Netherlands. Henke’s girlfriend at the time was named Heike and I believe she went on to be an international booking agent. I do recall Mark Lanegan having known her. It was Henk and/or Heike who set Chris up with this Berlin label “LSD.” Henk then went on to form his own small label out of Düsseldorf which he ultimately called Satyricon Records. A test pressing of Napalm Beach’s LP Moving To And Fro, was sent to Chris, via Satyricon, with Henk Van Dreumel’s Düsseldorf return address under the name “Positive Sinking Records.”
The Berlin-based Loves Simple Dreams record label, according to Chris’ memoir was run by the owner of the Ecstasy club. Here is what Chris wrote about that club:
The Ecstasy club was a huge building. It housed apartments on top, four bars, and at the least five stages. It was run by Thomas and his beautiful wife Petra. We were extremely excited about playing there. The aprtments were covered in entertaining graffitti. Bands from everywhere had witty scrawlings, and drawings. I had to contribute. I saw a message from Mudhoney. It was a syringe dripping blood, and it said,’Hello Napalm Beach.’
This would most likely have been November 1989. Mudhoney had played the Ecstasy on April 1, 1989, and they had also played there on October 10, 1988. Of the 1988 show, Mudhoney tour book notes “This festival (Berlin Independence Days Music Festival) was sponsored by the former government of East Germany, which also featured a performance by French band, Les Thugs.” This show stands out for a number of reasons. First – the bizarre mention of the “former government of East Germany.” What does that even mean? The fall of the Berlin Wall didn’t happen until the following year, November 1989 (a month when Tad, Nirvana, and Napalm Beach were all first touring Europe, and playing Berlin) and East Germany was still a nation until October 1990. Another strange thing about this show, is it appear to be the only show Mudhoney played in Europe in 1988. Mudhoney had actually only existed as a band since April 1988, Green River having officially broken up in October 1987, and it appears to me that the 10/10/88 show at the Ecstasy club was their one and only European date that year – and very likely the very first Sub Pop linked European show. Both Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman were there. This show was followed by Mudhoney’s first US tour. Mudhoney then returned for a European tour the following spring, 1989. You could say they hit the ground running. As for shows played in the first six months of their existence (April – October 1988) , Mudhoney played Seattle’s Vogue five times, Portland’s Satyricon four times, Seattle’s Central Tavern and Squid Row once. The last show they played before flying to Germany was Portland’s Pine Street Theatre, October 2. Ten days after their Berlin gig, on October 20, 1988, they played with a band called Toadstool at Minneapolis’ Uptown Bar – a favorite haunt of Erika Schlaeger. This about a month before Mike Payne left Minneapolis and I essentially never saw him again. Payne would soon end up at Western Washington University in Bellingham and eventually settle in Tacoma, just south of Seattle.
It would be interesting to look further into this and figure out how big this government – or possibly government to government – connection actually is. Mark “Arm” McLaughlin, the lead singer for Mudhoney, is the son of a German-born mother and Air Force veteran father, and he grew up in Bellevue, the same Seattle suburb where my grandparents had lived since the 1960s. Bizarrely, on April 9, 1994, one day after Cobain’s body was “discovered,” Mudhoney and Pearl Jam were both in Washington D.C. with the Pearl Jam meeting and taking a photo with President Clinton.
Everett True links to Olympia and Seattle
It’s worth remembering that June 27, 1988 is the date that Sub Pop Sundays ended and Bret Bowman, while high on LSD, was hit by a car. He would then remain in a coma for about 15 years. The situation with Bret is a link to medical malfeasance and financed FBI files. It’s also worth remembering that Bret was on his way to Oregon meet a mutual classmate of ours – Scott Gear, who at least by the end of 1988, had a job in Seattle with Sub Pop as a driver for the English rock critic Everett True. I do believe Scott ultimately worked for Sub Pop for several years.
The standard story about the global grunge explosion is that it was ignited by a story or a series of stories in the UK music magazine Melody Maker written by Everett True. That Sub Pop had the brilliant idea to finance True’s trip to Seattle to steward around town and show him there was an exciting music scene happening. What is less clear is what the roots of the connection were between Sub Pop (especially Olympia and Portland linked Bruce Pavitt) and Everett True, for example, at his prior job with New Music Express, where he was known as The Legend! – actually an interesting parallel Rozz Rezabek’s self-appointed tile years later “Punk Legend” – a title possibly spun off of one of Rozz’s self released albums “Lover Legend Liar” – which itself is an interesting title when you think about potential links between Rozz Rezabek, Courtney Love, and Everett True.
What I’m trying to say is, I think that Everett True’s links to Olympia, and K Records (from which Sub Pop essentially spawned) goes back years earlier. In his 2006 book Nirvana: The True Story Everett True says that he first became aware of Beat Happening in 1985. He mentioned specifically the cat in a spaceship album cover on the Beat Happening self-titled debut, which was a riff off of Wipers’ Greg Sage’s 1981 Trap Sampler that featured both the Bruce Pavitt managed band Pell Mell, and Napalm Beach. Both Trap Sampler and Beat Happening were recorded by Greg Sage. If True was dialed into Beat Happening, he was likely dialed into the Wipers and Bruce Pavitt as well. Did True have direct contact with Pavitt, Calvin Johnson, Tobi Vail, or others linked to this scene before 1988? I think he did. But again, this is rarely mentioned.
Coming back again to February 1988, that is the postmark on the test pressing of Moving To And Fro.
In other words, Napalm Beach’s fourth album (second album on vinyl), Moving To And Fro, was being pressed as Mudhoney was being formed, and it just so happens that the first European show Mudhoney ever played was at the club owned by the guy who was pressing Napalm Beach’s album, Moving To And Fro. And it also just so happens that this is the same period of time that I was living in the Midway district of St Paul Minnesota, and Courtney Love was about to arrive in Minneapolis to intersect with Erika Schlaeger, who was traveling back and forth from Minneapolis to Berlin. If I recall correctly, Erika S often flew first to New York, and then from New York to Berlin. And it also just so happens that the town where I’d gone to school in Germany 1984-85 (Kamp Lindfort) was about 30 miles from Düsseldorf, where Henk had been centered. These kinds of things are why, even though it would seem that Chris and I had different kinds of lives, we also had a lot in common. It also seems increasingly like these weren’t just non consequential coincidences. There were manipulations happening to me as well as to Chris, including manipulations intended specifically to sabotage my dreams of living in Olympia or Seattle and being in a rock band – both of which I’d wanted to do in the 1980s.
At one point in his memoir, Chris abbreviated the Berlin club name as “XTC.” In fact, this period of time does seem to mark a turning point in an “X” – which the band Napalm Beach was sent down, and other bands like Mudhoney – but especially Nirvana – were sent up (crossing paths about this time – 1989-1991). Generally speaking, it looks to me very much like Napalm Beach and Nirvana were picked out ahead of time to parallel each other in a rise and fall kind of way, but that the intent was always to destroy both bands and their artist bandleaders – Chris Newman and Kurt Cobain.
German labels – L.S.D. and Satyricon Records
It appears that both Love’s Simple Dreams / L.S.D. and Henk Van Dreumel’s Satyricon records released a total of 18 items each, according to current information on discogs.com. LSD records released 18 titles between 1986 and 1990 (Moving To And Fro LP being number 7) – (in fact the number of unique releases seems to be closer to 14, others being the same title in different formats). Satyricon records (1988-94) released five Napalm Beach titles, at least two of which should never have seen light of day for reasons that would be obvious to anyone listening to them or understanding under what conditions they were released, and in fact, being as Napalm Beach’s contracts with Flying Heart were fraudulent, I think could easily be argued that most or all of these releases on Satyricon should have never happened. Chris has said he was reaching a point in the late 1980s and early 1990s when all that mattered to him was survival and drug money – and it’s clear that his choices for publishing were unduly limited – but from my perspective, that doesn’t make it ok to exploit an artist, regardless if you’re the record label or the alleged “manager.” By “exploit” I mean to take advantage of the person in a way that is clearly harmful to that person. I do suspect that a confidence game was being played here. By the time the really ugly recordings came out, Napalm was about to be, or had already been frozen out of touring for good.
In retrospect I think it has to be asked whether either one of these labels ever was truly intended to succeed as a label, or if they were not also constructed as a type of trap. They seemed to have worked out deals with Flying Heart on behalf of Chris – for example the addition of Snow Bud songs – songs to which Jan coercively stolen publishing rights – on Moving To And Fro – without asking Chris first. There were times when Chris could easily be manipulated simply by someone he saw as a person in a position of authority telling him “this is how we’re going to do it.”
All of these things of course were done under the guise of friendly and supportive relationships. The whole thing is complicated by that, and by the fact that Chris was increasingly blacklisted, meaning that by 1988 any record deal looked like a good deal to him. Chris didn’t understand when beginning in 1990, he was having to open for bands like Dead Moon, who had previously opened for him. This is epitomized I think by Nirvana playing Napalm Beach’s usual New Years Eve spot, headlining at Satyricon – while Napalm were in Berlin – at the Ecstasy Club – opening for Dead Moon.
On most articles I write, I leave the comment fields off, because first of all, no one ever comments on my blogs, and second of all, should someone decide to comment, I don’t want some random Kurt Cobain / Courtney Love conspiracy theories or shaggy dog tales.
I think, however, I will leave the comment field open on this particular article, and here is why – I’ve covered a lot of ground, made a lot of connections, and mentioned a lot of names. I want to give people the opportunity – especially if their name has been mentioned – to explain, clarify, counter, or rebut. My intent is never to shut down dissent, to insulate myself from justifiable criticism, falsely accuse, or twist facts. So if anyone feels I’ve done any of these things, and has a countering viewpoint to offer want to make sure they have that opportunity. I don’t have a problem with debate. I do have a problem with people who object to things I say, but refuse to do so directly to me. How, exactly, is that helpful?
I said at the beginning of this article that I didn’t know where it was going. To me, I feel like where I ended up was at the idea that Napalm Beach (and their mirrors, Nirvana, Mudhoney et al) was at the center of an international conspiracy and confidence game linked not just to different branches of the music business, but possibly to a number of government entities both foreign and domestic. I mean, I feel like that’s basically what I have just described. And that the proto-Satyricon Records name “Positive Sinking Records” – was far more than a German accent joke.
* One of the other few instances of a non-US act playing at Seattle Met was John Cale with a band called Memory, and Napalm Beach on August 6, 1983.