I have now found a part of Chris’ draft memoir that claims that The Untouchables did play on the night of the Mt St Helens eruption, at the Long Goodbye. It was possibly their first show in Portland, but it’s hard to tell as Chris was writing stream of consciousness and he would veer off on tangents. So it is possible that May 18, 1980 was the date of The Goners/Untouchables first show with Longview band, ALOST. However, Chris was pretty clear that the show where he met Greg Sage was the following June with Fred and Toody’s The Rats and Tom Roberts’ Imperialist Pigs. (Chris would never call Roberts by the “Pigg” nickname which he found insulting.)
With regards to the Danielson biography, I’ve realized that what started out as a seemingly minor detail and/or – depending on what you’re willing to see – a red flag – in Chris’ story – deserves a bit more attention. (There are actually a number of these “minor detail red flags” but anyway – this is one.)
This is the issue of the Mt St Helens explosion on May 18, 1980, which, according to Eric Danielson, was the same date that Chris’ band The Untouchables played their first show in Portland (Rocky Road To Recovery, p 13). Unlike the date of Snow Bud’s first performance in 1986 coinciding with the Challenger disaster, I personally don’t recall Chris mentioning this date link (1/27/22 note – see here for update). Eric does not provide the source for this claim, and I can’t find any corroborating data online. This seems to be new information, as it does not appear in Danielson’s 2010 essay.
The more I dig into this assertion, the more threads of all different types seem to begin to untangle, some of these being significant to Chris’ life, others being significant to gaining insight on a number of other issues from the history of northwest music.
So let’s start with the assertion itself – something that, unless there is some other indisputable primary source that Danielson had access too – should ideally have been confirmed with Chris while he was alive. Was the Untouchable’s first gig in Portland on May 18, 1980? And did they play with The Rats at the Long Goodbye, with Greg Sage in the audience?
Based on Chris’ writings, the venue is correct – their first show was at the Long Goodbye – but I can’t confirm the date and the reported line up doesn’t match. Chris wrote in a draft memoir that The Untouchables first show was at the Long Goodbye, and that they opened for a Longview band called ALOST. Further examination, however, shows that in fact, Chris’ band was at that time, indeed called The Goners. However, according to what ALOST reported to Chris, the band was listed on the poster advertising the show as The Untouchables. In other words – for some reason – the club itself changed the band name on the poster, and Chris and the boys just rolled with it. They became The Untouchables.
Could this shine light on the March 31, 1989 poster for Pine Street Theatre swapping the band name Alcoholics Unanimous with Mudhoney? It remains a mystery.
In any case, this incident shows, from my perspective, how suggestible Chris could be, and how casually he could accept some things, like the changing of his band name, that others (such as myself) might take much more seriously.
Other than Chris’ narrative, I am unable to find any additional information on the band that was called ALOST – including when they played at Long Goodbye. If nothing else you can say that ALOST band lived up to their name.
According to Chris’ draft memoir, the show that Danielson is referring to – where The Untouchables played at the Long Goodbye with the Rats, and Greg Sage in the audience, was in June 1980. In his writings, Chris says on that night there were “Four awesome bands” and notes that The Rats were headlining – but he goes on to list only three bands in total. The line up he lists was The Imperialist Pigs – a proto-Poison Idea band fronted by Tom Roberts (who died in 2006, age 47); The Untouchables (specifically, Chris Newman, Mark Nelson, Dave Koenig, Chon Carter); and The Rats – Fred Cole, Toody Cole, and Sam Henry. Sam had recently left the Wipers. This was the show with Greg Sage in the audience.
If I had to guess – I’d suspect that Chris writing “four awesome bands” was an error – that he had the image of Greg Sage in his head which glitched his memory – but the Wipers didn’t actually play that night.
Did Chris know for a fact that this was June 1980 and not May 18? I don’t know, but the sense I get is that not only was this not the first show that he played at the Long Goodbye – that The Untouchables had already played a few shows, mostly at the Long Goodbye, and Chris seems to have felt that Sage may have been there specifically to see The Untouchables perform.
It seems that this given date of May 18, 1980 being a “first” for The Untouchables is not correct, and without any corroborating evidence it’s hard to know if The Untouchables even played on this date. If they did – where’s the source?
Why do I call this detail a “red flag”? For a couple of reasons. First, in terms of the history of the band – if Danielson cannot provide a source or any corroborating evidence for this claim – it means that it’s just something he heard or even something he made up. This, along with a refusal to acknowledge or correct false information when presented with conflicting evidence from primary sources – makes him a profoundly unreliable historian. And this is a bit remarkable, considering that, according to his Amazon author’s bio, he has a journalism degree (B.A. Western Washington University, Bellingham) and two history degrees (B.A. University of Washington, Seattle; M.A. George Washington University, Washington D.C.).
Mind you – this is just one of Danielson’s many problematic or demonstrably false claims. And with so many problems in this document, it’s hard to wonder if there’s a reason why this came after Chris’ death. It’s particularly important because when not much work has been published about an artist, every work that is published has greater weight, and false or misleading information can be carried from one document to the next. And if you don’t cite your sources, it can be near impossible to trace down where anything came from.
This, by the way, has been an ongoing issue between me and other historians of northwest music. Some are more problematic than others, but all seem to be actively hiding or altering certain bits of information.
The other reason I called this detail about the Mt St Helens eruption a “red flag” is that there does in fact seem to be some strange connections to Mt St Helens in terms of dates, names, locations, etc. Whether that’s something I want to get into – or at the risk of sounding a bit paranoid – whether it was a trap Danielson laid for me – I haven’t decided.
This is a list of corrections to Eric Danielson biography The Rocky Road to Recovery: The Life of Chris Newman of Napalm Beach and some additional information. I consider this document a work in progress.
p 6 “written more than 1000 songs…”
This statement was actually a point of contention when Danielson first wrote his essay Chris Newman of Napalm Beach: The Road To Recovery
What I think happened was this – in the months before this 2010 essay was published, Danielson conducted a series of interviews with Chris, I believe mostly over the phone. Chris would drink some beers as these interviews were conducted. At some point, Danielson asked Chris how many songs he’d written in his lifetime, and how many were recorded and Chris answered off the cuff – probably saying he’d written around a thousand songs and recorded 400 of them.
I do not believe, first, that Chris really knew how many songs he had written, and I don’t think he sat and thought about what constitues a completed song. He didn’t often exaggerate but this appears to be either exaggeration or an error. Chris was pretty consistent about listing his published works with BMI in hopes that one day they would pay off in terms of licensing, and at the time of his death, he had 371 songs registered.
When Danielson first published his essay, I recall that we caught this error, and Chris informed Danielson that the number was not correct. Eric’s response was to argue with Chris, saying “you clearly said…” – in other words, he did not allow Chris to correct the error. Now Danielson has repeated the error in this book.
As for the number of albums with each specific band, I don’t have enough first hand knowledge to confirm or deny the statements, except for Divining Rods (the number is correct, two albums were released) and Boo Frog. Boo Frog released three – not four – albums. The album which was supposed to be our fourth album, Beachcomber, was not really a Boo Frog album. Chris released it as a solo album. I did not play on it or write any of the songs. There are many other problems with how this recording and release came about, but now is not the time to get into that.
With regard to the list of siblings, Chris’ sister Cindy’s full married name is listed, but not Becky’s married name. Her name is Rebecca Ruth White.
My understanding is that Chris joined Bodhi in 1971 at age 18. What I think is notable about this band is that in addition to being the youngest member, Chris was the singer/frontman, lead guitar player, and as far as I know, was the band’s sole songwriter. I do not recall Chris ever saying that Dave Minick was a member of Bodhi. (The drummer’s nickname was Spyder, however – did that make Bodhi the “spyders from Mars”?)
Danielson mentions a (circa 1972 or 73) band photo of Bodhi – when I first published this photo on my 2013 essay “Introducing Napalm Beach” I cropped the top and bottom to focus on the band. Later on I took a more careful look at the original photo and realized that the original seemed to feature – rather than the band itself – a collection of mountainous mole hills in front of the band.
With regards to speculating that Minick may have been the bassist in this band – I’m not trying to be surly but this is from my perspective a serious issue – a problem with Danielson’s entire book is that there are passages like this which appear to be pure speculation – speculation which could easily be put to rest with a simple phone call or email to the appropriate party. In this case, Dave Minick himself should have been queried.
This band, Bodhi, by the way, and this time period, was the source of a lot of Chris’ exposure to drug use. I don’t know if this didn’t come up during Chris’ interviews with Danielson – but the influence on Chris in years to come was significant.
“He moved down to Santa Monica, CA…” In 1974 Chris moved to Malibu.
p 7 Chris, for whatever reason, did not consider The Goners to be the same band as The Untouchables or Napalm Beach. It may have been about the music or about the band members. He did consider The Untouchables to be the same band as Napalm Beach. I’ve written more about this here:
Regarding Chris’ bands after 2004, in addition to Divining Rods, Lost Acolytes, Boo Frog, and Deluxe Combo, there was also a short-lived trio called Chris Newman Experiment which released a single album, La Rose Noire, in 2008.
p 10 “Although an amazing guitar player whose style of playing reportedly had an early influence on Mark Arm of Mudhoney…” – there are a whole lot of problems with this phrasing. The way this refers to Mark Arm was another thing that Chris was not comfortable with when the original essay was published, and it was another thing that Danielson pushed back on altering. The relationship between Napalm Beach and Mudhoney seems to have been significant, but Mudhoney was far from the only band to be influenced by Chris – and it wasn’t only his guitar playing that was influential – it was also his songwriting, vocals, artwork, gear, recording and DIY distribution techniques. For a time, Napalm Beach was very closely associated with The Wipers, and Chris, along with his contemporaries, were influence by Greg Sage. Others, in turn, were influenced by Chris. And in terms of Mudhoney’s guitars specifically, it’s arguably Steve Turner who took more influence from Chris. There is even a Melvins song that appeared on their 1986 self-titled EP (and on their LP Gluey Porch Treatments which came out later the same year) called “Disinvite” aka “Steve Instant Newman.” There is likely a very specific reason for the title of this song. This is another topic that needs more careful and accurate attention.
“sign painter… this skill…enabled him to acquire the famous Flying V guitar… indirectly led to the 1984 recording of the Napalm Beach Teen Dream album” – I simply don’t understand this sentence. Possibly Danielson is saying that Chris’ work as a sign painter allowed him to save up enough money to buy the Flying V – but how did it figure into the recording of Napalm Beach’s debut album? It’s not clear from the writing and it’s not something that I know the answer to, either. I suspect that the recording of the album that became known as Teen Dream (but technically was a self-titled album called Napalm Beach) was financed by Doug Reed who is in possession of the master tape.
Speaking of sign painting as a family profession, who remembers The Five Man Electrical Band 1971 song “Signs”? The song starts with a young man hired for a job, then removing his hat to show his new boss his long hair. Chris worked during this era (1970-71) at his dad’s gas station where was asked to keep his long hair up under a hat. This is the kind of “match” that happens all the time.
Who remembers the song “Matchbox”?
This is a digression, but in truth, none of these matches – often with creative material by entities which had no direct contact with Chris or his friends – are incidental to Chris’ story – beginning, middle, and end.
p 12 “Luke Pyro on drums” – who remembers a band called Porno for Pyros?
p 13 a side note about the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mt St Helens that coincided with The Untouchables first show in Portland – this was when Chris began to experience asthma attacks which he attributed to the ash that was in the air from the volcanic eruption. He had asthma for the rest of his life. Somewhere I recall seeing a painting made or owned by Kurt Cobain of Mt St Helens with lyrics from his song “Francis Farmer” written around it. (note: It appears to be page 98-99 of Charles Cross’ 2008 book Cobain Unseen – weirdly, Cross doesn’t identify the “landscape” as Mt St Helens – thought it’s an iconic image – more on this later, perhaps.) As for me, I taken a lot of photos at Mt St Helens around 2011 which went missing, and are still missing today. Not only that, but a high resolution scan of a photo I made at the top of the mountain (basically, the exact view shown in Cross’ book mentioned above) is among the many files that vanished from my hard drive.
“they reportedly once had an offer from A&M records” – This is another unsourced rumor. Who reported this? I never heard about it and it does not appear in Chris’ writings. Same with “several abortive attempts at recording in the studio.” There do seem to have been some unmixed, unreleased Untouchables recordings done at Wave studios and maybe there was another recording session that was unreleased. (Note – Danielson seems to get more specific about this later in the book – in addition to fact checking, the book could really use an editor.)
p 14 “the band’s name was changed” – the name change is also is addressed in my article Napalm Beach: Some corrections and clarifications.
With regards to Mark Nelson not playing on Trap Sampler or Rock n’ Roll Hell, I’ve found it difficult to keep track of when Mark was, and was not, in the Untouchables and Napalm Beach. He seems to have come and gone a lot. Chris seems to have learned to keep moving ahead regardless of obstacles like losing a band member, which happened a lot.
p 15 who said that The Untouchables “blew (Joan Jett) off the stage”? Why the use of passive voice? Usually if it was Chris telling these stories, he would name the person who said something. That way, the source could be contacted for confirmation or additional information. As it is put here, it just comes off as an unsourced rumor or braggadocio.
p 16 “It was so bad that afterward Fred Seegmuller decided to quit the music business…” – I hate to sound like a broken record but who made this claim? I’ve never heard this. It is true that, based on what Chris told me, the clubs where Napalm Beach were accustomed to playing seemed to all close down at once – maybe even simultaneously in Portland and Seattle – resulting in a sort of a dead space around 1982-83 – a vacuum that was then filled by the opening of Club Satyricon (see pages 32-33). But I never heard anything about Urban Noize closing because of the Johnny Thunders show – so I don’t think the information can be considered to be self-evident. It needs a source.
Similarly, there’s more to the May 1981 April Wine show. I recall Chris mentioning that Mark Nelson was really copping an attitude with the audience, apparently in an effort to be extra “punk rock.” Another thing Chris told me is that they opened with the song Angels Ride, which that particular audience loved, but the following songs were too New Wave for them. Also, Dave Koenig did not quit the band, he was fired. Chris didn’t feel he had the right image, and apparently Mark Nelson – who seemed to be a strong influence on Chris at that time – didn’t like him.
p 17 “The Untouchables members attended the legendary U2 show at Astor Park in Seattle on March 23, 1981… afterwards they were so inspired or enraged by it that The Untouchables headed down to the Gorilla Room in Pioneer Square in a sadomasochistic rage, forcibly pushed the off the stage in the middle of their set, and started playing an impromptu set of their own until they collapsed in bloody exhaustion.”
So much to unpack here. The description is so colorful, you’d almost thing that Danielson was either there, or had interviewed numerous sources – except that no sources are cited for this particular passage. The band is “inspired or enraged” and in a “sadomasochistic rage.” I strongly suspect this entire passage is based on Charles Cross’ July 18, 1981 article in the Seattle Post Intelligencer called “Band Drives Stake Through Heart.” Specifically, the following passage – “After seeing the young Irish band U2 earlier this year, the Untouchables invaded the Gorilla Room literally forcing the band that was playing off stage, and proceeded to play until their fingers bled.”
I think it’s useful to compare the two versions, and important, and the reason I believe it is important is what I see happening is a gradual build-up, drip by drip, painting Chris’ bands, and Chris and particular – as being dangerous and out of control. There’s been more to this effort than colorful writing, but that’s a subject for another day.
If Danielson had another source for his description, I don’t know what it is. But if he was in fact basing his description on the writing of Charles Cross, why not cite the original article which had been published on our websiste since 2011 (Skullman Records: Charles Cross on The Untouchables/Napalm Beach – Seattle P.I. July 1981)? My suspicion is, based on the article as a whole, that Cross was already amping up the color in the description. So why did Danielson feel the need to amp it up even more, adding phrases like “sadomasochistic rage” and “collapsed in bloody exhaustion”?
The exact date of the show, by the way – March 23, 1981 – noted by Danielson, but not by Cross – jumps out at me because it is just 8 days before the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan which was March 31, 1981 (“Honey, I forgot to duck”) – and this in turn seems to be significant because of subsequent events happening on or around the same day including, but not limited to, the death of Jeffrey Lee Pierce by stroke or aneurism on March 31, 1996. Note also the use of the word “duck” in the Otis P Otis quote on page 16 – “opening for April Wine… band ducks flying objects and fist fights.” Over the years I’ve come to understand that “duck” is widely-used code for someone who manipulates another person through covert medical means – including altering their personality, inciting events – including accidents and violent events, and creating disease states, including strokes, heart attacks, cancers. It’s often snuck into phrases and imagery in seemingly innocuous ways which are actually quite meaningful.
There also seem to be ongoing parallels drawn between Napalm Beach and the band U2. For example, the cover for Napalm’s 1991 Thunderlizard album seems to be almost a replica of U2’s 1987 blockbuster album The Joshua Tree. Chris seems to have rarely been asked for input into his own album art. He could not figure out why there was a photo of a Joshua Tree on the album, rather than, say, a dinosaur (thunder lizard). Why this parallel between Napalm Beach and U2 exists is not entirely clear to me, but it seems to come up again and again.
p 18 – Where is page 18? On my copy of the book, there is no page 18.
p 19-20 Here the 1981 Charles Cross article appears – why did Danielson quote from the article here, but not on page 17 where the description appears to be based on the same article?
And I have to ask – why does Danielson end on page 20 with the phrasing “he compared favorably to a combination of Velvet Underground, 999, and U2”? 9 times 3 is 27 – this is a number linked to deaths (two is linked to twins and seven to the chariot in Tarot, which I interpret as speed). And U2 is a rocket made by Lockheed. There is a big black space after this phrase – as if a chapter is ending – but then the narrative simply picks up again on page 21. Is there a reason that it was important for Danielson to do this? Or for that matter, to leave out page 18? Were these glitches in a self-published work or is there a numerology subtext going on here? (Note that the book’s introduction is dated September 12, 2022.) Maybe Danielson was going to create separate chapters but didn’t get around to it? It’s a mystery to me.
p 21 The Untouchables are said blow another band “off the stage” – this time it’s The Cowboys – and the comment is sourced.
p 22 “a hit song called ‘Twinkie Madness'” – how, exactly, was Twinkie Madness a “hit song?” And/or is Danielson insinuating a double meaning in the word “hit”? The song Twinkie Madness was about the Nov 27, 1978 assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.
It appears that Twinkies were originally packaged in sets of two (twins). The lyrics to Twinkie Madness are available online.
p 23 “Kurt Cobain’s future wife Courtney Love tagged along with the band from Portland to Seattle” – besides noting that Courtney Love has done more in her life than marry Kurt Cobain – I address the van rumors in
Napalm Beach – some corrections and clarifications and I published Chris’ words about his friendship with Courtney here.
But to re-iterate – I’ve heard multiple salacious stories about teenage Courtney in the Napalm Beach van and Chris was not able to confirm any of them. From my point of view, it’s unfounded gossip that should not be going into a biography of Chris.
Also, I want to clarify that according to Chris, Courtney Love only lived in the band house for a period of about six months in 1981. She did not live there in 1982. In fact, I suspect she traveled to England and Ireland shortly after that HUB show, returning to Portland again in 1982, which I suspect is when she met Rozz Rezabek (also mentioned by Danielson on page 23).
p 25 Danielson discusses Chris’ work at Wave Studios and avoidance of commercial success. It should be noted that Chris was, at this time, working very closely with Greg Sage of the Wipers. Sage was in fact engineering the Wave sessions. Sage is probably, more than anyone else in the pacific northwest at that time, responsible for the “stay small, don’t sell out” mentality. Sage and many people around Tom Robinson also seem to have been closely linked to Calvin Johnson in Olympia, Washington – who was at this time running a fanzine called Subterranian Pop with Bruce Pavitt, who had recently moved to Olympia from Chicago, Illinois. Beginning in 1982 Pavitt also managed a Portland band called Pell Mell who, along with Untouchables/Napalm Beach, appeared on Sage’s 1981 Trap Sampler.
p 25 just a note that The Wrex was the club that later became The Vogue – known for showcasing the early Sub Pop bands.
p 27 I think that Chris at one time explained to me that he specifically did not want Sam to play drums on Volunteer. It might be that they were not getting along. If you look at the discography you can see that in a lot of ways, 1993’s Curiosities was the band’s Swan Song. I know that Chris really thought Curiosities could do something, and that when he still could not get traction, while all these other northwest bands were rampaging into fame and fortune, he was pretty disheartened.
p 28-29 The story of Napalm Beach, X, and the stolen amplifier is another one to revisit a bit more carefully. I believe that Danielson is basing his writing here on his interview with Chris. There are a few details that seem to be slightly off. I don’t recall Chris saying that he was “mauling” Exene – more that he was putting the moves on her (verbally). The description of X feeling like “they had just barely escaped being raped and pillaged by a gang of wild maniacs” appears to be more colorizing – did Exene and John Doe say this to Danielson – or to someone else? Because I never heard Chris say anything like this. The only ones who know how they felt that night would be Excene and John Doe. And like so many others, they could have been asked (and still could be asked) to share insight on this incident.
Also – Chris told this story to me, and/or in my presence more than once in our first years together – the letter from X’s management, according to Chris, did not use the phrase “violent behavior” but, “unprofessional behavior.”
There is another part to the X incident, something that Chris never seemed to pick up on – which is that it mirrored another pivotal incident earlier in his life, having to do with a stolen amplifier. Chris was in his first or second year of high school when a friend of had an amplifier stolen. Chris found out who stole it, and told his friend, who was able to get his amplifier back, but the incident resulted in Chris being ostracized and harassed for being a “snitch” to the point that he was in fear of his life and ended up being sent to boarding school in Canyonville, Oregon as a means of escape. This in turn mirrors something that happened in my life – it seems that these boarding schools were places to introduce us to people who would become key at later points. In Chris’ case, it was his friend Russ and Ray. In my case, it was Erika Schlaeger.
p 30 Danielson mentions Napalm Beach playing at the Golden Crown in Seattle July 30 and 31, 1982 saying that there is a bootleg that was “made by Mike Refuzor” and uploaded to YouTube in 2013. I am wondering here how Danielson knows that this bootleg was made by Mike Refuzor (Mike Lambert) – and whether Danielson had access to the bootleg before it was put onto YouTube. The YouTube channel where this video appears has the username “imarefuzor” but is run by a photographer named Mike Leach. This is not the same person as Mike Refuzor. Is Danielson confused by the username, or does he have some other knowledge about this bootleg?
Mike (Refuzor) Lambert apparently just dropped of a heart attack, aneurism, or stroke, while walking down a Seattle sidewalk on March 3, 2018. A few things about this stand out for me. It echos sudden drop-dead deaths of other contemporaries from the same scene of Portland and Seattle musicians including (but not limited to) Stephen Spyrit and Steve “Slayer Hippie” Hanford of Portland. It occurred on 3/3 which as to my understanding was also the date of Kurt Cobain’s first 1994 suicide attempt in Rome, Italy. And – and this is grim, but typical of the dark irony around these events – the Refuzor’s best known song was called “Splat Goes The Cat.”
The thing about these 1982 Golden Crown bootlegs is not only do they feature songs that may not be available on any other Napalm Beach recording, but Chris is clearly using a Small Clone/Big Muff fuzz effect combination – the same sound that Nirvana would later become known for. So it would be interesting to learn the real provenance and history of the Golden Crown bootleg, and it would also be interesting to learn what other Napalm Beach bootlegs are out there.
Also – I think it’s worth mentioning – one of the songs from this set, which features the small clone and big muff combination, is called “Into The Sky.” Chris told me specifically that people in Seattle did not seem to like this song, and that was part of the reason why he ultimately dropped it from his repetoire, and never put it on an album. Also kind of ironic, considering what would a few years later would start to be called the “Seattle sound.”
“It was even said that the band members slept in the basement below the club” – yes, Chris did say that. It sounds like it was something they were permitted to do after a show. The Met also seems to have been a favorite venue of teenage Courtney Love.
By the way – were there two clubs – one in Seattle and one in Portland – called The Metropolis or The Met? (The Portland version later became Dante’s Inferno). Similarly, there was a venue in Seattle and a club in Portland both called the Paramount – and not only that – they both seem to have opened almost exactly the same time – March 1928 – and they had nearly identical, iconic lit signs.
The Wikipedia page on Paramount Seattle claims that “Hollywood-based Paramount Pictures constructed a grand movie palace in practically every major city in the country, many erected between 1926 and 1928” with a footnote linking to a Seattle Times article behind a firewall – but is this true? Are (or were) there Paramount buildings all over America?
Portland also has movie theatre called Hollywood Theatre, which in July 1926, for which the Hollywood district is named.
Regarding Chris and the Cramps – there are a few stories to tell here, but as far as Chris’ sound, the Cramps’ use of the Fender Twin amplifier was an influence on his sound, as I believe he tended to use favor the Marshall before seeing the Cramps. Chris seemed to feel that the Cramps were more of an influence on his Snow Bud sound where he used a Fender Twin, big muff fuzz, and wah pedal. (Chris was very good with a wah and could indeed play a lot like Hendrix.) I guess another thing I’d add is that on this first night when Chris saw the Cramps, Ivy told him she’d heard he was in a band, and asked him how come his band wasn’t playing with them. In fact, Chris seems to have never been asked to open for the Cramps in Portland or Seattle. It seems to have always been Mark Sten’s bands that were chosen.
p 34 “…in January 1983 Napalm Beach briefly tried moving down to San Francisco… this is when both Chris and Sam Henry first started experimenting with heroin. Chris said he only tried it once and didn’t do it again for another two years after that… but Sam Henry immediately became hooked.” This is not correct.
I covered the “who started using heroin when” issue in my earlier article called Napalm Beach – some corrections and clarifications. Briefly, Sam was already involved in heroin when he was still with the Wipers. I don’t know when Minick started, but he was the first to give some to Chris. I don’t know what year it was, only that it was no earlier than 1981 and no later than 1983. And it is true – there is no reason for Chris to lie about this – that Chris did not try it again until two years later.
You don’t immediately become hooked on heroin, generally speaking. It’s a physiological and psychological dependance that requires repeated use. (I myself have never tried heroin, but I’ve studied drugs, addictions, recovery.)
p 36 “fortunately the call was intercepted by Chris…” I believe that actually Greg Sage received the phone call about Catherine’s death which came from Sam’s mother, and it was most likely Sam’s mother who told Sage to tell the band to keep the news from Sam until after the recording session was finished (relayed more accurately on p 40)
p 38-40 It’s possible that Mark Nelson did not play on the Rock n’ Roll Hell studio cuts, though I don’t know for sure. The album itself includes both studio and live tracks.
We were happy at first with Burka for Everybody’s vinyl release, but in fact that label ended up being yet another label that stole from Napalm Beach. They paid a bit of money for one run of 500 records but they seem to have done additional runs without asking permission or paying for them, and then they proceeded to sell the music digitally – both streams and downloads – without permission or payment.
p 41 Regarding the use of a “high pitched voice” on Walkin’ on the Water – it’s true that this was an experimental, Bowie-influenced voice. Chris (or someone) had some kind of joke name for it – a female name I can’t recall right now. But it was Greg Sage’s idea to incorporate this vocal style into the track. From my perspective, I don’t think it sounds good, and could have even been a sabotage. There were a lot of incidents like this, with Chris’ recordings.
p 42 It seems like both Nelson and Minick were in and out of the band a lot in the early years.
p 45 It seems correct that Chris met Valarie in 1983. Chris wrote that he met her at Sam’s Tenderloin apartment about a month after they recorded Rock n’ Roll Hell. Chris and Valarie were friends first, and Valarie, according to Chris “was Sam’s girl for a couple of days.” Valarie already was addicted to speed and/or heroin. At some point, Valarie and Chris started dating. Valarie, to my recollection, eventually started to date a second man simultaneously with Chris, and he was not happy with this arrangement, and asked her to chose between them. Valarie chose the other man, and in fact, she married him. After year or two they divorced and Chris and Valarie were eventually re-united. I’m not clear on when all of that happened, but I suspect that Chris and Valarie were broken up by 1986. I know that Chris and Valarie were not together in 1987 or 1988 – or even, as far as I can tell, most of 1989. They were re-united in San Francisco probably the weekend before the Loma Prieta earthquake which occurred just as Chris was leaving San Francisco by Greyhound bus, October 17, 1989. This was also right before Napalm Beach’s first tour of Europe.
p 53 The album title Liquid Love is taken from the song “Plague” which starts like this “Heroin – deceiver of men – it’s liquid love – when you jab it in – gives forgiveness – for your sins”
p 55 I believe that in 1988 and maybe also 1989 Napalm Beach technically played the “Mayor’s Ball Too” which was the venue for “alternative” or less mainstream acts.
The graphics on Pat Baum’s film read, as I recall “1987” though it may not have come out until 1988. I believe the film was around 30 minutes long.
It is interesting that Danielson would mention this March 31, 1989 show where Mudhoney is allegedly opening for Napalm Beach. Mudhoney was actually touring in Europe on March 31, 1989. However, there was a poster made, circulating on the internet, featuring imagery from Steven King’s The Shining, advertising a bill with Poison Idea headlining, Napalm Beach in the middle, and Mudhoney opening. In fact, the band which played in Mudhoney’s place seems to have been a band called Alcoholics Unanimous, and there is an alternative poster showing this lineup.
There is a whole weird thing with this date, this show. I already mentioned the thing about the date of March 31 – which happens to be two days after my birthday. There was an attempt on the life of President Reagan in 1981. The singer Selena was shot and killed on March 31 1995. Jeffrey Lee Pierce died of an aneurism on March 31 1996. Nipsey Hussle was shot and killed on March 31 2019. It get’s weirder when you start looking at Chris’ 2006 album “Love Letter To The Dead” – track 1 (Mr No Hustle) and track 5 (Jeffrey Lee)
Back to the March 31, 1989 date – I sent an email to the person whom I believe made the poster showing Mudhoney, Steven Birch, who later played as a “touring guitarist” with Everclear, asking about this show, but did not receive a response. What I find interesting is the band that did play, Alcoholics Unanimous, apparently had a member who called himself Baron Von Everclear. Maybe it’s just a coincidence but there’s probably something going on.
p 57 regarding Otis appearing on the cover of an album on which he did not play (Teen Dream) – this seems to be another theme with Napalm Beach. The German release of Moving To And Fro did the same thing with a bassist – I think it was Tim Paul. In fact, Chris played bass on this album – all except for the two Snow Bud tracks that the Germans also insisted on including.
When Chris and I were first together more than a decade ago, these kinds of things just seemed like oddities, inconveniences. Now, as time goes by, they’re becoming increasingly problematic as people are either making false assumptions based on the photos they see on the album covers, or they are using these photos to deliberately misdirect and falsify information. And honestly, it seems a bit odd that this kind of thing would happen again and again – that album covers would regularly be created featuring band members who did not play on the albums.
It is a mystery to me why Chris did not take more interest in, or why he was not more critical of, his album artwork. He seemed to take the attitude that this was someone else’s job, assuming that they had a special expertise he didn’t possess, despite the fact that he had made several of his own cassette covers. However, what I have seen, is in instances where he did ask for something to be changed – done or not done in the album art – his requests were simply ignored. It might be that he just let these things go when they happened, and thought to himself, as he often seemed to do – “I’ll do it differently next time.”
I know Chris didn’t care for the cover photo on Teen Dream – the photo of him was taken at an unflattering angle. He didn’t like the Joshua Trees on Thunder Lizard. There were a number of other album covers he had issues with. One of the last things he said to me was he was sorry that he allowed the skull-and-syringe artwork to be used on his Key of H album. (The “H” in the album title was supposed to be about a key outside the normal musical range and was not actually supposed to be a heroin reference.)
p 60 I don’t think Chris was with Nancy Loeffler in 1984. This seems like the era when he would have been dating Valarie. I think Chris first got together with Nancy until 1987.
The first Snow Bud and the Flower People recordings – the “Drum Drops” recordings – were probably made in December 1985. Snow Bud and the Flower People played their first shows in Portland and Seattle in 1986. Chris only mentioned a single show in Spring of 1986 where Bruce Pavitt gave him his card, saying that he was starting a new record label (Sub Pop). This was the show where Mark Arm (possibly theatrically) examined all of Chris’ gear, including the “love beads” around his neck. Arm was also telling Chris that Green River was “over” – that the other guys in the band wanted to be too commercial. Green River later essentially split into Mudhoney (the less commercial side) and Pearl Jam.
Going to just briefly note here that Mark Arm and Steve Turner do seem to have attended or otherwise been involved with a number of Napalm Beach performances going back to 1981 including the 1981 Johnny Thunders show in Seattle and the KCMU broadcast show at the Rainbow in 1985.
p 62 Jason Moore did not play on any Snow Bud recordings. Danielson seems to have been confused by a tape cover that appeared on Discogs which identifies the bassist, photographer, and typesetter as someone named “Jason” – but the drawing seems to clearly be a caricature of Jan Celt. And in his writings Chris said that Jan “even played some bass” on Green Thing. It is a mystery why that particular hand-drawn cassette identifies Celt as “Jason” but it may be because that particular cassette also features a photo of Chris (as Snow Bud) in a cannabis grow room during an era when growing marijuana was still illegal.
p 65 I feel like this discussion of when “grunge” started misses a lot of stuff. Is grunge really a sound? or is it a fashion? a brand? a place and time?
If you look at it as a sound there are is a lot of music from the early 1970s, when Chris was first playing, that fits the bill. But as far as the Seattle version – I’d recommend listening to the 1982 bootleg of Chris’ performance at the Golden Crown.
A bigger question than “who was first” is, in my opinion, why in all the books that have been written about Seattle music of this era, Chris is never mentioned. Or more precisely, Napalm Beach seems to have been mentioned in exactly one book, called Loser published by Feral Press in 1996 and now out of print. It’s not that Portland bands are never mentioned – they are, though not as often as they should be – but Napalm Beach was not just another band.
I have a lot of thoughts about this, but overall, the narrative seems to have been created specifically to exclude them.
Just to be complete – in addition to Loser (1996) Chris is mentioned – briefly – in maybe two books about Courtney Love – Melissa Rossi’s Queen of Noise (1996) and Poppy Z Brite’s Courtney Love: The Real Story (1997). And as far as I know – other than a few self-published works – that’s it. It’s as if Chris and his music vanished from the face of the earth – and essentially, from history in 1997 – and that they were barely there in the first place.
Chris didn’t like it when I said that his innovations were credited to other artists, because he felt it made it sound like I was claiming they were stealing from him – but the truth is that his innovations were credited to other artists – who never mentioned his name. And it’s taken me years to figure out how this could happen. It’s still a bit confusing, to be honest.
So generally speaking, being as “grunge” has come and gone, it’s not of interest to me to argue about who “invented” it. There are far bigger problems, when it comes to trying to preserve and manage Chris’ legacy.
p 67 Once again, I’ve dealt with the Courtney issue elsewhere. However, this idea that Courtney left letters and diaries behind – did she? If so, I’ve never seen them. Yes, Chris mentioned seeing a diary (possibly left open) on Courtney’s bed mentioning him – but I don’t know if that diary exists today. Chris said that Courtney wrote him letters from England, but they disappeared from his apartment, along with most of his other possessions, in the mid-1990s. In fact, letters and journals of Chris’ have continued to vanish during the time he’s been living with me. We got together in 2009 and he regularly wrote lyrics, and sometimes thoughts, in spiral bound notebooks. He also had a stack of letters from the early 2000s when he was in rehab. But after Chris passed away, I couldn’t find a single notebook from before 2014, and all the letters are gone as well. I have had problems with my own possessions vanishing (especially letters and photos) – but fortunately my journals – when they go missing – and they do – almost always reappear.
And then there’s this business of Napalm’s cover of the Wipers “Potential Suicide” being credited in the film Kurt and Courtney – yes, it’s credited at the end of the film. But I’ve seen the film a few times, and no, the song is not actually used in the film. Why is the song credited? Was it an error? Or is something else going on? The film itself is very weird, starting out as a BBC funded endeavor and then ending up privately funded by unknown donors. Remember how “El Duce” of The Mentors was killed by a train 8 days after doing the interview for that movie? Another question is how Broomfield would have gotten permission to use the song (which he didn’t actually use).
p 67 the description of Chris and Jan’s relationship here is problematic. I’ve written to Danielson about why I think it’s problematic. I believe that Jan was committing fraud with regards to his dealings with Chris.
p 68 I disagree about the assessment of Chris. The primary reason I disagree is because it appears that Chris was being profoundly manipulated. While some of Chris’ business dealings were worse than others, I do not believe that Chris, the Untouchables, or Napalm Beach ever received a truly good-faith offer. There was always some bit of everything Chris tried to do with a label or manager that was sabotaged in some way.
In interviews, and in trying to understand his history – Chris does say that he was worried about being pushed and controlled by the major label music machine. Part of this was because people around him were telling him “you know if you sign to a label, they’re going to make you do x, y, z…. – better to stay underground – don’t sell out” – but in reality, I don’t believe Chris was really going to be given a chance to succeed. I think that people – and even some government agencies – were secretly making money from using Chris in ways he didn’t even understand he was being used.
p 69 Doug Reed seems to have been one of Napalm Beach’s better managers for sure, but even so, there were issues. Also, although Reed has the master tapes, he’s never tried to claim publishing rights, nor has he made it difficult to access the work.
And again, it’s not true that Sub Pop made an offer to Chris.
p 70 “…they never played a show in the U.K. and never released an album there” Chris told me that they had shows booked in London on more than one tour, and that the London shows always got canceled.
p 84-85 Unfortunately Valarie was not Chris’ first partner to be unfaithful and/or be involved in the sex industry. Nancy, his girlfriend in 87 and 88 also had been a prostitute – maybe not when she was with Chris – but she was stripping while she was with him, and she was unfaithful. In the 1970s Chris lived with a girlfriend named Kim used to disappear for days, and was also profoundly unfaithful. So it’s not exactly correct to say that these things “had not happened yet.”
p 88 Rumblin’ Thunder is a terrible recording. Chris explained to me that by that point he was so addicted to heroin that he would basically allow anything to be released.
p 89 Chris’ passport with Thunders’ autograph was, I believe, among the many items that vanished from his apartment in 1997
p 95 Denise began to write letters to Chris while he and Valarie were living in San Francisco telling him “you are my Jimi Hendrix.” He divorced Valarie in 2005 and married Denise (who’s real maiden name seems to be Smith – Hackett seems to be an earlier married name) on February 14, 2006. Chris and Denise were divorced around right around Christmas 2008. Chris and Denise never lived together as husband and wife – she stayed in Pasadena and he in Portland, and they would spend a few days at a time together in Portland at a fancy downtown hotel. There is a longer story to be told here, as even though the relationship was brief, it affected Chris profoundly.
p 100 I don’t see Chris and Valarie as being like Sid and Nancy – mainly because I don’t see Chris as being anything like Sid Vicious, who was first of all, NOT a serious musician. Also, some people think that Sid stabbed Nancy to death, another thing that is problematic with this analogy.
When people first began to talk to me about Chris, before I had met him, there seemed to be a script going on in which he was portrayed as a man who had turned his wife out on the street. This wasn’t true. Valarie never to my knowledge made this claim, and Chris always said that she is the one who made the choice to become a prostitue. He protested at first, then finally acquiesced, as he too, was hooked on heroin.
I don’t know that I would personally “blame” Valarie for anything Chris ended up doing – but one thing that I noticed about Chris very early on is that he was a suggestible person. I liked that about him, because it meant that I could influence him in a positive direction. But being suggestible works both ways. A person with ill intent, or headed in a bad direction could easily take him with them. I do not think it’s correct to say Chris corrupted “an innocent and naive young girl who worshipped him like a God.” I never saw a shred of evidence that Valarie ever “worshipped” Chris. On the contrary, throughout their time together, she tended to boss him around. The reality is, I believe that, unbeknownst to Chris, Valarie was “chosen” for him by an outside group. To what extent Valarie herself was aware of the strings being pulled isn’t clear, but I suspect she did know.
In short, Valarie was a honey-trap, and so was Denise. And I think both of them were fully aware of this role. Various honey-traps continued to approach Chris after we were together, amplifying and continuing efforts until he was no longer able to respond to messages and emails.
p 106 This is Chris’ story: Tom “Pig Champion” Roberts of Poison Idea had heard an advanced copy of Curiosities and said to Chris backstage at the No On 9 concert (September 10, 1992) that he thought Curiosities was the best album to come out of Portland.
p 110 let me confirm right here and now – Chris was never a Hells Angel, ffs.
p 114 another thing that apparently disappeared with Meros was the third (unpublished) Snow Bud comic
p 122 I first saw Chris perform in 2006, and I first met Chris in 2007 while he was married to, but apart from, Denise. I had my own band called Serpentone and in 2007 was working on recording an album. At that time Anton Long would drive Chris from place to place, and Anton also would come to my shows. I first played a show with Chris probably late 2007 when I opened for The Chris Newman Experiment at Mt Tabor Theatre. So basically, we developed a collegial relationship between 2007 and 2008. Chris was recording with Lost Acolytes in early 2009 when Lux Interior of The Cramps died suddenly and terribly of an aortic dissection. Chris sent out a message on MySpace – the social network favored by musicians at the time – saying he was looking for other musicians to put together a tribute to The Cramps. I offered to play guitar, and at the same time, asked if he would be open to giving me some lessons. I had seen Chris perform several times by that point, and had bought some of his albums, and was by then aware that Chris was far and away one of the most skilled guitar players and song writers in Portland, and I knew that I could learn from him. Chris agreed to have me play guitar with the tribute band, and also agreed give me guitar lessons after he was done recording the album. He undercharged of course – I believe I paid him $25 for an hour but we weren’t really watching the clock. He showed me guitar parts for the Cramps music, mostly – and we used my Cramps CDs to make a set list for the performance. Chris’ ex-girlfriend Nancy was also part of the group as a singer. By then she was missing an arm. She died, allegedly of an overdose (she had relapsed), a few years later.
One thing I remember from these early days of us working together in 2009 – we were doing lessons with a small practice amp – is how when Chris was talking about getting the set up he wanted for the Cramps, he said that ideally we would have a Fender Twin Reverb amplifier, and a Big Muff fuzz. And I showed him that I had both of those things – a vintage Fender Twin Reverb and a Big Muff Fuzz – and he kind of looked surprised – then nodded, “this is it” – and suddenly this feeling washed over me that Chris was the guy who started all this. Before Mudhoney, before Nirvana, and before everyone who had been inspired by bands like Mudhoney and Nirvana. I felt like with Chris, I had come full circle. In reality, of course, The Cramps were part of that, too – The Cramps always drew from much older music.
Chris and I began working together on the Cramps materials shortly after Lux’s death which was on February 4, 2009 and we became romantically involved the following March. We marked our anniversary somewhere between March 13 and March 14 which was Chris’ mother’s birthday.
When I met Chris, he was not staying with Anton Long, but with Paul Vega, who played drums in the Cramps tribute and then with Boo Frog. At 56 years old, Chris was sleeping on a foam mattress on Paul’s floor in a drafty old house that Paul often heated by turning on the oven and opening the door. Save his black telecaster, all of his belongings – most of which were t-shirts, towels, and a couple pairs of pants – fit into a single suitecase and a backpack (and included letters which later went missing).
p 123 Sage never sent any master tapes for Rock n’ Roll Hell – he sent a CD.
I would not recommend anyone buy anything from Burka For Everybody, being as they were stealing from Chris.
p 130-131 I don’t think Chris thought that Re-Revolution was going to land a major record deal – I think he was just hoping that a legitimate independent label would pick it up. What you really need as an independent artist is promotion and distribution.
“The lack of commercial success for this big final studio project reportedly sent Chris into a depression tailspin that ended up with him being back on methadone for the first time in decades.” This is not true. It is true that Chris was upset that he couldn’t get anyone to pick up the record, but he was used to self-releasing, so that’s what he did. I think it bothered him more to let it sit for three years, hoping, with nothing happening.
Chris was on methadone maintenance for most of the period of time between 2010 and when he died, and there is nothing wrong with that. He did wean himself off methadone sometime around 2015 or 2016, and this left him more vulnerable to a relapse, which began almost simultaneously with his work with Lanegan. There is so much more to this story.
Much earlier in this piece I talk about the word “duck” – as an entity who does medical manipulations to another person, covertly. Another word for such an entity seems to be “bear” – especially when the manipulations are dangerous or deadly. Chris was being manipulated, over and over, to force him to relapse. And this seems to have been widely known around Portland, signaled by people tossing out a variety of symbolic objects including orange syringe caps (or sometimes entire syringes), small wires, and double or triple A batteries. These objects would appear in our pathways either right before Chris relapsed, or right before I experienced attacks of debilitating pain which required me to use prescription opioid medication. Furthermore, there was more than one occasion when Chris was doing ok, then I would have a dream that he had relapse right before, or in some cases almost right as the relapse was occurring. Even though I understood what was going on, there really was nothing I could do to prevent it. Chris might have been able to increase his methadone dosage and protect himself that way, but he disliked being chained to the methadone system which among other things, punished him for using cannabis. I was very proud of Chris, though, because for years he would ride two busses back and forth to the clinic every day, and go to two meetings a week, to get his dose of methadone in an effort to stay off of heroin.
It was, and continued to be a horrible time. I kept trying to get help for the situation, and there seemed to be no help to be found.
p 132 There is a lot to say about Chris’ illnesses, his death, the circumstances around the creation and signing of his will, and so on.
There is also a lot to be said about the circumstances around Chris’ mother’s death, which also appears to have been caused deliberately, something which I simply cannot deny. In any case, the short version is that she was stricken with a debilitating stroke on December 17, 2020 and died three days later, on December 20. Chris became ill right after new years, was hospitalized on January 5, 2021 and died on May 9, 2021. If I tried to begin talking about all the things that happened during that period of time – and since – I’d have a document at least twice this size.
I was not invited, and did not attend the memorial events.
Originally published September 2013 on collapseboard.com
I’ve tried to write this story, or something like it, a few times, but always got mired. Then, on July 11, something about the way two contrasting images cut across my brain – the 25-year-old daddy-band Mudhoney surfing across the blue skies of Seattle, while the 33-year-old granddaddy-band Napalm Beach says farewell from deep inside the Star Theatre – made me think it’s time to finish.
I used to tease Chris by calling him “the rock star only other rock stars know about”. His musical history spans nearly 50 years, spent almost entirely in the Pacific Northwest. His underground roots extend back to the 60s. He loved Hendrix and Iggy and the Dolls and [then went punk – as he understood and defined it – after seeing the Ramones play Portland in 1977.
Over the past four years I have learned that Chris’ memory is outstandingly reliable. This is crucial, because in the late 90s, he lost everything. When recalling events, Chris doesn’t exaggerate details to inflate his own importance. Fans and friends who uploaded photos and flyers to websites have also been helpful in piecing together his story. If there are factual mistakes, they are probably mine. But I’ve done my research, too. Though my bias is clear, I have tried to understand and present this as honestly as possible.
I understand the place in rock’n’roll for tall tales, legends, and myths. But this is about truth and authenticity.
If I meander, it’s because I only began to truly understand as I was writing. It is probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever written, at least emotionally. I am a songwriter, and a guitar player, and this is all meaningful to me. I grew up in rural northwest California, but I have roots in Seattle and other parts of Washington. I was born there, in Friday Harbor. I’ve lived in Portland for 13 years. I haven’t really been out of this region for over 20 years. This gives me a street-level point of view that is different from other writers. I hope this story will be interesting to Collapse Board readers, and I especially hope it will inspire some positive shifts in honesty and inclusiveness when it comes to the history of our music.
The embedded videos in this essay are mostly songs which serve as text, subtext, and context. This is about 8,000 words and about 1.5 hours of music. I felt it was important to be thorough. For those who want to return to the videos later, there are two YouTube playlists, one for the local news punk scene reports and one for the music.
Take your time. There is a lot of good stuff here.
LETS GO SURFING ON THE LAKE OF FIRE
On July 11, 2013 my partner in music and life turned 60 years old. To celebrate, and to shift everyone’s focus, he set up a show at Portland, Oregon’s Star Theater, an old burlesque house transformed into a rock club. A local weekly called it “an exorcism masked as a celebration”. With this show he meant to bring closure to his old music projects, in particular, to his band, Napalm Beach. To prepare, he worked with 13 different musicians comprising five different bands from the past 33 years. In all these bands, Chris was the ringleader, songwriter, composer, arranger, vocalist, and lead guitarist. That’s just how it’s always been (at least until our band, Boo Frog, when he moved over, a little, for me).
With about 200 people in attendance, the club was full, but not overflowing. Two drum kits and all the players’ amps were set up ahead of time to expedite transitions. For the final number, ‘Why Do Parties Have To End?’ all band members from over the years came up and played guitars, basses, drums, keys, tambourine, all at once.
Meanwhile, upstairs, Flying Heart Records discreetly and without permission, set up a massive merchandise table from which they sold all manner of Napalm Beach and Snow Bud and the Flower People CDs, LPs, 45s, comic books, and T-shirts. Someone asked me, “Who’s that guy selling all the stuff?” I looked, I saw, and I left it alone. Because I didn’t want to harsh the buzz. Because all this is almost over. At the end of the night Flying Heart Records pocketed all the merch money, and disappeared into the shadows. For 26 years it’s been this way. Flying Heart Records manufactures and releases materials without notification or permission. Snow Bud and Napalm Beach never see an accounting, and they never see a dime.
That same day, three hours drive north, Sub Pop Records kicked off their Silver Jubilee by having their flagship band, Mudhoney, perform atop the Seattle Space Needle 500 feet above a crowd of 40,000. The event was covered by PBS, NBC, Billboard, and Rolling Stone. A SUB POP flag flew from the top of the Space Needle. King 5 news noted that, “Sub Pop Records is credited with putting Seattle on the pop-music map with bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney. The record label continues to bring big money into Seattle to this day.”
Meet Napalm Beach, the most influential band you never heard of. Popular, prolific, and formed in 1980, they were based out of Portland, Oregon.
They taught Seattle how to rock.
That’s right. Someone had to throw down and show them how it is done. And now someone has to start shoveling the dirt off this band which has been buried too deep for too long.
Why was Napalm Beach buried?
Let’s start with the obvious. They were underground. The music was rock, but beyond that, it was diverse, hard to pin down. They were mature (virtuoso) musicians in an amateur punk scene. They were raucous, headstrong, hard to reach. They didn’t think much about business. They just wanted to play live, record, and release albums. By the late 80s, they were all known drug addicts. That was the point that they became involved with Flying Heart, a tiny Portland “label” which did little but try to control them with favors, drugs, lies, and tiny bits of cash exchanged for recordings and publishing rights.
Also, except for a few well-received European tours, and a couple years in San Francisco, Napalm Beach never played a show outside the northwest. They spent their career (1980-1996) opening for touring bands, playing little gigs all around the northwest, and headlining at punk and rock clubs in Portland and Seattle, again and again and again.
They were ahead of their time. They were dangerous. They were from Portland. They didn’t sign to Sub Pop. Their catalog was scattered, and by 1998 the bandleader was living on the streets in a cardboard box. These could all be factors.
Nonetheless, there is a reason why Zeno Records continued to quietly market their music into the 21st Century. And there is a reason why they were inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. And there is a reason why, when they broke up (after 15+ years and many albums), their fans demanded and attended reunion shows for almost two decades afterwards.
It wasn’t because they sucked.
From when punk had no rules
Like most American punk scenes, the Portland punk scene materialized in 1977 immediately after the Ramones blasted through town. The Portland punk attitude was (and is) about throwing out old rules and starting something new. That is why such diverse art sprang from it. Napalm Beach, in 1980, seemed to drop straight from the sky. They actually came from Longview, Washington. They arrived in Portland ready to rock and conquer. They connected quickly with the Wipers.
Like the Wipers, Napalm Beach was fronted by an older songwriter, Chris Newman, who, at 27, had been playing guitar since the 60s, and who was excited about the idea of creating a new type of music. Like the Wipers, Napalm Beach songs were influenced by psychedelic rock.
The Wipers’ Greg Sage was a creative and experienced recording engineer, and a respected figure in the Portland underground. He helped Chris record his first albums, asking for no money, and allowing Chris to keep all publishing on his music and art. When an album made money, Sage paid royalties.
In 1983 Napalm Beach opened the Wipers’ Over The Edge album release show. In 1986 Greg had Chris paint the album cover for his album, Land Of The Lost, which he would release on a new punk label, Restless Records. When the label didn’t think the image of cartoon dinosaurs roaming the ruined streets of Portland was “punk” enough, Greg suggested that Chris add a human skull in the middle. That is what made it punk enough for them.
Restless Records has since been consumed by Warner Brothers, and many of its titles are now out of print.
Napalm Beach lyrics and vibe were party-oriented at first, sometimes ridiculous (seriously. this is rock n’ roll). Later they grew darker, heavier, more autobiographical, and more confessional. Chris has never shied away from writing a quiet song, a love song, or playing an audacious Hendrix-tinged guitar solo. Sonically, Napalm Beach was intense, expressive drums (that’s Sam Henry – until October 1981 Untouchables/Napalm had Chon Carter who’s simpler new wave style and can be heard on Trap Sampler, where he played on both the Wipers and the Untouchables cuts ) fuzz, feedback, solid bass riffs, searing guitar (that’s Chris). They also wrote quiet melodic songs. They drew from many sources. The music never stayed still long.
They recorded many albums. At first they recorded with Sage, then they self-recorded on 4-track, and later in various low-budget studios in Oregon and Washington. They recorded two albums in Germany. To save costs, Chris learned early on how to record and mix a full-length studio album in 2-5 days. Napalm Beach made some great albums on an ultra-low budget, but they were an exceptional live act.
Through all of the 80s and into the mid 90s, Napalm Beach played original music in Portland, Seattle, and surrounding areas.
Once they began to tour Europe in 1989, they played fewer local shows. Once Nirvana broke through the stratosphere in 1991, nothing was quite the same.
Also, there was an early 80s lull. In Seattle, the Gorilla Room closed in September 1981, the Wrex February 1982, and the Showbox March 1983. Meanwhile, in Portland, The Met closed in January 1983.
The Gorilla Room had closed because of multiple liquor law violations. Underage patrons found onsite included Duff McKagan and Chuck Biscuits (Humphrey 68). Napalm Beach (who were still called the Untouchables) closed down the Gorilla Room. The place was packed and everything and everyone was sloshing under a layer of beer. They partied until they passed out onstage. That was the end of the Gorilla Room.
As for Portland, Napalm Beach had ruled The Met, a popular all-ages hangout, through 1982. Courtney Love was a regular there. It is where Chris met The Cramps, and saw them perform. Napalm Beach and everyone partied at The Met on New Years Eve 1982, not knowing that on January 1, 1983, the doors would close for good.
At that point the scene seemed to have dried up, at least as far as good places to play original music. This is when Napalm Beach decided to move to San Francisco (they ran into Courtney down there too). They did return to Portland and Seattle to play a couple out-of-the-way gigs, and to record Rock & Roll Hell with Greg Sage. 1983 is also when a punk club called Satyricon opened in Portland.
Satyricon’s philosophy was “a free stage for all”. Painters, poets, performance artists, film makers, street crazies, and musicians all gathered and collaborated there. When Napalm Beach came back for a visit in February 1984, they saw a revitalized underground scene. That is what inspired them to return to the northwest, which they did, summer 1985. They moved back to Portland and continued to travel to Seattle for gigs. They played Seattle’s Bumbershoot Festival in September and Johnathan Poneman’s KCMU benefit show (Live from the Rainbow) on October 18.
1985 is the year Jonathan Poneman moved to Seattle, Washington. In 1986 he joined forces with Bruce Pavitt who, in 1980, had started a zine Sub Pop. With help from friends in the Seattle scene, Poneman and Pavitt began to turn Sub Pop into a record label, and a brand.
Chris Newman and the northwest fuzz-wah continuum
One of the things that is sometimes exasperating is watching people try to figure out where, when, and how northwest punks began to incorporate elements of 60s and 70s psychedelic rock. Most writers credit Mudhoney (and their generation) for these innovations. That’s because Chris has been left out of the story.
If you look at west coast underground rock as a continuum, as I do, Jimi Hendrix had a tremendous impact. The power trio, the bass and drums holding down a solid groove while the guitar goes crazy with feedback and noise – Jimi was the innovator. Jimi’s main effects were fuzz and wah. However, fuzz tone had fallen out of fashion in rock music by the 70s. The Cramps, and Chris Newman, brought it back.
Here are some things I know about Chris as a musician. He has a sharp memory, an ear for melody, and a natural ability to arrange instruments. In addition, he has a driving need to express himself verbally, and through his guitar, and to embody all that is REAL, and all that is rock’n’roll. Simply put: it is his calling.
He grew up in a tight-knight evangelical Christian family. When he began to play, they told him he was playing the “devil’s music”. And he literally believed he could burn in hell for playing it. And he deliberately, consciously, decided that he loved rock’n’roll music so much that he was willing to burn in hell for it.
And then he did burn in hell for it. When he came out of hell, he was still playing, better than ever.
That’s how seriously he takes his music.
He is foremost a guitarist and songwriter, but he also plays bass, drums, keys, whatever. He got his first acoustic guitar at age 13 and his first electric at 14. He was also 14 when acquired his first effect pedal: a Fender Fuzz-Wah. Because, Jimi Hendrix.
At 17 Chris mowed lawns to save up money for an Electro-Harmonix LPB1 distortion pedal which he purchased from the classifieds in Rolling Stone (Issue #2). That was his introduction to Electro-Harmonix. In 1969, Electro-Harmonix developed the Big Muff π. Supposedly Jimi Hendrix was the first musician to buy a (work in progress) Big Muff – but Chris must not have been far behind, because ever since the early 70s, the Big Muff fuzz and Crybaby wah have been his main – and usually his only – effects.
In the 80s – especially the early 80s – Chris also used an Electro-Harmonix Small Clone chorus pedal. The chorus effect was invented in the late 70s. Chris bought a Small Clone in 1980 (likely about the time it first came out), incorporating it into his sound immediately. (You can hear it, for example, on these albums: Trap Sampler, Rock & Roll Hell, and Pugsley.)
Years later, these combinations of effects would become associated with Mudhoney (fuzz/wah) and Nirvana (distortion/chorus).
As for guitar and amp, in Napalm Beach, Chris started out playing his pink fender Strat (that matched his pink converse high-tops) through a Marshall stack. Later, and for many years, his main ax was an old Gibson Flying-V bought from Fred and Toody’s Tombstone Music store.
After seeing the Cramps in 1982, and their original two guitar, Fender Twin reverb-and-fuzz attack, Chris added a Twin Reverb amplifier to his setup. He refashioned a headlight dimmer switch to an amp switcher. For his Napalm Beach shows he could now use the switch to select either the Marshall, or the Twin, or both amps together.
Snow Bud and Sub Pop
For Snow Bud and the Flower People, the pothead joke band developed in winter 1985, Chris drew on the Cramps’ influence, stripping down to Twin Reverb, Big Muff, wah, and solid, primitive drums. Snow Bud’s first show was in Portland at Satyricon, January 28, 1986 (the Space Shuttle Challenger had blown up that morning). Unlike the Cramps (more like Hendrix), early Snow Bud songs featured heavy hooky bass riffs. For early live shows, Chris put Sam Henry on bass and (future) Dead Moon drummer Andrew Loomis on drums. Later Snow Bud became its own band, with Nathan Jorg on bass and Lance Paden on drums, a lineup which lasted from 1993 to 2013.
Snow Bud’s first two cassettes, a bunch of songs that were written title-first in a single night (Killer Bud, Bong Hit, No Shake, etc) were popular with the underground kids. Chris sold a couple dozen at each of his first two Seattle shows (early ’86), and they were sold in independent record stores around Seattle, Portland, and eventually, San Francisco.
At one of those first Seattle Vogue shows, Green River frontman and KCMU DJ Mark Arm arrived as Chris was setting up his gear. Mark carefully examined all of Chris’ gear – the Fender Twin Reverb, Big Muff and wah that he used to get his signature Snow Bud (now – sans wah – Boo Frog) tone.
After the show, Bruce Pavitt found Chris backstage. Pavitt introduced himself and said he had a new label, Sub Pop, and that he was interested in Snow Bud. Chris said, “Sounds great”, and put the Sub Pop business card in his pocket. He didn’t have a manager at the time, or a phone, and he never called Sub Pop.
Sub Pop’s first records were Sub Pop 100 comp (1986), and Green River Dry As A Bone (1987). Meanwhile, Mudhoney had acquired and was using the Fender Twin/Big Muff combo by 1988. It is an integral part of their tone to this day.
(Gift, of course, is German for “poison”)
Was it unfortunate for Chris that he never signed with Sub Pop? Probably not.
I know that for most of his career, Chris didn’t think about his music in a strategic, businesslike way. He understood early on that he wouldn’t get rich or famous playing punk rock in the northwest, so he stayed busy playing to enthusiastic crowds in alternative clubs and all-ages venues. He lived gig to gig and record to record. He moved around a lot, didn’t have a phone, and relied on others (not all of whom were trustworthy) to relay messages to him.
Not to mention, Snow Bud was a joke band (that somehow lasted 27 years). It was supposed to be a side project, not an identity. And in the late 80s, I don’t think that either Sam or Chris would have handled fame or money well. So there should be no regrets about any of that.
My only issue, as far as Seattle is concerned, is that Chris, Snow Bud, and Napalm Beach have all been deleted from the narrative of 80s northwest underground music, especially when it comes to Seattle. That’s not accurate, and it’s not right.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s an old rivalry that keeps everyone amnesiac.
In the early 80s, Napalm Beach opened for national touring acts in Seattle such as Johnny Thunders And The Heartbreakers and X in 1981, and PiL in 1982. Some Seattle punks were angry about that. Seattle bands at that time didn’t have the chops or songwriting skills that Napalm Beach had. Seattle punks gobbed Napalm at PiL and threatened to riot at Johnny Thunders.
Napalm Beach might have made some enemies.
Bodhi (from the verbal root budh – to become aware, notice, know or understand) is the understanding possessed by a Buddha regarding the nature of things. It is traditionally translated into English with the word enlightenment and literally means awakened. (from Wikipedia: Bodhi)
In 1966, as soon as Chris got his first guitar, he was writing songs. He wrote the main riff to the song ‘Why Do Parties Have To End?’ when he was 13. At 14 he brought his guitar and fuzzbox to Christian boarding school. It was 1967 and he wanted to be a hippie. Underground. A head.
Chris grew up in Seattle, New Orleans/Mississippi, San Jose, and Longview (town of his birth). In 1972, at the age of 19, he joined a Longview hippie band called Bodhi. He was their youngest member as well as their lead vocalist and lead guitarist. Bodhi was intent on working the northwest club circuit, which meant a strict limit on originals. (The fact that they played any original music at all made them stand out.) Chris and bandmate Spyder wrote the originals, but mostly Bodhi covered psychedelic underground hits – music by acts like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Spirit, Hendrix. Bodhi lived in a house together, ate hippie food, smoked homegrown weed, had plenty of gigs.
A year and a half later, Chris had fallen hard for the New York Dolls and glitter rock. So he left Bodhi to form his own glitter rock band. This new band would play nothing but originals. The cover-band club gigs fell away. They went to Santa Monica for a few months to try and “make it”. They lived on the beach in Malibu, did acid, jammed, starved, partied, were thrown out, and finally returned to Washington to start again.
Chris began to date a woman who worked in a record store. One day she brought home Iggy’s Metallic K.O.
He became enamored with, and began to study, Iggy, and the Stooges. Soon there was a buzz in the air about the “new wave”. When the Ramones played the Portland Paramount in 1977, Greg Sage, Chris Newman, and everyone else bought a $1 ticket.
The Ramones’ set was blistering. They got horrible reviews. Chris thought “I’m going to start a punk rock band”. By this point he was an accomplished musician with 10 years of experience on guitar. But he loved the primitive abandon of punk, and the idea of throwing out the rules. When he started his punk rock band, he didn’t think about anything but playing what he wanted, the way he wanted to play it. He incorporated pop, glitter rock, garage rock, psychedelic, and new wave. This was 1979, and that band, first called the Goners, then the Untouchables, would eventually move to Portland, pick up the Wipers’ original drummer, Sam Henry, and become Napalm Beach.
There were groups like the Blackouts from Seattle who were being completely ignored, and then from Portland you had Wipers, who to this day I think are one of the greatest rock bands in the history of American music, who were putting out their own records and being completely ignored because they were from Portland. They did not have access to media. – Bruce Pavitt, to Pitchfork. July 7, 2008.
In 1980 the Untouchables moved from Longview to Portland and got straight into the punk scene. It was a scene that included bands like Pell Mell, Styphnoids, Smegma, Sado Nation, Wipers, and Neo Boys.
The Untouchables immediately caught the attention of local ‘music biz’ types who were scouting the underground for potential radio-friendly acts (“They wanted me to be the next Quarterflash.”) Chris did not like these smarmy types. He wanted success, but under the circumstances, he didn’t expect it. He wanted to make music with no rules. He didn’t want to give up his individuality. To ‘make it’, they would have moved him to New York or Los Angeles (because that is how it was done), and they would try to make him get skinny (impossible), change his image, change his music. He didn’t want to do it. At the same time, Chris is an artist, and he wanted to record, and to be heard. So Greg Sage offered to record and release the Untouchables, helping them bypass the commercial system. Then, when a copyright dispute came up over the “Untouchables” band name, Chris renamed the band “Napalm Beach” to make it sound more underground and less commercial.
In October 1981, after Napalm Beach had recorded the songs for Trap Sampler, Sam Henry left The Rats to join Napalm Beach. Sam is partly blind, holds his drumsticks like a jazz player, loves Buddy Rich, and like Chris, is a lifelong musician. Before The Rats, Sam had been in the Wipers. It is Sam’s drumming you hear on the Wipers’ first LP Is This Real (1979) and on the Alien Boy EP (1980).
As far as Napalm Beach bassists, they came and went every few months, at least before 1989 when Dave Dillinger joined and stuck around. Chris writes (in varying levels of detail) all instrument parts to his own songs.
Here is how someone remembers Napalm Beach in the mid 80s:
From the standpoint of a local fan, the Teen Dream period from 1985 to 1986 marked the peak of Napalm’s success. They played the summer Bumbershoot Festival at the Seattle Center two years in a row, the first year on the large outdoor mural amphitheater stage, and the second year on a large indoor stage…
The highlight of a Napalm show at the Central in these days was always when they played “Road to Recovery,” usually in about the middle of their set… the audience would wait in nervous anticipation for the climax of the night.
…“Road to Recovery” was a roller coaster ride of alternating slow and fast, mellow and heavy. Climbing gradually up to the summit, with Chris quietly mumbling lyrics over a deceptively repetitive, hypnotic guitar riff, an intensely wild Sam Henry drum solo suddenly breaks out from nowhere raising Keith Moon’s ghost from the dead, the guitars hit a perfectly synchronized power chord, Chris belts out the lyrics’ chorus like an opera singer shouting, “I’ve got to stay alive, for the sake of rock and roll!”
— Eric N. Danielson, “On The Road to Recovery”
“It’s got death in it. For someone like you, it probably appears to be a nice town. Like it’s all holistic and trees and arboretums. Bullshit!” – Courtney Love (Yarm p 216)
Seattle is not a cultural emerald surrounded by vast oceans of nothing. A more accurate analogy would be to see the Pacific northwest as a cultural watershed, with Seattle as a river’s mouth. The water doesn’t originate there, it flows in from other places and mixes there. There is and has always been plenty of cultural connection between Vancouver, Seattle, Olympia, Portland, and the smaller towns that feed in. Nonetheless, the mythology developed by Sub Pop in the late 80s and carried forth by the rest of the world to this day doesn’t recognize this.
Grunge mythology rarely recognizes a single pioneering act from Portland outside of the Wipers (for their influence on Kurt Cobain) and Courtney (for her influence on Kurt Cobain). Not surprisingly, Sub Pop only recognizes artists in which it is invested.
Considering that Portland’s punk/music/art scene blossomed before Seattle’s, and considering that you can easily drive from Seattle to Portland and back in a day, it seems strange to me that no one has looked deeper.
Napalm Beach and grunge
GRUNGE is a brand. It was created by Sub Pop (including members of Green River). If Napalm Beach or Snow Bud had recorded with Jack Endino – as they should have, because unlike most 80s producers, Endino understands their roots music, the 60s heavy underground – and put the album out on Sub Pop, they would have been a grunge band. But they didn’t, so they aren’t. Even though it can be argued (as I am doing) that Napalm Beach, as much as anyone, started the whole thing, they have never been included in the narrative. Mudhoney started grunge. Why? Because they were the first grunge band. The logic is flawlessly circular.
Grunge is problematic not only because it is proprietary, but also because it breaks down quickly. It’s undefinable. It’s not really a style, it’s not really an attitude, and it’s not really a genre. It’s not really anything. So why do we keep talking about it like it’s something?
And who is really from Seattle? Although Sub Pop is a Seattle-based label, none of the Sub Pop executives associated with the origins of the label (Pavitt, Poneman, Jasper) are from Seattle, or even from the west coast. Bruce Pavitt was born in Chicago, Illinois. Pavitt moved to Olympia for college around 1979, and then he moved to Seattle in 1983. Jonathan Poneman was born in Toledo, Ohio (near Detroit) and moved to Seattle in 1985. Current Vice President Megan Jasper is from Amherst, Massachusetts, a college town on the east coast about 5,000 km from Seattle. (Where Dinosaur Jr. comes from.) She moved to Seattle in 1989.
It is not unusual for new-in-towners to see and appreciate (or laugh at) things that locals miss. That said, it is really hard for me to understand why writers and journalists accepted, and continue to accept, the original Sub Pop executives, and their closest friends, as the go-to experts on nearly everything northwest. By now Sub Pop’s original grunge mythology is so entrenched that latter-day attempts to add broader view are consistently brushed off as unimportant.
The more powerful write the less powerful out of history. I get it. I just don’t accept it.
Underneath grunge, and everything around it, there truly is something beautiful and real. The silliness and seriousness and vitality in our punk/underground. Seattle, Olympia, and Portland are very different towns, but geographically close and deeply connected.
The punk rock aesthetic was interpreted by different people from different parts of the northwest, all of whom partied together, dated each other, dated each other’s ex’s, traded cassettes with each other, wrote each other letters, read each other’s zines and journals and graffiti, played music together, hated each other, liked each other, went to the same shows.
Through their constant live performances and numerous underground cassette releases, Napalm Beach won many northwestern teens to their cause of ROCK N ROLL! In Seattle, they came on like gangbusters. They had no real competition at first. They played The Wrex (which became The Vogue), The Gorilla Room, Astor Park, Off Ramp, Golden Crown, Baby-O’s, Ditto’s, Central, Graven Image, and many of those big old rented halls and granges used for all ages punk shows. They played week after week, month after month, year after year. Trips to Seattle could last two weeks, with the band playing 6-10 shows in that time span, all around the Seattle area. They might play a club gig, then an after-hours gig later the same night. They were original, on fire, relentless.
In addition to playing all these shows, Napalm Beach took every possible opportunity to record. When they released an album on cassette, they sold it at their shows and independent record stores all around Portland and Seattle (and to a lesser extent, San Francisco). They were featured first on Greg Sage’s Trap Sampler LP (1981). Then Trap released Live At The Met (1983) and Napalm Beach’s first full-length album, Rock & Roll Hell (1983), on cassette. Chris recorded, mixed, and released their third album, Pugsley (1984) himself. Teen Dream was funded by then-manager Doug Reed and recorded with Bill Stuber in Seattle at Triangle Studios on 24 track. Teen Dream was released on cassette in 1985, and on vinyl (as a self-titled album) in 1986. Napalm Beach now had a vinyl LP. That meant something. And they continued to play show after show and release album after album into the northwest punk and underground rock scene up through 1996. Beginning in 1986 Chris was also performing and releasing albums with Snow Bud and the Flower People.
A quick perusal of Wikipedia tells me that Mark Arm and Gary Lee Conner turned 21 in 1983, Kat Bjelland turned 21 in 1984, Mark Lanegan, Courtney Love, and Jack Endino in 1985, Krist Novoselic and Steve Turner in 1986, Stone Gossard and Andrew Wood in 1987, Van Conner and Kurt Cobain in 1988.
It’s a fact: Sub Pop’s late 80s Seattle-based artists grew up on Napalm Beach.
Sub Pop’s LOSER
Ugly people weren’t allowed to rock before us. – Mark Arm, as quoted in Rolling Stone Sept 2011.
Part of Sub Pop’s grunge myth is the image of an underground rocker who doesn’t care about being commercial. The greasy haired “loser” sleeping on floors, the big lumberjack playing heavy riffs, the small town rambunctious kids who just don’t give a shit. They just want to rock! Napalm Beach look like the prototype for this image, for both musicans and marketers.
Here’s Charles Cross writing for the Post Intelligencer, Seattle’s main daily (morning) newspaper, 1981:
…Chris Newman looks anything but the typical pretty boy rock star… Newman sports a girth that makes managers of all-you-can-eat restaurants turn over the closed sign when they see him walk down the street. He has a wild unkempt mop of hair, a 10 o’clock shadow and on stage tonight he’s wearing a greasy black wino’s raincoat.
Newman spends so much of his time sleeping in cars and on the floors of the bars the band plays in, that his personal hygiene habits leave something to be desired. In short, he’s the type of guy that if you saw him walking down an alley, you’d high tail it in the other direction.
But tonight on stage Newman uses his gruesome body to create some of the great gruesome driving rock n’ roll. Backed by the three other young bad-boy types that make up the Untouchables, Newman breaks into the band’s signature tune “Rock & Roll Hell” and all hell breaks loose in Astor Park as the dance floor fills up and the place becomes so hot you could cook hot dogs on the roof. The Untouchables have just begun their set and from the opening riffs of their first song they have the audience riveted to the wall with their driving, highly original new wave rock…
After their set, and the two encore tunes, a magic seems broken in the hall, as if some great sword had been pulled from the stone for a few short minutes and has now been replaced… One of Seattle’s most successful established bands has just been upstaged by some of the poorest, ugliest, and most talented rock n’ rollers in town.
Charles R. Cross “Band drives stake through heart” Seattle Post-Intelligencer July 18, 1981
Ok, you’ve come this far. Let’s talk about Courtney Love.
Napalm Beach and Courtney Love
Here is Napalm Beach playing a version of ‘Rock & Roll Hell’ in Seattle around 1981/82 – in the video/slideshow, Chris wearing a beige over-sized coat that belonged to Courtney Menely who would later be Courtney Love. She wasn’t a musician yet, but she had been living in the Napalm Beach band house and she was paying attention. She travelled to Seattle at least once with the band, and by the time of Mike Leach took these photos of Napalm Beach, Courtney was probably living in the U.K., writing Chris letters about hanging out with The Teardrop Explodes and encouraging him to come over there too.
Unlike most Portland musicians, Courtney could find money for traveling and so forth. Courtney Love and Kat Bjelland were both part of the Portland punk scene, a scene that was strongly linked to underground scenes in both San Francisco and Seattle.
Between 1986 and 1992 my friend David Ackerman spent a lot of time taking photos of bands, especially at Satyricon. In recent years, I’ve helped him license photos of your favorite Seattle bands for books and T.V. David usually photographed the stage, but sometimes he photographed people in the club (usually girls). Courtney Love was in and out of Portland in the 80s. In all his many hundreds of photos, David has exactly two photos of Courtney, both at Satyricon. According to David, the photo at the beginning of this article was taken at a Napalm Beach show in 1986 (The Obituaries opened). The other photo was taken at a Mudhoney show in January 1989 (Nirvana opened).
Courtney only lived in the band house for part of 1981, but Chris ran into her on and off at rock shows through the 80s and into the early 90s. The last time he saw her was at La Luna on her Live Through This tour. She greeted him through the mic.
Chris respects her and her work.
Napalm Beach and Nirvana
If you overlay the career path of Nirvana as a trajectory up, with the career path of Napalm Beach as a trajectory down, the center of the X would occur in 1991.
In 1988 a German-born couple associated with the Satyricon club formed Satyricon Records solely for the purpose of getting Napalm Beach to tour and release records in Europe. Despite being completely new to the business, Henk and Heike were professional, well-organized, and helped open up some great opportunities in Europe. German music magazine Spex named Moving To And Fro as one of the best albums of 1988, paving the way for tours.
With Satyricon Records’ help, Napalm Beach toured the European club circuit beginning in 1989. Their first tour traveled about two weeks ahead of Tad and Nirvana’s first tour, playing all the same clubs. “We saw graffiti and other signs of Napalm Beach,” Tad bassist Kurt Danielson told me once.
Napalm’s first German performance was notorious. They had never before experienced the kind of rock star treatment they received upon arriving in Europe. The Germans handed Chris shot after shot of Jack Daniels, “American whiskey for you!” He got drunk and destructive. The next day the Nürnburg club called the Hamburg club and warned them that Chris had trashed the entire backstage area (true), and raped a woman (not true).
Hamburg said “Send them anyway!” Chris reconsidered his approach, and the rest of the tour was spectacular.
At this time, Kurt Cobain would have been 22 years old and Nirvana almost three years old. Chris Newman would have been a boyish 36 years old and Napalm Beach almost 10 years old. In 1989, Chris had been playing guitar longer than Kurt Cobain had been alive.
Napalm Beach toured Europe again in 1990. Napalm Beach were in Europe on New Years Eve 1990/91, which meant that back home, Nirvana played Napalm’s usual New Years slot at Satyricon.
Then Napalm toured again in 1991, this time just tailing Nirvana. Nevermind began to rocket up the charts. Napalm played a beautiful club in Vienna and the owner told them how two weeks earlier, Tad/Nirvana had come through and they had to turn away 2,000 people at the door.
That is how fast everything changed.
About 10 years ago Greg Sage revealed that Kurt Cobain took his life two weeks before his first scheduled recording session with Sage at Zeno. He said the sessions had been kept secret, something to do with Cobain’s label, and issues of control.
The story didn’t end there for Napalm Beach. They toured a bit more, they released some more albums, they made a few more mistakes.
Meanwhile, thanks to the efforts of Sub Pop, many of the kids who had grown up listening to northwest underground bands like Napalm Beach had become instant rock stars. In the process, some of Chris’ innovations in sound, stagecraft, and songwriting were attributed to younger, more famous artists. That’s OK. I think that Chris is more than proud to have been an inspiration for so many.
The problem is not the inspiration, but the omissions.
…really open and weird… weird louder, arty bands, as opposed to the quiet, sweet Olympia sound. – Gilly Ann Hanner of Calamity Jane, on observing the late 80s Portland music scene after living in Olympia
Because writers and researchers have continually failed to understand the dynamics of influence and competition between Seattle and neighboring towns, images of late 20th Century northwest rock music are consistently filtered through a Seattle/Olympia-slanted lens. 80s Portland punk/indie/alternative bands were almost all D.I.Y., and all buried under the great myth of grunge. Pioneering rock bands like the Obituaries and Calamity Jane became little more than a footnote in the Nirvana story. And a band like Napalm Beach just disappears completely.
Some seem to think all the invisibility kept Portland “pure” – but what musician wants to be invisible? or pure? or unheard?
1996 to today
In 1996 Chris arranged and performed a tribute show in honor of Jeffrey Lee Pierce, who had recently passed away. He performed the entire Fire Of Love album. The following day, Chris was arrested for heroin possession, creating a cascade of events that ultimately led him to become homeless, losing everything – letters, records, original artwork, and years of journals detailing band experiences. At this point, he had effectively given up and resigned him self to the life, and death, of a street addict. He and his wife Valarie lived on the streets, mostly in San Francisco, for six years. He wrote and recorded two albums while homeless.
Ultimately, Chris and Valarie, both addicts, had to divorce in order to survive.
Chris spent about 25 years of his life struggling with heroin. He eventually served his time in jail and has been back in Portland actively working on his recovery for over a decade. He has been clean of heroin for over three years now. As long as he has love and stability, he won’t go back. Sam has been off heroin for 10 years, and will soon tour Europe for the first time since the 90s, with his band, Don’t. Bassist Dave Dillinger is also clean and well and has recently married. Chris’ ex-wife, Valarie, a writer, and prostitution recovery advocate, is clean and sober and studying English at a beautiful liberal arts college.
Chris and Valarie are still friends, and I think she’s cool too.
In 2009, Chris arranged a Cramps tribute show in honor of Lux Interior, who had recently passed away. I asked to play guitar for the tribute, and that is how we got together. When the tribute show was over, we were left with Boo Frog.
There are a lot of interweaving themes in this story, many conflicting agendas in music and society. To me, a musician, the overriding theme is the tension between commercial and independent music. I find myself ever-more respectful of what artists like Greg Sage struggled to achieve, and of the difficulties they have experienced trying to find the balance between getting one’s music heard, and losing control of it (and any income it may generate). I am also very grateful to him and to so many others who have gone out of their way to help Chris and other unusual or misunderstood artists.
Now with Boo Frog, Chris continues to write, play, and perform, and he will do so for as long as he is able. We will do a kickstarter to release Boo Frog’s third album. We are writing our fourth album. We also hope to raise funds to remix and rerelease Teen Dream, out of print since 1986. We will do as much as we can.
Chris’ songwriting continues to be prolific. He’s always weaving in new ideas. He still plays guitar every day. He has not toured since 1992 and very much wants to tour again before his health fails. He is still a top-notch performer, still gives EVERYTHING each time he gets on stage. He still approaches music and life with the openness and passion of a child who has lived long enough to know that where the old path ends, a new one begins.
 Portland and Seattle have had some similarly-named locations and venues. There was a Portland Metropolis (called “The Met”) and there was a Seattle Metropolis. Both were all-ages alternative clubs in the early 1980s. The Met (Portland) was a gay dance club that started having live music in 1981, got overrun by new wave kids, and closed January 1, 1983. It was downtown where Dante’s is today. The Metropolis in Seattle opened in 1983, was cooperatively run, and lasted nine months (Humphrey, 87).
 Kurt Cobain’s signature effects were a Small Clone chorus and a Boss distortion pedal (DS-1) that sounds a lot like the MXR distortion pedal which was an early Wipers sound.
 It appears that both Steve Turner and Mark Arm were both at the 1982 PiL/Napalm show. “I met Mark in October of ’82, right when my senior year started… we could never really decide if it was the Public Image Ltd show or the TSOL show where I met him in line.” Steve Turner, as quoted in Everybody Loves Our Town (Yarm, p 45.) Green River got their chance to open for PiL in 1986. This show went down in history for the “welcome” shown to PiL by Green River and co, and many people believe it inspired Lydon’s 1987 song, ‘Seattle’.
Mark: Yeah, it was pretty out of hand, but it was a reaction to seeing someone that you respected at one point turning into something that you imagine that at one point he hated.
Steve: I never respected him at any point, really.
Mark: The first three records are great. I saw them a long time ago and it was an amazing show.
 Untouchables opened for Johnny Thunders in Portland and Seattle Spring of 1981. At the Portland show, future Napalm Beach bassist Otis P. Otis (also mentioned in footnote #7) traded his Gibson Les Paul Jr. for Thunders’ duct-taped together (but autographed) L6 guitar.
According to Grunge Is Dead, the U-Men picked up their singer, John Bigly, at the Seattle Johnny Thunders show (Prato 54). It was an all ages show in a rented hall. The Untouchables let the Heartbreakers use their backline. Untouchables played a great set, but Johnny Thunders spent most of his set backstage doing drugs. Finally the Seattle punks lost patience and rushed the stage, shouting “Johnny Thunders sucks!!! Untouchables suck!!! Fuck you!!!” and looking like they were going to rip the stage apart. Johnny Thunders’ two travelling thugs then beat the crowd back from the stage with microphone stands and so forth, until the show was shut down.
Chris met Thunders one more time after that, on tour, in April 1991, while playing Xtasy Club in Berlin. Chris and Sam spotted Johnny in their hotel and invited him to breakfast. At this point, Thunders was touring with a sax player, playing to tiny crowds. He was alone and seemed down but cheered up as they talked, especially when Chris told him how much his music had meant to him. He told Chris and Sam that he was on his way to Hamburg where he would record with the Toten Hosen, and then use the money from the session to buy a ticket to New Orleans where he hoped to start a band with “a horn section and black chick backup singers” (Johnny’s words). He signed a blank page in Chris’ passport “with all my love and admiration”, before they parted ways.
Thunders died in New Orleans three day later.
Unlike what Wikipedia (currently) says, it appeared to Chris that, in Berlin, Thunders had been using heroin, and plenty of it. (No one knew he had been suffering from leukemia.) This does NOT make his death any less tragic or or the circumstances around it any less criminal.
 Here is an essay about that Ramones show featuring Otis P. Otis who came from Seattle to play guitar on the final ‘Why Do Parties Have To End?’ and who still looks spectacular. Writer Marc Covert also conducted this Greg Sage interview.
 Neo Boys were a fierce all-female Portland punk band. I do not think they ever toured. Neo Boys drummer Pat Baum is also a filmmaker (now a marine ecologist) who worked with both Greg Sage and Gus Van Sant. She helped Chris with a lot of cassette duplication over the years, and she documented Napalm Beach on film. She is the reason why we have beautiful live footage of Napalm Beach in 80s Portland. THANK YOU, Pat Baum.
K Records is preparing to re-release some Neo Boys music. Just before submitting this article, we received a message from Pat Baum saying that the release date will be October 14, 2013. (check back here for more information).
 Greg Sage recorded and released Napalm Beach on the Trap Sampler LP (1981). Then he released Live At The Met and Rock & Roll Hell on cassette (1983). Sometime around 2000 Sage added Live At The Met tracks to Rock & Roll Hell and sold it from his website on CD until about 2010 when Chris began to regain control of his catalog.
 The Rats was Fred and Toody Cole’s first band together. Fred and Toody’s best known project was Dead Moon. Their current project is Pierced Arrows.
 Eric Danielson’s “Road To Recovery” article somehow disappeared off of the web between the time I started writing this essay and the time I finished it. Danielson worked very hard on compiling a history and a good discography. Eric was a Seattle music fan in the 80s. His perception was that Napalm Beach dropped off the map in Seattle during the years they were touring in Europe (1989-1992).
- Humphrey, Clark. Loser: The Real Seattle Music Story. Portland: Feral House. 1995.
- Prato, Greg. Grunge is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music. Toronto: ECW Press. 2009.
- Tow, Stephen. The Strangest Tribe: How a group of Seattle rock bands invented grunge. Seattle: Sasquatch Books. 2011.
- True, Everett. Nirvana: The Biography. Cambridge: Da Capo Press. 2007.
- Yarm, Mark. Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge. New York: Three Rivers Press. 2012.
- Tom Robinson – historic photo archive
- David Ackerman – theack9.com
- Jeff Larson – http://sonicrec.com
- Mike Leach – bestrockphotos.com
- Dean Fletcher
- Chon Carter
- Pat Baum