Introducing Napalm Beach

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.

Napalm Beach with Greg Sage

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.

Wipers - Land of the Lost

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.

Untouchables at Seattle Gorilla Room - July 1981

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[1], 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.

1982 (from Live at the Met)

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.

Sub Pop - we are not the best, we are pretty good

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[1] 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).

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