Introducing Napalm Beach

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 N├╝rnburg 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.

1989

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.

Nirvana at Satyricon New Years 1990/91

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.

(continues overleaf)

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