Tuesday, November 27, 2007
AN INTRODUCTION TO GREG SAGE AND THE WIPERS by Brian Walsby.
It may have been when I was in eleventh grade in high school when I first heard the Wipers. I think that it was on the infamous L.A. radio show "Rodney On the Roq", which was hosted by notorious L.A. rock personality Rodney Bingenhiemer. By this time I was this little kid who was discovering all kinds of new music to listen to, & by that time I was completely into the hardcore punk rock scene of underground music that was happening & was very new, fresh & exciting. The Wipers song in question was "Romeo", from one of their early singles. I didn’t know if they even had records out. Turns out they had a few, & that they were from Portland, Oregon & that the bandleader, Greg Sage, had formed the band in the late seventies.
But going back to the song "Romeo" for a second. It completely blew me away with its desperation & power. It wasn’t quite like a lot of the stuff I was really into at the time but it obviously had something to it that made me curious. I remember a little while later reading a interview with Greg Sage in a early issue of the magazine Maximum Rock & Roll (which was actually in those early days quite a good magazine to
read.) The interview really impressed me. Greg Sage seemed to me like a really smart, really individualistic
kind of person. He seemed to strive for complete control of his music & his vision, preferring to home build all of his own gear, produce his bands records in basements instead of actual studios. He also offered this prophetic viewpoint of what was going on at the time: "I have a lot of respect for hardcore punk rock but how do you classify music without putting limits on it? We tend to attract more individualistic types. People who decide for themselves whether they like us or not." After that, I became a fan. The Wipers have something like eleven records out, & I honestly think all of them are good. There are some that I like better then others but if you think about it, that is a incredible track record. Greg Sage’s vision of his band has remained virtually untouched over the years. His original idea of putting out a massive body of work with as little interference from anybody has to be admired. His refusal to play the game has also admittingly meant that besides a very loyal cult following, no one really knows much about this band, & never will. But for those who are willing to open themselves up to the Wipers, there are many rewards. Wipers records are epic testimonies to individualism & the sacrifices that come with it; being misunderstood, being lonely, feeling like you don’t fit in with anything, & the quiet power of melancholy feelings. There is something unique about this band that makes virtually EVERYTHING that they have done perfect music for rainy days, or snow, or hanging out in your room at three in the morning staring out of a window into darkness. Greg Sage’s lyrics perfectly articulate confronting some of the more confusing aspects of life, & then crushing the negativity with a statement about it. Never before did alienation feel so good.
Then there is the guitar. Crushing. Huge. Not in a typical "rock" sort of way, but Sage’s guitar playing is easily some of the coolest I have ever heard. The only reference point that I think I can see is maybe Neil Young sometimes, & that is only a compliment. Whether doing delicate runs or piercing frenetic single note attacks, the mans playing is simply fucking awesome, dude.
Before I run down a few of my favorite Wipers records to try to explain the appeal, let it be known that this isn’t for everybody. A lot of the Wipers stuff takes time to grow on you. & the singleness of Sage’s songwriting means that sometimes he repeats himself, which is perfectly understandable after twenty plus years of recording. The Wipers sound is pretty basic on the service, like one song over & over. I don’t think that is true, but even if that is the case, what a great song!
IS THIS REAL? l.p. (Issued in 1980, I think. Re-issued by Sub Pop some years ago, after Nirvana got big.) This one is quite a big favorite at the King’s jukebox, I’ve noticed. The first one is a good one. Probably the most "punk" sounding record, with a little bit of a "new wave" feel thrown in, "Is this real?"contains twelve or so numbers that all fly by real quick, setting up the template of the earlier, more direct Wipers sound. Speedy tunes, a knack for good songwriting, & the usual doom & gloom lyrics dominate the record. The highlights are numerous, but I think I’d go with "Window Shop for Love","Alien Boy" & "Return Of The Rat" as being some of my favorites. Can’t forget about "Up Front", the most frenetic song on here, which also boasts one of the greatest guitar solos in existence. Due to its availability, "Is This Real?" is probably the most popular of Wipers records, & is as good a place to start as any. But better things were on the horizon.
YOUTH OF AMERICA l.p. (came out in 1981, re-issued in the late eighties on Restless, recently re-issued again.) "Youth of America" is one of the GREATEST RECORDS OF ALL TIME. Its possibly my favorite Wipers release. More experimental & much denser then the first l.p., "Youth Of America" boasts six songs which are fleshed out by numerous guitar overdubs, piano & some truly demented production. The band sounds ten times more desperate & intense as well. & the songs: "No Fair" starts off with a quiet melancholy introduction that blasts into a song that features another amazing Greg Sage guitar break. First time listeners will have their jaws scraping the floor as they listen to this winding ascending fucked up guitar break that still blows me away. The title track is an epic ten-minute plus song that is simply amazing. The whole middle part of the song features some ungodly guitar pyrotechnics, effects & screams, as the rhythm section chugs on for what seems like an eternity, building in intensity. & then there is "When It’s Over", which blazes along for over three minutes before the singing even starts. This song just keeps on building & building & is easily the most frenetic sounding Wipers song ever. A complete and total masterpiece. This is the one, baby.
OVER THE EDGE l.p. (Came out on Braineater records in 1983, I believe, & has been re-issued recently.)
"Over The Edge" comes damn close to being my favorite Wipers record. Recording in a basement in Portland, "Over The Edge" doesn’t boast the production values of say, "Dark Side of the Moon", but that is not the point, anyways. A little more stripped down & less experimental then "Youth Of America" but its better then "Is This Real?" & boasts a ton of classics: "No One Wants An Alien", "No Generation Gap" & "So Young" are some of them. The song, "Doom Town" is one of the most popular Wipers ever, & with good reason, as powerful & bleak as anything they have done. Can’t forget about "Messenger" & the aftermentioned "Romeo", finally making it onto an album. This is the studio record that more or less ends the cycle of the earlier more direct Wipers style, & it is unquestionably recommended. Good luck finding both this one & "Youth of America", they are hard to find. Well worth it, though.
WIPERS LIVE l.p. (I think this came out in 1985, on Restless Records.)
Don’t know the time period of these recordings, but this record is a personal favorite of mine. Besides being the first one that I could find, it also features live versions of songs that if anything are even better then the studio versions. That is true in the versions of "Now is the Time", "Window Shop For Love", "D-7" & a blistering version of "Doom Town". Greg Sage’s echoey overdriven guitar is all over this thing, & the harsh live recording captures perfectly what I would imagine what these folks would have been like in the live setting. Also includes a couple tunes unavailable anywhere else, like the cool as shit "Moon Rider". This is also impossible to find, but I hear it is getting reissued really soon. Does anybody sense a pattern here?
I am getting short on space here, but the Wipers second phase of their career begins with the following records: "Land Of The Lost" boasts great songs with a slight decrease in intensity, but has tunes like "Just A Dream Away" & "Different Ways". It also has one of the worst covers ever. "Follow Blind" is one of the mellowest Wipers records, but the beauty of the title track cannot be denied. Simply a beautiful song, timeless & gorgeous. "The Circle" kind of brings the two phases of the bands career together. Maybe the most consistent studio set since "Over the Edge".
Around this time, Greg disbands the Wipers. Quite possibly a year later, the "grunge explosion" starts & several people in famous bands at the time start spreading the gospel about the Wipers to others. Suddenly, with Nirvana especially talking about the virtues of the Wipers, a lot of interest begins to circulate. This inspires Greg to reform the band & suddenly during the season of grunge, "Silver Sail" comes out. People were lead to believe that Sage was the original "king of grunge", & Greg responded to the expectations by putting out a non-grunge, more quiet record. Nirvana then got the Wipers to open up for them several times & was horrified to discover that their audience just didn’t get it, some of them booing the band tremendously. Nirvana would then get onstage & tell their audience how stupid they were for booing Sage, which I know I would have done. No doubt about it.
After the grunge thing tapered off, "The Herd" came out. It should be said that at this time I was kind of let down by all of these records simply because they weren’t like the earlier recordings. It’s only with the benefit of hindsight that I see that all of these are still quite good. But honestly, nothing is going to touch the first four records.
Afterwards, the Wipers broke up again. Then all of a sudden last year, the Wipers record "The Power In One" came out. It’s the best thing Sage has done in years. After that, who knows?
So that is it. There might be a newfound interest in Greg Sage & the Wipers going on now. Greg himself has put up his own Wipers website, & it has been interesting to read so many passionate devoted messages from fans who obviously care very deeply about this band. More re-issues are happening all of the time, & more people are discovering the Wipers all of the time, as their timeless sound seems to get better to my ears all of the time.
Here is Greg Sage’s e-mail address: http://www.zenorecords.com/
Posted by brian walsby at 1:05 PM