Wipers almost can’t be considered an obscure band simply because so many people and publications have written about them and their obscurity. Among those who have named them as an influence, the list, according to wikipedia, includes Dinosaur Jr., The Melvins, Nation Of Ulysses, and most notably, Kurt Cobain. And yet I’ve never heard anyone in real life talk about Wipers. Unlike other cult acts like Big Star and Death, there’s yet to be a big festival circuit documentary about the band. All of which, I guess, means we writers have to keep writing about them.
Started by Greg Sage in the late 70’s in Portland, Wipers played what we would now call proto-grunge punk, though Sage claims that at the time, what they were doing was too weird for the ‘punk’ tag. As the legend goes, their first three albums, Is This Real? (1980), Youth Of America (1981) and Over The Edge (1983) are the classics, perhaps some of the best records to emerge out of the Northwest punk scene of the era. Recently I checked them all out and the rep is legit: these albums are punk classics. They feel confidently assembled with a sharp lo-ish-fi sound, consisting of rough but catchy pop songs and one or two more experimental tracks each; none of the three are too long or too short. And there is something just a little weird about them, a little ‘Portland’, keeping them interesting after all the years and bands later.
The band continued to release albums through the 80s and 90s, and I’m looking forward to checking them out, but the general word is that the first three are the ones to beat. But who knows, maybe I’ll have to do a feature on one of those if it turns out there’s an unappreciated classic hiding in the discography, which is sometimes the case.
According to Pitchfork’s feature on the band, Sage was invited to open for Nirvana on tour, and that could’ve been their breaking out moment. And Sage passed on the opportunity. What if he hadn’t? Would Wipers have broken out and become one of the defining grunge bands of the era? If so, maybe nobody would be writing about them anymore – they’d be a product of time and place. The upside is that the best cult bands are often the ones who were passed over in their time and so become timeless.