The Wipers’ debut felt like something had just rolled out of a flying saucer and plugged in a guitar. The band had been rehearsing under wraps, and they were still a very well-kept secret when the New Arts Center opened. The Revenge organization booked them on faith and crossed its fingers. We were chronically short on bands, and besides, their front man was the only semi-pro carpenter in the house. He framed a stud wall behind the stage and we let him open for the Weirdos.
OK, that wasn’t the only reason. Greg Sage was obviously a serious person. He’d been haunting punk shows since early summer, a gaunt, weathered revenant who couldn’t help standing out even as he hung back in the shadows. Greg’s rugged appearance was highly compelling, despite his own self-consciousness about the silver hair falling off his traumatized scalp in patches so big they scared everyone who ever used hair dye. It was the mark of a shaman.
You rock stars need to get your words straight. You are not shamans. Dionysiacs, maybe, but from what I read, shamanism is definitely not the happening high-status chick-magnet kind of gig you’re imagining. The shaman frequently remains unmarried, for example, since he’s an anomaly within an otherwise close-knit hunter-gatherer clan, a permanent outsider whose uncanny calling seeks him out whether he likes it or not. Shamans are often stigmatized or even crippled by some visible affliction that sets them apart, and signals their potential utility as navigators to the forbidden realm – Spirit World, Land of the Dead, Animal Planet – whatever the local variant is, it’s the shaman’s job to visit that adjacent reality periodically, and then tell the clan what he’s learned.
Greg Sage looked like he was back with news from the dark side of the moon.
He was quickly christened Iggy’s Pop for easy reference. He looked so striking that people were bound to call him something, at least until he got up enough nerve to pull out the toothpick and introduce himself. “I’ve got a band too. We’d like to play one of your shows, if that’s cool.” Sure, we said . . . what’s that band name, again?
The Wipers were astonishing. I forget if it took two shows or one to convince me they were the best band in the Northwest. There were two or three other powerful groups in the region, DOA in particular, but nothing about DOA’s music came as a surprise. They weren’t boring but they were meatheads compared to Greg Sage, whose exotic personal interpretation of punk rock could not have been predicted. He brought an ominous depth to punk by drenching its jack-hammering drive with lush psychedelic dread, coloring it with a darkness uniquely his own. His synthesis owed a debt to class acts like Love, the Yardbirds and especially Hendrix, lysergic-pop hard rock from the mid-‘60s that had formed Sage in his teens. Garage-based punk has proven to be a durable long-running hybrid but Greg got there very early, almost prematurely. The new sub-genre hadn’t even taken shape when he sent it on a strange detour by inventing a family of guitar chords based on characteristic dissonances that are still immediately recognizable as his alone. His original work with the Wipers was a major creative achievement that hasn’t dimmed over time.