close your eyes
[music, albums]

XXII: 1981 Wipers - Youth of America

Wipers - Youth of America (Cover not accepted by record company. On box set) Wipers - Youth of America
Wipers - Youth of America (Second cover)

1981 was the year where

  • I started my last class at school.
  • A second-rate Hollywood actor became president of the U.S. and heralded the last phase of the cold war.
  • Greg Sage and his Wipers released their second album, the 30 minutes mini-LP Youth of America

The Wipers whose founding members had been cleaning floors hail from Portland, Oregon. A place far away from the centres of American punk and post-punk rock. Their mastermind, the guitarist Greg Sage is one of the ingenious outsiders of modern rock. His approach to music is relentlessly non-commercial:

The idea behind the Wipers started off as only a recording project.
The plan was to record 15 LP's in 10 years without touring or promotion of any type.

Nevertheless he hoped that his band would get their audience through hear-say which kind of worked. But only in Europe where they reached insider status in France and Germany. In the U.S. they were more or less ignored.

It is quite hard to pin down the influences of the Wipers. Their gloomy hard-rocking post-punk which is dominated by layers of guitar with the occasional controlled feedback outburst sounds more British than American (maybe because of the dull rainy weather on the North-West coast). It evokes the oppressive atmosphere of Joy Division mixed with the noisy Velvet Underground of White Light/White Heat. There is also a psychedelic jam component which goes back to The Doors. In a way their tunefulness and punk speed make me think of the Buzzcocks. But altogether Greg Sage had his own vision of mesmerising fierce music with trance-inducing drones describing the state of the U.S. in the early eighties.

Unfortunately this is not really the music for the season (it is winter night road music). And I prefer to listen to it on my own as it is too dense as background music. But the god of chance decided that 1981 was the year to cover. I knew from the beginning without listening to anything else that this would be my album of 1981.

Somewhen during my student years in Munich in the mid-eighties I taped a track from the radio (Bayern 2 Zündfunk) called When It's Over. It was mainly an instrumental involving guitar, bass and drums building up and up and up until it does not seem to go up anymore. And then reaching a plateau when the piano sets in on low notes and replaces the guitar. The singer utters some words. After that it goes further up. Like a spiral turning towards the sky. The guitar layers are distorted by now. I listened to this song on headphones at night in my small room on repeat. And got totally taken away by the undescribable sadness which permeates this track. Till now this was the closest I have ever come to an enlightenment when listening to music. A transcendental trip into someone else's mind. It was like a maelstroem turned upside down. I felt being pulled towards the sky until my head exploded. I had been looking for the Wipers album containing that song for a long time and had bought all of their 80's releases except one on which I didn't expect it somehow. Youth of America which I finally got in Brussels in 1996. And listened to on my trips back from Bruxelles to Luxemburg on Sunday evenings in the rainy winter of 1996/97.

The song Youth of America (tabs and lyrics) is based on a dream by Greg Sage about the future where

people "over breed" themselves
to the point that even the most simple thing had become the highest level of competition.

It is an apocalyptic ten minute punk statement with distorted guitars, a rhythm section moving ahead of its time and bellowing vocals on the pity state the U.S. are in. When Sage barks Youth repeatedly it sounds like a reproach and a call for action at the same time. He doesn't care about conventional punk song length and delivers a dense piece of revolutionary music which is even more relevant today than 24 years ago:

Youth of America
Is living in the jungle
Fighting for survival
But there's no place to go
Youth of America
There's pressure all around
The walls are crumbling down
The walls are coming down on you
It is time we rectify this now

By the way both the Melvins and Mission of Burma (last year on tour) covered this song.

The other four songs on the album are excellent as well though they don't reach the heights of the two I tried to describe a little.

When Kurt Cobain asked Greg Sage to open for Nirvana on one of their tours, Sage said no. It has been speculated that this refuse was one of the reasons leading to Cobain's self-destruction. He was a big fan. Probably the most fervent fan of the Wipers in the U.S. together with Dennis Hopper who insisted on including them on the soundtrack of River's Edge.

The band most blatantly influenced by the Wipers are Dinosaur Jr. I cannot imagine Freak Scene's melodic guitar-fuzz bliss without Youth of America. Other bands which probably got some inspirations from Greg Sage: Sonic Youth, Spacemen 3, Jesus & Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Jesus Lizard, Dandy Warhols, Brian Jonestown Massacre.

My LP features the black and white cover with the photographs of the band members. I don't like the goth cover which was used later. Though the motif, a skull instead of the stars on the mutated stripes of the American flag is rather fitting. The strange original do-it-yourself cover with the degenerated comic stars Batman, Popeye, Mickey Mouse et al. around a map of the U.S. which has not been accepted by their record company has been recycled for the box set (including alternate versions and bonus tracks) with the first three albums. The price used to be the price for one CD (Greg Sage being nice to his fans) but today it seems to be more expensive.



Here is the overview of the series 40 years, 40 albums of which part XXII was this post.


i really shouldn't have read this. now my heart is weeping as i just a few days ago gave away my entire 80s vinyl collection which included the wipers. sob. it had the goth cover, though. i wasn't aware there were so many different cover designs, somehow good to know.

the godfathers, screaming tribesmen, leather nun and the triffids, vanilla chainsaws, gun club... all gone. whatever became of peter and chris coyne?

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you shouldn't be sad. i think it is much better to have nothing than to have everything. at least now you still have the memories. those records have become much more valuable just because you gave them away. that's a good thing. me too i have too many albums and i try to find out which are the records i really love by writing about them. one idea is to get rid of all the stuff i don't care about too much. of the 2,500 items in my collection much more than 50% is disposable. if you are interested in a tape copy of youth of america i can do it for you. i have got that album only on vinyl and i don't know how to digitalise it. and i don't really want to know.

concerning peter and chris coyne i am totally useless. the only coyne i know is kevin who died not so long ago. the only cd i have by him is in the pile of music to get rid of.

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thanks for those wise words. it's probably true that memories are much more valuabe than the objects which trigger them off. however, i feel that memories are best when they are shared, which is why i really enjoy reading your blog.

2,500 copies! cough -- don't ever move! (i'm moving into a new flat myself tomorrow, which is why i got rid of those records in the first place.)

as for tapes, i'm afraid i can't listen to them now as i got rid of my tape deck as well. but thanks anyway for the kind offer!

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danke für die netten worte. davon kann ich nicht genug kriegen. mit den "shared memories" hast du (sie mag ich nicht in meinem blog) vollkommen recht. genau deswegen schreibe ich ja auch hier. leider lässt das feedback etwas zu wünschen übrig...

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kenne ich auch von meinem blog. lesen tun se alle, nur zum schreiben sind se zu faul. so sind sie, die leser. weitermachen! :)

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wenn sie wenigstens lesen würden. viel glück beim umzug. und für eine weile offline sein ist auch nicht schlecht. verpassen tut man eh nix. real life ist sowieso viel spannender als dieses onlinegedöns.

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stimmt schon, aber online ist auch ganz nett. ich fühl mich offline geradezu nackert. der pc ist daher auch das allerletzte ding, das ich hier abreiße und einpacke. schlimm das. btw email sent to the bigfoot addy.

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... comment

multiple covers thread at ilm

albums with more than one cover

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... comment

last updated: 2/23/21 8:55 AM
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