Nirvana’s fallen leader Kurt Cobain had an imitable touch that captured hearts, transformed him into the poster boy for a generation, and remains to this day one of the most tragic tales in rock and roll history. His presence will always be missed; however, what he left behind will last forever, as will the one band he was indebted to.
While Nirvana is often seen as the forebearers of grunge and the ultimate pioneers, even Cobain was influenced by others. In fact, one band wrote the blueprint for the sound that Cobain would take to unprecedented new heights. It was a group that transformed a niche subculture sound into something that, surprisingly to everyone involved, became both inescapable and turned Cobain into an iconoclast.
In some regards, the singer would instead have prefered to be part of a band that never became an international behemoth, and the double-edged sword that came with Nirvana’s success was something that he constantly battled with. In truth, whether he’d have changed his lifestyle for a quieter life is up for debate, but at least publically, Cobain wanted to be one of the Wipers.
The Portland cult band formed in 1977, and although they never went on to break records or infiltrate popular culture in the same way Nirvana did, the Wipers created a distinct sound that left a permanent mark on Cobain, a sound that would later become the foundations of a grunge movement. Without the Wipers, grunge doesn’t happen, and neither does Nirvana. Cobain often explained how much he owed to the group throughout his career and never tried to hide his love for them. One would suspect that if he had the chance, he’d swap places with the band.
When Cobain listed his 50 favourite albums of all time, the singer selected not one or two but three different albums from the band Wipers. “The Wipers were a Portland punk band who were started in the late Seventies by Greg Sage and released maybe four or five albums,” recalled Cobain in a feature for Melody Maker.
His favourite albums list contained their 1980 LP Is This Real?, Youth of America which followed in 1981, and Over the Edge from 1983. It’s a priceless commendation on the vital importance the group had not only on Cobain as a listener but as a participant in the rock scene.
“The first two [albums] were totally classic and influenced the Melvins and all the other punk rock bands. They’re another band I tried to assimilate,” admitted the singer, who was never shy to magpie his way through the archives of rock. “Their songs were so good.”
Furthermore, Cobain had a particular affection for Wipers’ leader, Greg Sage. He once commented, “[He] was pretty much the romantic, quiet, visionary kind of guy. What more can I say about them? They started Seattle grunge rock in Portland, 1977.”
Meanwhile, in 1990, he said, “They’re the most innovative punk rock band that started the ‘Seattle sound’ like 15 years too early. We learned everything from the Wipers. They were playing a mix of punk and hard rock when nobody cared.”
Although Cobain never said outright that the Wipers are his favourite band of all time, he spoke about them in glowing terms on a level that is incomparable with anyone else. He adored them, and every single Nirvana fan owes the Portland punks for carving out a prototype which Cobain turned into something ethereal.