Wesly Willis: A Retrospective
“Rock music pays off. Rock music takes me on a joyride. Rock music keeps me off the hell city bus. Rock music will always look out for me. But I will not let my torture profanity demon shoot it down.” -Wesley Willis-
During the middle of a work week my cousin and I loaded up to witness a show at a club that half of my youth was occupied at Spartanburg’s Ground Zero. This wasn’t to be a distinctive metal, punk or hardcore show which is commonly the club is famous for. Instead, months of buzz worthy for an individual whom we almost certain that no one knew existed. Wesley Willis hailed from the bad side of Chicago in which he adapted as a street visual artist who ventured to music all while being diagonalized as a chronic schizophrenic. We arrived earlier and to no surprise to us not a soul with the exception of the employees were in attendance. The opening band Cats and Jammers provided background music for our conversation in the back as we absorbed the atmosphere. Near the stage a tiny “few and proud” wall flowered to the stage as we watched in the back with anticipation of what was to become. After the set from out of darkness Wesley Willis emerged with his 6ft 5inch, 300lbs massive frame. He wore the trade mark non matching sweat pants along with a wild rat nest of a hair do and crooked teeth. Willis handled what appeared to be a briefcase which we later establish was a fully stocked brief case with multitudinous albums he had recorded and for the low price of 10 dollars could be yours.
The stage was promptly set up with one of the most phenomenal outpouring of strangers in the quickest amount of time I personally have ever witnessed. The “few and proud” gained strength in numbers by multiplying from ten people to two-hundred in as little as five minutes. So, it was now official that we were not alone of the gospel of Wesley Willis. “I drove here from Maine” said a fan in the distance echo. It didn’t take long at all for Wesley to set up his unsophisticated Technics keyboard which all of his songs consisted of recited in the same structure over the demo play button on the keyboard.
“Wesley?!?! Are you ready to rock and roll?!?!”Asked the sound man after all the necessary plugs and set ups were in place. “Yes….I am ready to rock.” peacefully alleged the daunting man who for the next two hours placed us in a historical night of entertainment that will never be duplicated. His songs are quite blend of wacky, wild, humorist, shocking and pee your pants funny topics that your ears will ever have the admiration of listening to live. Songs such as “Rock and Roll McDonalds”, “Suck a Cheetahs Dick” and “Cut the Mullet” are now classics.
Wesley always ends his masterpieces with a commercial like jingle such as “Rock over London…Rock over Chicago…Polaroid…see what develops!”
Around the thirty minute mark Wesley Stopped playing and appeared to have just fell asleep. “Wesley are you OK?!” exclaimed the sound man. Wesley just nodded and gave the thumbs up before proclaiming in the microphone “I must use the bathroom” followed with “Where is the nearest rest room?” After the break which the whole show was stopped due to Wesley Willis needing to use the mens room. (Hey if you got to go you got to go.) Upon sitting back on the stool he groped the microphone and explained to the now cheering audience “I have taken a piss and now am ready to Rock!” I have no doubts in my mind that was the best quote of all time and the metal horns made an appearance from my hands after him expressing it. After returning to rock and “Whoop up on a mule’s ass” we spend the next hour or so laughing at a gentleman who won us over as a shocking genius.
After the show my cousin recived a “Get out of jail free Monopoly card “autographed by Wesley along with attempts to sell us one of many CD’s he had in his full stocked brief case. Both of us recived the custom “Head Butt” by him which was some form of bonding and if you go to his shows you have to do it to show respect to the giant of a soul.
Exiting Ground Zero that night we both knew it was something such as Haley’s Comet and the two of us got to experience. It wasn’t a bloated rock show such as The Rolling Stones or The Eagles but it was something very unique. I got to see Wesley one more time at Ground Zero again but, this time it was over booked with Seven Dust, Power man 5000, and Staind playing the upstairs and Wesley Willis along with Cats and Jammers once again this time demoted to Down Stairs. The whole time I remained downstairs with the” few and proud” for his light this time was confiscated from the bands that drowned out his sound for being so loud. It wasn’t the same magic as first time. I found joy in watching him croon “McDonald’s hamburgers are the worst, they are much worse than Burger King…they serve Quarter Pounders – they will put pounds on you.” in his song “Rock and roll McDonalds”. During the set I got to have a word with Cats and Jammers front man who told me many stories of Wesley on the road. They tended to him and drove him around to where he needed to be. Wesley did shows to exercise his demons for his mental illness. I was informed his mother was a drug addict on Chicago’s south side during the time he was born. At the age of 27 Wesley Willis was diagnosed with the disease and he took it upon his self to begin drawing his daily battle with the demons within. His art had reached some local musicians who would later take him under the wing. He began to have a tight knit of artist friends and musician friends. Wesley Willis would record under the name “Wesley Willis Fiasco” with a full backing band instead of a keyboard. The compositions remained the same with topics on animal sex organs, band names and the demons that haunted him.
August 21, 2003 at the age of 40 years old Wesley Willis died due to complications of Leukemia. Some call it novelty but, I call it soul. He still has a cult following to this day and for two cousins he left a night of energy that no one will understand what it meant. “So, Rock over London, Rock on Chicago…Wesley Willis soul lives on forever.”