An extremely prolific musician from Chicago. Wesley grew up in the ghetto. His father was a street hustler, so oftentimes the family had little to go on. Bus rides became a form of escape for Wesley in his early teens. He quickly learned all of the bus routes in the area, and when those lines ended he would switch over to the privately operated pace bus, which ran through the suburbs. Bus rides still hold quite a bit of enjoyment for him today, prompting many musical homages to the "joybus."

Wesley has the gift of chronic schizophrenia, and has been hearing voices ever since october 21, 1989, when his mother's boyfriend found out he was stashing away money for his own apartment and robbed him at gunpoint. Wesley claims to be haunted by demons, named Nervewrecker and Heartbreaker, who insult him, try to discourage him from his music, and order him to smash his equipment. Wesley calls these attacks "hellrides", and often argues with the voices out loud. It's actions like this which got him banned from the Pace bus system completely (now it becomes the "Hellbus").

Wesley is also a savant. Lucky, lucky him. He especially has a knack for sketching, and, much like Picasso, can draw a remembered scene right down to the last detail. He especially likes to draw cityscapes, which of course include plenty of buses.

For all his psychological quirks, Wesley is an extremely charismatic and friendly person. When he meets people, he doesn't shake hands, but rather headbutts them. Explains Jello Biafra:

"When he wants to make friends he takes the back of your head in his hand and stares deeply into your eyes; absorbing as much about you as he can, to find out if you're down with him. Or not...

'Say rauw...' says Wes.
'Rauw!'
-BONK!-
'Say rauw...' again.
'Rauw!'
-BONK!-

Usually two or three times before a big smile breaks out on his face."



In his ongoing plot to get out of the projects, Wesley began selling his drawings. A musician named Dale Meiners took a shine to Wesley and not only arranged a gallery showing of his work but offered him a place to stay. During the move, Dale caught sight of Wesley's large CD collection, and suggested that Wesley begin to make music himself.

Wesley took that idea and ran with it. His music began on cheap keyboards, producing those demo-based songs all Willis fans know and love. He released 30 CDs in four years, sometimes churning out 2 or 3 albums per month. He's been signed to a few labels off and on, but prefers to sell his music on the street, so doesn't usually work through distributors. Because of this, his albums are hard to find; there are many, in fact, that you could only get from Willis himself.

Wesley is really a very persuasive salesman, and tends to hawk his CDs and drawings no matter where he happens to be. Because of his persistence and warm personality, people took a liking to him and soon he was able to land club bookings. He even collaborated with other musicians, and formed a four piece band called The Wesley Willis Fiasco.

Willis was briefly signed to American Recordings for two albums, which didn't pay him much but did open a few more doors. He was interviewed by Tabitha Soren of MTV at the South by Southwest Music Convention in Austin, Texas. He appeared on the Howard Stern show and was able to sell one of his drawings to Stern by the end of the night.

Jello Biafra, formerly of the Dead Kennedys, discovered Wesley for himself while was visiting an old bandmate in St. Louis. Another friend drove down from Chicago to meet him, bringing along one of Willis's tapes. Jello fell in love with the music and has said the following:

"He is, in a nutshell, what the true spirit of punk is supposed to be all about. he is arguably the most honest and original artist in music today....poets and songwriters wrestle endlessly...over the meaning and expression of love. Wesley gets right to the point..."


Jello's label, Alternative Tentacles, compiled some of Wesley's songs and put out two greatest hits albums. Wesley wrote a song about Jello Biafra. It was a great friendship.

When Wesley Willis goes up onstage, generally the audience can be a bit taken aback at the sight of this 6'5, 350-pound man clutching a notebook and, while the band or keyboard demo plays accompaniment, shouting lyrics like:

McDonald's hamburgers are the worst
They are worse than Burger King
A Big Mac has 26 grams of fat
A Quarter Pounder has 28 grams of fat


Still, with his unique style of music, Wesley Willis has gathered quite a following. And he shows no sign of stopping; as long as there is a band he discovers and enjoys, there will be a song testifying to the fact that they "really whoop a camel's ass." Whenever he has a bad experience with somebody, there will be a song about sucking various exotic animals' unmentionables. Once, he made a grand entrance into a highbrow art store and announced, "I am Wesley Willis! I am a rock legend!" Truer words could not be said.


All thanks to Jello Biafra... you're the best damn biographer I've never met.
Right before Thanksgiving of 1998, Wesley Willis came to Detroit to play a show at the Viper Room - quite possibly the crappiest place any band could play. It was a dim little bar. My boyfriend at the time and I went to see the show, I was geeked beyond belief, I worked in a record store at the time and played The Chickencow on repeat to get rid of customers. We saw the show, and afterwards, we met Wesley.

Bump me on my head and say rawk.
There is a callous from head butts. I gently nudge him on the head and say "rawk." The man is massive.

Bump me on my head and say row.
"Row."

After many photo opportunities, Wesley said "Scott and Jen, you are nice. If I come up to Detroit, I stay with you?"
YES.
So we give him our phone number in Detroit - 313 240-vdho... and about a week later, we get a call from Dan. Dan was looking out for Wes, making sure he wasn't spending all his money on things he didn't need, and that he was taking his medication. Dan says, "You guys weren't serious, were you?"
YES.

So Wesley Willis took the Amtrak from Chicago to Detroit to stay with us for nearly two weeks. Wesley was a challenge to live with, neither Scott nor I had really thought out the ramifications of having a 320 lb paranoid schizophrenic about the house - it's not quite like having a kitten, you know.

Scott had to help him shower, and I reminded him about his medication and soothed him when his demons started giving him a hellride - he would nearly cry while telling me, "Jen, my demons are calling me an asshole. They're telling me that my music sucks!!"

It was a supreme experience- not for the kitsch factor but for what I learned about accepting people with mental illnesses, and I hope good for him too. I would have him over again any day.

"I am Wesley Willis. I can rawk. I can rawl. I can whoop a horse's ass, and that is what I am going to do all the time. That's the way it is and that's the way it's gonna be. Rock and roll will never die. Scream, Dracula, Scream! C'mere and bump my head. Bump my head. Yeah, you! Bump my head. Come up here and saw "rawk" and bump my head and make me act crazy and clown and act like a goddamn fool. WHOOOOOOAH! Pick out your coffin because I'm coming after yo' ass! That's jus' a rock and roll song, it is not about me getting violent. You do not have to pick out your coffin because I'm not coming after yo' ass. Jesus would never get shot, and I would never shoot Jesus in the ass. Should I let that demon whoop up on me with profanity and shit and make me freak out? Yes or no? Yes or no, yes or no, you can come and suck my doberman's ween! Yeah, suck my dick, Dirty Harry. Go ahead punk, make my day! I love ya, but I love ya like a ghetto bird. Go love on a girl and don't love on me, cuz I'm not yo' gay bird but I love ya. Am I going to have a joyride tonight? Or am I going to have a torturehellride? Oh, shut up. Shut up. Shut the fuck up...I love you." (Composite of memorable quotes from Wesley at a show in Nashville)

I saw Wesley Willis last night.

Inspired by help im a rock's daylog from May 10, 2001, I decided to leave my solitary comforts and venture out into the Big Blue Room for a change. Wesley Willis was in town at the Cowhaus (www.cowhaus.com), a former cigar factory on Saint Francis Street in Tallahassee, Florida that now operates as a live music venue. Showtime was posted as 9:00PM, so I was there about 9:15, knowing full well that I was showing up ridiculously early.

But what I witnessed in those pre-show moments was worth it. Wesley sat beside the stage at the merchandise counter for most of the time prior to his show. Fans would trickle in and crowd around him, getting their head-butts and autographs, shelling out their allowance money for merchandise, and having a ball. I sat at the back of the club next to the bar for a while, drinking shitty $1 Natural Light drafts and taking it all in.

The first opening act came up, calling themselves "Strip Club Moms", from Ft. Myers, Florida. They sucked. After about 25 minutes of squeaking and wailing, they were done, and I decided to walk over to where Wesley was sitting and see for myself what my old friend Jello Biafra found so amazing about this guy.

From across the room I could see that Wesley had a whopper of a knot on his forehead. It was as big as a plum, and as I studied it from a distance, it began to resemble a third eye. I thought this was rather prophetic, and I considered for a while that this was no accident; Wesley's pecular habit of greeting people by head-butting them was his way of looking into the soul of the individual he was greeting, seeing them on a level that quantify's the Hindu third eye in some way that even he probably didn't understand. Of course, the third eye is for looking inward, so that blows my half-baked theory.

As I stepped up to the counter and observed the college kids saying hello to the star of the hour, he picked me out of the crowd and said "Come head-butt me!" So I obliged him, and went through his ritual of "Say rawk!" "Say rowl!" (head-butt) (repeat). He did this to me many more times than he did to the others that came before me, and I began to wonder if he thought I was special in some way. Of course I had no fear of him, and I earnestly replied to his prompts with enthustiatic shouts of "Rawk!!" "Rowl!!!" and so on, which he seemed to enjoy. After this, he encouraged me to buy one of his CDs for US$12.00, and I stood there admiring the disc he placed in my hand, and shook his hand several times as he made his sales pitch (such as it was). But there were others to greet, more sales to make, and I kindly stepped aside to let them through.

The next band up was a duo called "The Rock Coaches". They consisted of a keyboard and drums, and they were horrible. After they were done polluting the air with their squawking noise, another band came up called "The Country Teasers". These guys were actually pretty good. Most of them were from London, with the exception of the bass player who was from Seattle. The lead singer was a dead ringer for William S. Burroughs circa 1930, complete with gray suit and porkpie hat. The guitar player looked like a barefoot refugee from The Black Crowes, and the others were fairly nondescript.

I ended up talking at length with the bass player after their show. I had overheard them earlier talking about their upcoming gig in Memphis, so I made sure to mention the Rendezvous as a good place to eat when they got to town. (Meanwhile, the lead singer had passed out on the floor in the corner of the club, apparently affected by the straight Jack Daniels he had been drinking on stage.) The bass player said their band had toured with Wesley once before, and they helped out with looking after him. While Wesley was sitting there, I thought I would inquire about the info in help im a rock's daylog. "Where did you play ten days ago? On the 9th," I asked. Wesley was unsure, and the other band members began to think back. "There was a band that played called 'The Black Lips', and the dude played the guitar with his dick," I said. Wesley looked me straight in the eye and said "Ashville, North Carolina!" He then began to exclaim, "The guy played the guitar with his dick?! That's fucked up!" and so on, and I replied "Well, you were there!" One of the roadies reminded me of how this band had set their equipment on fire. All the fans lined up at the merchandise counter had a good laugh at that, and then it was time for Wesley to go on stage.

His set went exactly as I have read it described in writeups here on Everything2. Afterwards, he was upset about some jerks in the audience and the remarks they had made. "I don't need to take this shit!" he exclaimed, pounding his hand on the counter. His touring bandmates consoled him as they would a child, and I did my best to help out. We got Wesley to cheer up a bit, and he had some more soy milk and a banana. I gave Wesley a hug, thanked him for coming to Tallahassee, and wished him well on his next stop in Nawlins, bidding the other guys best wishes for the rest of their tour.

Then I came home and wrote this. I couldn't post it until now because I needed sleep and couldn't battle through the lag. Rock over London, Rock on Chicago!

Yeah, this used to be a daylog. If that matters to ya.

1963 — 2003
The torture hell ride is over


Farewell Wesley, and Godspeed.

Wesley Willis died on Thursday night, August 21, 2003. Today, four days later, the exact cause of his death is unknown, though his health had been steadily declining, following emergency surgery to suppress internal bleeding on Monday, June 2. Prior to the emergency, Wesley had been recovering in a Hospice, having been diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia in late 2002.

"The vultures ate my dead ass up", indeed... We never met, but I will miss you, Mr. Willis.

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