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 homage
s 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 quirk
s, Wesley is an extremely charismatic
and friendly person. When he meets people, he doesn't shake hands, but rather headbutt
s 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.
'Say rauw...' again.
Usually two or three times before a big smile break
s out on his face."
In his ongoing plot to get out of the projects
, Wesley began selling his drawing
s. 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 label
s 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 tape
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
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
." Whenever he has a bad experience
with somebody, there will be a song about sucking various exotic
. 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.