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Wesley Willis is probably the wildest rock ‘n’ roll artist in history. Willis was born in the Midwest music metropolis Chicago, Illinois, and survived a traumatic childhood. He developed severe paranoid schizophrenia in the late ’80s as a result of the abuse he endured but, through this turmoil, emerged as one of the strangest, heart-warming, and lyrically astounding punk musicians and artists of the ’90s. The 300 pound giant became a cult icon not only because of his lyrically delightful verses, but also his engaging personality and peculiar demeanour.
The base level of crude humour is apparent in songs like “Suck a Cheetah’s Dick” with great throwaway lines sprinkled in like “tell your barber you’re sick of looking like an arsehole” and “the lake of fire tore his arse up.” When you listen to his other records, there’s a level of depth, context, and emotion coming out of the frontman’s paranoia. The more politically informed songs pose questions to Ronald Reagan such as “what the fuck are you doing in my house?” and state the dread many African Americans feel — “when the police pulled up, I was doomed.” The production is about as lo-fi as it gets, however it’s undeniably heartfelt, reflective, and informed by Wesley’s own bizarre life. His artwork, despite its initially elementary appearances, is surprisingly astounding, and noted for its detailed recreation of Chicago’s cityscapes and public transport buses.
But Willis’s personality was what sold many people, regardless of their thoughts on his actual records. Wesley developed a large bump on his forehead over his lifetime as he would always greet people by bumping his head with theirs and ask them to “Say Ra!” and “Say Raw!” for no reason at all. Despite his intimidating stature, people never seemed scared to come and engage with him to discuss how his psychotic episodes, known as joy (good)/hell (bad) rides, were treating him, a bit of chat about the three demons “Heartbreaker”, “Nervewrecker”, and “Meansucker” that taunted him, and ultimately how the rock and/or roll lifestyle was. The man had an amazing circle of friends in record shops, including Sublime’s front runner Bradley Nowell, and Dead Kennedy’s founder Jello Biafra. Biafra said in an interview that Wesley, and the way he assembled his works, “are like no else. Ever.”
Wesley passed away in 2003 due to leukaemia that ultimately deteriorated his health beyond repair, but he will live on in the hearts and minds of all those who dare to Whoop Spiderman’s, Batman’s, or Ronald Reagan’s arse. Rock Over London, Rock on Chicago.