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Rock Over London, Rock On Chicago Songwriter Wesley Willis Dead at 40  Print E-mail
Home Theater News Music - General News
Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Monday, 25 August 2003

Chicago based schizophrenic singer-songwriter Wesley Willis died at age 40 this weekend after fighting a long bout with chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. In a world filed with far too many copy-cat performers, boy bands, teen divas and overall wanna-be’s, Wesley Willis was truly one of a kind. Literally, nobody sounds like or can write a song like Wesley Willis.

Vocally Wesley couldn’t find a tune with radar. His atonal melodies are the first musical cue you pick up on when discovering his music. His pre-programmed and highly formatted tracks (both live and in the studio) came straight out of his keyboard and drum machine and were deconstructed to the absolute basics resulting in refreshingly pure songs. But what makes the music of Wesley Willis unforgettable is his lyrics. With tunes like “Rock and Roll McDonalds” “The Chicken Cow” and “I Am Sorry That I Got Fat” you can’t help but to find humor in his songwriting.

I personally found Willis during the heyday of Napster (Please RIAA – don’t sue me… I actually buy my songs now even though there are no Wesley Willis tracks on iTunes) listed under Nirvana covering Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” Since there was no cost to the song, I gave it a shot and downloaded it to my hard drive. I was not prepared for what I heard. This mislabeled song was actually Wesley Willis performing one of his all-time greatest hits “Suck My Dog’s Dick.” My staff and I were laughing so hard we were teary eyed, cramping and out of breath. Not only were the lyrics edgy and funny, we loved the retardely simple musical bed as well as the iron clad song format that always ends with him saying “Rock over London – Rock on Chicago.” Next comes a plug from a pseudo sponsor where you might hear an ad for Greyhound busses, Geico Insurance, Massengill feminine products and beyond.

Upon downloading a few more songs, I was compelled to buy the entire catalog of Willis albums on CD to create a complete archive of this genius-moron’s work. Much like a crafty episode of Beavis & Butthead or a painful skit on Jackass, the music of Wesley Willis is a guilty pleasure that I was able to share with highly educated colleagues including college professors, advertising executives and fellow publishers resulting in glowing reviews.

Willis was originally found and signed by Rick Rubin who also found and produced The Beastie Boys and The Black Crows among others. Beyond his music, Willis drew highly detailed ink pen works which are now hard to find but have been displayed at Chicago galleries. I had the chance to meet Willis in person in 2001 and I tried to commission a drawing but unfortunately I couldn’t communicate with him well enough to make the deal go down. Strangely, he did communicate with a few young, punk rock girls by mildly bashing a gigantic mole on his forehead with the girl’s heads. One after another girls lined up for the ritual as Willis and I had a conversation about music, art and the show he was about to put on.

Willis’ passion for music is exactly what the record industry is lacking today from its artists, executives and consumers alike. He was an avid concert-goer and frequently sang about his experiences seeing bands ranging from Jefferson Airplane to punk rockers The Ziggens. His enthusiasm and passion for music and life is contagious and he will be greatly missed.

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