Saturday, September 11, 2004
This post is dedicated to Vader, the beautiful punk rock mama that she is.
The most punk rock moment of my life was seeing Wesley Willis at CBGB sometime around New Year 2000. Number one, it was at CBGB, a place that a small town girl like me wouldn’t have much opportunity to get to go to. Second, it was Wesley fucking Willis. Now, if you’ve never heard of Wesley Willis or listened to his music, you might be a bit confused if you just randomly heard one of his songs. I’m sure it would be like nothing you’ve ever heard before. His music has been described as "simultaneously disturbing, hilarious, blunt, and intoxicating, " and his inspiration was cultural phenomenons as simple as going to see a band (Blues Traveler, Kurt Cobain, etc.) or eating at McDonalds (Rock and Roll McDonalds). My personal favorite: I'm Sorry That I Got Fat (I Will Slim Down). I’ve listened to his music and some of his songs, especially the ones that were about his battle with schizophrenia, are so poignant that they’ve actually brought tears to my eyes. The thing that makes his music hilarious is that all of his songs are basically to the same tune, and it sounds as if he’s just having a conversation until he starts singing the chorus, which is always the same line over and over. But that’s what makes it unmistakably Wesley Willis. His songs always end with him saying "Rock over London, rock on Chicago," and he always included a commercial catch phrase, like "Orkin. One call, destroy them all," or "Discover Card, it pays to discover." And often something like, "Whoop the llamas ass," will be thrown in there somewhere.
I remember walking into CBGB and being in awe. Just looking around the place and knowing the history, the bands that had played there, the crazy punk rock shit that had occurred there. The thing is, the place is a shithole. It’s dirty, disgusting, full of graffiti, old tattered posters, torn barstools, dusty floors. A punk rock sanctuary. I was in awe. The bathroom there is a whole other story. I would have rather peed outside on the street, which is probably commonplace in that part of the city anyway. Then we saw him, standing right at the entrance. The man himself, with a little table, selling his CDs. Of course we had to take the opportunity to meet the legend. I get star struck easily, and this was no exception. Wesley Willis stood 6'5" tall and weighed somewhere around 300 plus pounds. Rather large and seemingly intimidating, until you met him. His personal way of greeting people was with a head butt, evidence of years of head butting people was illustrated on his forehead by a large circular bruise. He repeatedly heat butted two of my friends, and after each head butt, he’d say "Say rock," and they’d squeak, "Rock!" Then he’d growl,"Now say rrrrollll." My friend came down with a case of pink eye a few days later and swears up and down that she got it from head butting Wesley Willis. We bought two of his CD's, which he autographed for us. I only wished that I would have had a camera. Anyway, aside from some German assholes screaming "You suck!" at the table next to us, the show was fantastic. It was probably one of the highlights of my very sheltered small town life. It was just Wesley and his keyboard, which was probably comparable to seeing him at the beginning of his career, playing on the street. We were so excited to brag when we got home about meeting Wesley Willis.
Wesley died August 21, 2003 of Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. He began his career singing and playing his keyboard on the streets of Chicago, and soon had a cult following. He was the frontman of the Wesley Willis Fiasco. In 1989, he was diagnosed as schizophrenic; and often explained that song writing and performing helped to keep the voices in his head at bay. In his short life, he recorded over 50 albums. In 1995 Jello Biafra, who claims to be his number one fan, signed him to his label, Alternative Tentacles, and released his Greatest Hits Volume I.
Rock over London, rock on Chicago. Wesley Willis, you really whooped the squirrel’s ass.