In 1963, one of Chicago’s finest entered the scene. He would not become recognized until many years later, when he began drawing ink renderings of the city. Shortly thereafter, Willis blessed the world with many MANY redundant songs, almost all of which beckon us to reflect on humanity’s follies. His talents covered all basic manifestations of poetics: homages like his classics “Bill Clinton” and “Oprah Winfrey;” and elegies such as “Jesus Christ,” and his tribute to the untimely death of Casper: “Casper the Homosexual Friendly Ghost.” In addition to his mastery of poetic form, Willis was not afraid to contemplate his own mortality, and sang dutifully about his own fate in songs like, “The Vultures Ate my Dead Ass up.” He predicted the collapse of the housing market with the highly metaphorical “Termites Ate my House up.” He preached to fans about the importance of eating healthy, and included nutritional facts in songs such as “Rock and Roll McDonalds.” Truly, Westley Willis, with Casio keyboard and songbook in hand, was an asset to the rock music community.
He was not afraid to continue the discourse established by his predecessors, such as when he boldly continued in the vein of Sammy Hagar’s declaration “I Can’t Drive 55” by declaring “I Can’t Drive.” Period. You think you’re so badass because you can’t adhere to the speed limit Hagar? I just can’t fucking drive at all.
And in the vein of his observation, Willis pulled out all the stop signs. He unflinchingly explored the traumas of youth in songs like “My Mother Smokes Crack Rocks,” proclaiming, “my mother smoked that crack like a cigar. She had a good time at it.” And if you didn’t like his music, he had a message for you too, embedded in his subtle yet poignant classic, “Suck a Cheetah’s Dick.”
Like many other musicians, Willis began to ascribe to the rock and roll lifestyle. In his barely intelligible hit “I Smoke Weed” he proclaimed, “I smoke my crack pipe every day [. . .] I jack my mother for dope money. I do it by threatening her life with a semi-automatic.”
In addition to Willis’ advocation of drug use, he was not beyond shameless product placement in his songs. At the end of many of his odes he would proclaim his loyalty to Heinz, Timex and Wheaties. Nevertheless, he compensated for this with his ballad “Jesus Christ,” in which he described his devotion to the lord and his faith that he would be led on the correct path. This song foreshadows his death and reminds us that Willis will be waiting in heaven, for those of us who ascribe to that sort of thing, anyway.
Unfortunately, in 2003 Wesley Willis met his untimely demise. After struggling for years with paranoid schizophrenia, Willis succumbed to leukemia.
His later works take on a solemn tone. Where once Willis captivated his audience with upbeat songs about beating the hell out of Batman, getting his ass kicked by bird man, and instructing us on which condiments to use on the booty holes of particular non-domesticated animals, his final songs like “Chronic Schizophrenia” remind us that Willis too had a heart, and that his endeavors were no laughing matter. Listen to the following two songs in sequence and see if you can say with honesty that you’re not moved on some emotional level: